IT is almost quarter to five in the evening as a convoy of city askaris patrol the famed Darajani market in Zanzibar’s central business district, loudly ordering sellers and buyers to disperse.
“These people have indeed become a nuisance,” a vividly furious fruit vendor Nasra Khatib Juma says of the askaris as she gathers her produce, ready to quit, albeit grudgingly: “Hopefully, this Corona tragedy will soon leave us to continue with our normal lives.”
Nasra is one of many hustling women at Zanzibar trading areas whose lives turned precarious due to the outbreak of the Covid-19. The government had since enforced measures to curb its spread that curtailed social and economic activities.
“I used to make good business out of this market but the outbreak of Covid -19 has subjected my family to untold financial sufferings,” regrets the fruit retailer. Ten weeks of coping with the virus in the isles have exhibited the disease’s social and economic impacts on women.
Although, the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is touching almost all in Zanzibar, it seems women bear more brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. Zanzibar reported its first Corona case on March 8, 2020, and the latest government report puts the total cases and deaths at 134 and five deaths, respectively.
But, death and ailing costs aside, the government interventions have seemingly descended heavily on women. Already, the government has closed all learning institutions, putting students under “unofficial lockdown.”
And, the government has as well banned all unnecessary public gatherings —weddings, sports, bars and other entertainment spots, which allegedly contribute over 60 per cent to the disease spread.
“It has become extremely difficult for us women to continue with our hawking businesses because movements have been constrained,” says Chukwanibased entrepreneur Zana Aziz Machano.
Zana who weaves and hawks bags and baskets says she has almost stopped production: “I have literally ceased production due to lack of customers…business has become tough especially for us— hawkers.”
The weaver currently relies on few orders she receives through mobile phones. Interviewed female vendors at Darajani, Kiembesamaki and Mwanakwerekwe echoed similar complaints.
“I used to have lucrative business here but since the Corona outbreak, all has turned hell,” says Salha Abdu, a fish monger at Mwanakwerekwe market. The single mother of two is particularly concerned with the limited business hours.
“The evenings had always been my favourite trading hours. Sadly, I have now to quit this place sometimes before 5pm,” says Ms Salha, hoping that soon the government will lessen the restrictions. Officially, markets have to close at 6pm but usually city askaris arrive at the trading centres at as early as 4pm, forcing sellers and buyers to quit the areas before 5pm.
The closure of schools, which compelled children to stay home, has as well increased domestic responsibilities which women have to shoulder. Mkunazini-based Khadija Seif Makame, overwhelmed by the domestic chores, appreciates the role of teachers in taking care of children.
“Unfortunately, we had been taking teachers for granted…Corona has reminded us of the tedious work they do to our chil dren.” Khadija, the mother of four, says it has become difficult for her to manage her children in the wake of the deadly disease.
And, for a typical Zanzibar woman, she says, participation to events like weddings and burials are inevitable. “Imagine, we have been denied even attendance to weddings and funerals, which are critically important events,” she says, noting that many families have postponed their weddings due to Covid-19.
The 2020 being the general elections year, Covid-19 pandemic has robbed women the opportunity to pursue their underground political movements as prior preparations for their candidature or campaigns for their favourite candidates.
“You can’t compare the operating political environment between women and men—we, women are always on the disadvantage,” charges Malindi Constituent Treasurer for ACT-Wazalendo Halima Ibrahim Mohamed.
“Yes, Covid-19 is a global political, social and economic disaster but women have suffered the most,” she says, arguing that the “lockdown” of school children has increased the domestic responsibilities on women. She believes that this could have been the opportune time for women with political ambitions to reach out and interact with electorates.
“For our kind of politics, physical contacts with the constituents are inevitable,” she says, adding that social networks can be used as well but, “Not many of our potential voters can be accessed through these networks.”
“Unfortunately, the more opportunities for women are constrained, the more opportunities for men are widened,” she says, citing Zanzibar’s politically active leisure centres—Maskani—which men exploit exhaustively. Zanzibar women aspire to achieve a 50:50 representation in the decision making bodies—through capturing constituencies and even the presidency.
“This is the time for women, and we have to work seriously for it,” says Ms Halima. Tanzania Media Women’s Association, Zanzibar (TAMWA, ZNZ) consoles women but advises them to soldier on.
“This is the time for all women to come out and work hard, instead of locking themselves inside. They only have to observe all the health guidelines against the virus,” says TAMWA, ZNZ Policy Analyst and Advocacy Manager Salma Lusangi.