Water shortages expose women to preventable diseases File picture: Residents fetch water from a leaking pipe in Pelandaba suburb recently

Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu

Residents will now go for more than 144 hours without running water — a decision likely to torment women who need the precious liquid to survive during their menstrual period and of course child birth.

The Bulawayo City Council recently announced that residents will have to cope with only having water one day a week due to critical supply dam levels.

Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Menstrual Hygiene Day — an annual awareness day on Thursday to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management.

The day is commemorated on the 28th day which represents the average number of a woman’s menstrual cycle and on the fifth month which represents the number of days an average woman can be menstruating per month.

This water shortage coupled with the ongoing lockdown leaves some women with no choice but rely on a handful of communal boreholes as they cannot be seen walking to nearest suburbs in search of water.

“We live in Cowdray Park and we have been facing water problems way before this lockdown. The introduction of water shedding programme just means other residents will get to experience our usual routines though we all agree that this is beyond normal,” said Ms Angela Bhebhe.

“We never have enough water to bath especially during menstruation where more is needed for hygiene purposes. At this point pads are not a worry as we have devised alternatives but we really need to have water at least to bath once a day so that we keep sane,” she said.

“We are sometimes forced to queue for more than 12 hours just to fill up a 20-litre bucket and now with the water shedding schedule, the situation will worsen since everyone will be rushing to that one borehole meant to be shared by the whole community.”

Ms Bhebhe said the amount of time spent searching for water is too long hence policy makers should rethink their intervention strategies especially during the lockdown which may be extended since new cases are still being reported.

According to Ms Lindile Ndebele a menstrual hygiene manager and gender activist, the water crisis is adding onto the burdens that women are already struggling with in the face of coronavirus.

“The issue of access to anything during a crisis is always a burden for women and it goes beyond pads and water as it also includes food and other resources. Women, as caregivers in most households should ensure there is water which increases their risk to contracting Covid-19 as they are forced to go out and look for alternative sources of water like boreholes,” said Ms Ndebele.

“People are not likely to adhere to the principles of one metre part in their search for water as there is a rush. These boreholes are very heavy and women need to assist each other with no sanitisers to use afterwards. Policy makers should have incorporated crisis management in their town planning so that women do not rely on boreholes which come with a lot of risks.”

Ms Ndebele said the demand for water at household level is very high at this time because everyone is at home and women with disabilities are bearing the greatest burden.

“Besides water which is supposed to be a basic human right, sanitary wear was a huge problem in Zimbabwe before the lockdown. The situation is dire now because a majority of women who lived off vending are home with no means to buy food and even pads which are now a luxury for many women and girls,” she said.

According to Ms Ndebele the fact that pads are imported during the lockdown is a huge challenge.

“Now considering those challenges coupled with the perennial water cuts, women are going to face a number of hygiene problems as they will also fail to dispose of the pads in a proper way, that is if they manage to get the pads from the few supermarkets which they have access to,” she said.

Ms Ndebele called for policy reviews that will ensure women have access to water and cheap if not free sanitary wear so that they fully enjoy their rights as citizens. A number of young women have said spending 144 hours without water is going to subject them to traumatic monthly periods.

“For some of us two or three warm baths daily do not keep us only refreshed but they also soothe menstrual cramps. However, now that we must save water I will have to endure more pain and feel uncomfortable during the whole period,” said Memory Ndlovu from Selbourne Park.

She said without water she will not be able to go out as she fears exposing her neighbours and fellow tenants to the smell of menstrual blood which can be worsened by poor hygiene.

The recurrent water challenges are likely to affect expectant and nursing mothers whose only hope is in health institutions who are spared from water cuts.

However, women spend a few days in hospitals and clinics during delivery and then afterwards are forced to source for water when they are still delicate and in post-natal pain and distress.

Ms Tholokuhle Nare from Tsholotsho said women only have it easy when they are housed in waiting mothers shelters just before delivery.

“The struggle is real for rural women who rely on wells and rivers which have been drying up since last year. I had a relief when I was admitted into a waiting mothers’ shelter at the hospital. That was short-lived because after delivery I had to go back home and within days I was up and down looking for water to keep the family running,” she said.

A midwife at Bulawayo City Council-run Pelandaba Clinic said though women have access to water during delivery, something has to be done to ensure that even at home they get water without having to crowd communal boreholes.

“We do discharge women after delivery though it does not mean they are physically and mentally fit to be joining long winding queues for water in their places of residence. We do look forward to a time when women at least have access to water through bowsers so that less effort is needed from them to access the precious liquid,” she said.

A local gynaecologist said poor hygiene during monthly periods can expose women to avoidable diseases like diarrhoea, lice and various infections in the reproductive organs.

“With two consecutive drought years, the city will have to deal with water challenges which have a heavy bearing on women especially those with small babies. Pregnant women and nursing mothers need water to keep clean and fresh which if not achieved may affect them psychologically,” he said.

“Water shortages also expose women to preventable diseases linked to personal hygiene including coronavirus which we are already struggling to contain in Zimbabwe and the world over. There should be means to ensure women have adequate water to bath and wash during menstruation so that homes are kept clean and safe from other infections.” – @thamamoe

You Might Also Like