COVID-19 Global Diaries: ‘I don’t have running water let alone soap to wash my hands’

Mildred Mapingure is a single mum living in Zimbabwe, one of the world’s poorest countries. Here she shares the reality of confronting coronavirus when self-isolation and basic hygiene facilities are not an option

My country, Zimbabwe, is in lockdown. From what I hear, it’s nothing like the experience you are currently living through in the UK. Let me explain my reality. I rent a single room in a house in Harare, the capital, a room I share with my 13-year-old daughter. Fifteen other people also live in this cramped, four-room house so self-isolating is impossible.

We do not have running water in our house or soap to wash our hands, because both are too expensive. Instead we have to join long queues at boreholes or public taps that everyone is touching and hope the clean water is enough. If we need food or water we must go out, there is no choice. None of us have the finances to stockpile, meanwhile food prices rise. Feeling my stomach churning with hunger as I try to sleep each night is normal for me.

Covid-19 in Zimbabwe

Mildred with her daughter

Domestic violence is a growing problem for women, many are now in lockdown living in small rooms with abusive men who used to spend the majority of their time out of the home, working. Most women I know were able to placate their violent partner by putting food on the family table, and buying and selling in the once bustling markets. Now there is no food and people are shut in cramped conditions. A hungry man is an angry man.

If just one person was to become ill in our house I do not know how we would cope. The government is trying to keep the virus under control, but we do not have proper protective clothing, gloves, masks or sanitisers – we simply can’t afford them. Last month, even our doctors and nurses went on strike due to the lack of protective clothing.

I’m 39 now and I survived my fair share of trauma. I’m a gang rape survivor. Back in 2005, there was a lot of social breakdown and bloodshed following the Zimbabwean elections and it was during this time that I was attacked. I am now a member of SEMA – which literally means ‘Speak out’ in Swahili – I’m part of a global network of survivors and victims of sexual violence in conflict. And as the head of advocacy for We Are Not Weapons of War I’m in contact with survivors from around the world. But I can honestly the threat of war is not as scary as Covid-19.

Covid-19 in Zimbabwe

In war you have some time to prepare, and you know what you are fighting against, where it is coming from, and at what speed it is travelling. I have never been this scared before. I know this pandemic greatly affects everyone but its consequences will be felt much more by vulnerable populations around the world, and the women who have been victims of rape in conflict are among the poorest and most ostracised in their communities.

* To help Mildred and other vulnerable women, please make a donation to the Mukwege Foundation, established by Dr Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and all proceeds will go entirely to survivors of wartime rape in the SEMA network

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