By Nomonde Phindani
2020 has been a very challenging year and has had a particularly negative impact on rural women. The following piece highlights some of the social, political and economic challenges rural women have encountered.
During the first week of the country’s lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic, 2320 cases of gender based violence were reported to police. Most men became more abusive and aggressive to their family members, especially spouses due to a number of reasons including; frustrations from loss of income as we saw the increased numbers of people losing their jobs during this period. As lockdown levels were coming down, gender based violence became so rife and increased to unacceptable levels with women and children killed so brutally and without mercy.
High levels of anxiety and depression amongst women was also another huge challenge as women formed the majority of the number of workers who lost their jobs and sources of income. For small scale women farmers, drought has had such a negative effect on them and food production, which is their major economic activity, has also been interrupted during this season.
Whilst the government was supposed to be assisting the poor and vulnerable groups during this period, we witnessed lots of fraud and misappropriation of funding initially aimed at addressing the needs of the poor,particularly unemployed rural women.
This has led to women losing confidence in the government, feeling hopeless and very uncertain and becoming demoralized.
Rural women, the majority of which depend on farming for survival, have faced a huge challenge in feeding their families.
Government support programs such as farmer financial assistance and other benefits required complicated application processes with a criteria that rural women mostly could not meet.
Another challenge is the lack of access to information as most of us women living in rural communities do not have the luxury of possessing smartphones and therefore are disadvantaged when it comes to getting information on available resources and opportunities. This has left most of us in the dark whilst other people were able to enjoy certain benefits.
In the past few months there have been meetings held on virtual platforms discussing issues relating specifically to rural women such as the Amendment of the Customary Marriages Bill. Us rural women have made little to no contribution in those discussions.
On 03 October the Eastern Cape legislature was reviewing the 1994 women’s charter and rural women could not participate fully in those processes taking into consideration that the ruling party has been put into power by women as majority voters.
The voices of women have also been neglected during this period through exclusion in processes and engagements that involve decisions on issues affecting us directly. For rural women COVID 19 has highlighted how hollow the promises of democracy can be.
Nomonde Phindani is a rural women activist. She has been in the community development field for more than 20 years coordinating different sectors such as youth development, women’s rights, small scale farmers rights etc. For the previous three years she was a coordinator for Rural Women’s Assembly SA . She is currently a Provincial coordinator for Alliance for Rural Democracy in the Eastern Cape.