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International Women’s Day: A Visually Impaired Woman Has Vision.

During hard times, women and girls play a critical role in ensuring that the basic needs of their families and communities are covered. However, they often lack sufficient access to information, financial services and their voices are not always heard when it comes to making decisions.

By Tatenda Macheka

This undermines their ability to prepare for, cope with and recover from climate shocks and stresses.

Challenging unfair gender norms and unequal power relations in the context of food security is essential. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Zimbabwe promotes gender equality within households and communities.

Rutendo is a 59-year-old widow who lives with her two young grandchildren in Chiredzi. She is living with visual impairment and she had to beg to put food on the table. During the lockdown, begging became even harder due to restrictions in public places. It did not take long before Rutendo and her grandchildren started going to bed with empty stomachs.

“Life was difficult, but COVID-19 complicated everything even more. Life as I know it came on to a stop, we were left with no choice but to stay at home. For me the pandemic brought hunger,” said Rutendo.

WFP In October 2021, WFP partnered with the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and Plan International Zimbabwe to implement a programme to Stop Abuse and Female Exploitation (SAFE) in Chiredzi. The aim is to reduce the perpetration of violence against women and girls driven by economic insecurity and unequal social norms while increasing access to essential services for survivors. 315 households participate to this initiative, 30 of them have a member with a disability.

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Rutendo was enrolled in this programme and started receiving cash assistance, which helped her address her immediate eating needs.  She was later involved a savings and lending group to ensure she would be able to sustain a livelihood for her and the children she cared for. “

Deep down in my heart, I was very happy because in previous saving and lending groups not everybody was included, but our group is exclusively formed by people who have some kind of disability”, she explained. Rutendo’s group is called Hope and they were trained in aspects such as bookkeeping, constitution development and leadership.

“Begging is now a thing of the past and I am not going back there, in a month I will have started my poultry project. My grandchildren are also excited about the prospect of having chickens so I am sure it will flourish. I never imagined that one day, my family would have enough food and I would be a businesswoman,” she said.

Narrowing the gender gap

COVID-19 has increased both food insecurity and gender inequality. As a result of the pandemic, schools were closed and the longer children are out of school the less likely they are to return, especially girls who are at risk of early marriages, pregnancy and abuse.

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Women have less access to finance, technology, the labour market, and other critical resources. WFP supports the digitalization of cash-based transfer social protection programmes, providing payments directly to women’s mobile money accounts. This contributes to women’s digital and financial inclusion and economic empowerment.

Women and girls are also disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and are at greater risk of suffering from climate shocks and the impact of natural hazards. WFP empowers rural women by providing them with climate risk insurance, engaging them in asset creation and increasing their risk management skills, therefore strengthening their resilience.

Empowerment involves women having the capacity to determine and shape their own lives and contribute – equally with men – to shaping the lives of their families, communities and societies.  As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to celebrate people like Rutendo who are breaking these barriers.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, and calls for climate action for women and by women.

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