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Women, girls bear brunt of power outages: MIHR

THE Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) says power outages affecting the country have hit women and girls harder as they are burdened with the responsibility of fetching firewood as an alternative energy source.

The human rights watchdog has called on families to come up with methods to protect women and girls from sexual abuse as they look for firewood in bushy areas.

MIHR co-ordinator Khumbulani Maphosa said: “As the electricity shortages worsen in urban areas, MIHR is concerned by the high-risk exposure that women and girls are now subjected to as they fetch firewood in the bushes. The organisation calls on families, men and responsible authorities to prioritise women and girls’ safety.”

He said MIHR recently carried a out a study on how people in high-density suburbs survive during the power crisis and found that women were resorting to fetching firewood from bushes that are far away, which is not safe given the rising cases of rape.

“On Tuesday the 13th and Wednesday the 14th of December 2022, MIHR conducted a monitoring visit to Pumula Old, and parts of Pumula South suburbs and noted that women and girls were the ones mostly seen emerging from bushy areas after collecting firewood. This is a major concern especially during this time when the crimes of sexual abuse and rape are on the increase,” Maphosa said.

“In view of the above, while MIHR is totally opposed to cutting down of trees for firewood because of its negative environmental impacts and subsequent human rights consequences, we, therefore, call on women and girls to never go to the bushes to collect firewood alone. They must go in pairs or in groups of at least four and above.  They can also be accompanied by at least one male adult.”

Maphosa urged families to remove the responsibility of sourcing firewood from females.

“Males must do these chores. Parents must desist from sending children (especially the girl child) to fetch firewood alone in bushes because this exposes them to rape,” he said, while calling on the police to patrol bushy areas in cities because they are potential crime hotspots given the high demand for firewood.

“BCC should also be on high alert and monitor the operations of rangers in order to ensure that they do not get involved in gender-based violence crimes such as ‘sex-for-firewood’ practices,” he added.

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