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HomeDevelopmental IssuesThe Gender Impact of Harare’s Forgotten Recreational Spaces

The Gender Impact of Harare’s Forgotten Recreational Spaces

Nyasha Mareke stands at the edge of what was once a vibrant park, now reduced to a barren field scattered with remnants of broken swings and rusted slides.

With a sigh, she watches her young son kick a deflated soccer ball, a stark reminder of the recreational facilities that have become relics of a bygone era in Zimbabwe’s capital.

Once upon a time, Harare boasted vibrant parks and recreational areas.

Nyasha’s longing for a safe, clean space where her child can play is a sentiment shared by many mothers in Harare. “When I was young, parks were everywhere,” she reminisces. “We would spend our afternoons playing, laughing, and simply being kids. Now, it’s all gone. The parks are either neglected or have been turned into vending sites.”

As the parks crumbled, so did the dreams of countless young women and girls. With nowhere to channel their energy, they turned to the streets.

Abandoned parks became breeding grounds for illicit activities—hidden corners where young souls sought solace in syringes and pills. The laughter of children was replaced by the haunting echoes of addiction.

Nyasha’s other child, Tariro, a teenager girl, faces the same fate. She roams the streets, her eyes hollow, searching for escape. The swings that once lifted her toward the sky now serve as makeshift beds for the homeless. The merry-go-round spins no more; instead, it hosts clandestine meetings of desperate souls seeking oblivion.

“Without safe spaces to gather and play, young girls and boys are left to their own devices,” explains Tendai Mukaro, a social worker in the area. “This often leads them down dangerous paths, seeking escape in substance abuse.”

Most public parks in Harare have downgraded from their formative splendor while others are in a state of disrepair.

The decline of recreational spaces in Harare is not just a story of urban decay but a critical issue affecting the youth. According to the 2024 GRB Analysis Report, local authorities allocated a mere 1% of their budgets to Natural Resources and Conservation, which includes park maintenance​.

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The focus has shifted, with 32% directed towards Water Sanitation & Hygiene and 26% towards Governance & Administration​This misallocation has left parks and recreational facilities to rot, replaced by vending sites and illicit hangouts.

The report highlights that while 68 out of 92 local authorities submitted GRB statements, only a small fraction prioritized recreational spaces​. This oversight underscores the need for a more balanced approach.

For Nyasha and her ilk,  hope is in the Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB),  a concept that could hold the key to revitalizing Harare’s recreational spaces.

GRB aims to allocate resources in a way that considers the needs of all genders, promoting equity and inclusivity. For women like Nyasha, GRB represents a chance for her child to experience the joy of playing in a park without fear or danger.

“Investing in recreational facilities is not just about building parks,” says Juliet Masiya, a gender equity advocate. “It’s about creating safe, inclusive spaces that foster community and well-being. GRB can ensure that these spaces are prioritized and maintained.”

Worse still, some of these public parks are now havens of vice and crime.

Harare Gardens is now an attraction for hooligans. The overgrown vegetation also attracts people, including teens, who view it as the ideal location for their sexual liaisons.

Earlier in the year, a woman was stabbed to death by a thief who had allegedly tried to snatch a cellphone from her in Harare Gardens.

The victim, Norest Chimusoro died after being stabbed indiscriminately with an unknown object by the assailant who left her bleeding to her death.

Despite the this dark reality, there are initiatives underway to breathe new life into Harare’s parks. One notable effort is the rehabilitation project launched by Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa.

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She  recently inaugurated the restoration of a long-forgotten park in one of the old suburbs .

“Today, we are not just reopening a park; we are reopening opportunities for our children,” she declared. “This is a step towards rebuilding our communities and giving our youth a chance to thrive.”

The project aims to restore not only the physical infrastructure but also the sense of community and belonging that parks once provided.

But Nyasha remains skeptical. “One park won’t change everything,” she says. “We need a revolution—a green uprising!”

As she watches her son play, she can’t help but chuckle at the irony. In a city once known for its green spaces, children now find entertainment in the most unlikely places. “At least my son is learning to be resourceful,” she jokes. “Who needs a playground when you have a scrapyard?”

The reality, however, is far from humorous. The neglect of recreational facilities is a glaring oversight in urban planning, one that has far-reaching consequences. It’s a reminder that in the pursuit of development, the needs of the most vulnerable often fall by the wayside.

For Nyasha and many like her, the dream of safe, accessible recreational spaces is not just a nostalgic longing; it’s a necessity for the well-being of their children and the future of their communities. Gender Responsive Budgeting offers a pathway to this dream, ensuring that resources are allocated where they are needed most.

As Harare takes tentative steps towards restoring its parks, the hope is that one day soon, children like Nyasha’s son will once again have places to play, laugh, and simply be kids.

Until then, the struggle continues, with each deflated soccer ball and every rusted slide serving as a poignant reminder of what has been lost and what must be regained.

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Multi-award winning journalist/photojournalist with keen interests in politics, youth, child rights, women and development issues. Follow Lovejoy On Twitter @L_JayMut

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