Waste pickers share the challenges they face

A STRONG stench surrounds what has officially become their work environment which helps them eke a living under difficult economic challenges in Zimbabwe.

Some come all the way from Harare, Gweru and Mutare to pick waste from Bulawayo’ s Landfill Site popularly known as Ngozi Mine located in Richmond surburb.

Due to the environmental and social challenges relating to crime, gender-based violence, poor pricing models and competition for waste at Ngozi Mine, women are often faced with danger and death while trying to make ends meet.

In separate interviews, waste pickers highlighted that although they are able to raise money for food and rent, the environment is now dangerous.

Siphilile Mashona who is employed as a security guard says waste picking is a side hustle which helps her raise money for the upkeep of her two children.

“I spend half a day at Ngozi Mine picking waste which is later packed and sold in Harare for about $100 per tonne. The process of picking that much however comes with a lot of risk and often we are attacked by males and other competitors who hire men to chase us away from this place,” she said.

“The place is ever dirty not that we expect anything better but it puts our health at risk as we do not have protective clothing. We are prone to disease but since we have no other means we have to come here and work so that at least I get that extra $100 monthly to pay rent and school fees.

Unlike Mashona who works single handedly, Otilia Moyo from Harare has a group of five women who she hired to pick and wash plastics for her.

“The business side of things is attractive as I can raise $300 monthly and then give my workers $30 each so they too can fend for their families. One of my workers is a qualified teacher but due to hardships has resorted to waste picking for survival,” she said.

” Besides constant harassment from men who scramble for waste or sabotage our prices, so far so good it’s better than sitting at home. The only fear is that one day we may develop risky health conditions given the stench, dirt and hazards all over this dump site. ”

A recent report from Matabeleland Institute of Health Rights (MIHR) shows that there is a growing number of waste pickers in Bulawayo.

“For most female waste pickers, waste picking is an option that is undertaken due to desperation as a result of high poverty rates and high unemployment rates in Zimbabwe. However, having ventured into this sector, most female waste pickers realize vast opportunities within the circular waste management economy and now want to diversify into waste recycling as livelihood option,” said MIHR.

“There are a lot of human rights violations in the waste picking sector and most of them target women and girls. Majority of the violations are done with impunity as there is a high number of women and girls (victims and potential victims) who do not know where to report them. This then creates a perpetual cycle of violence and militates against efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.”

MIHR called for gender inclusive and human rights-based approaches to challenging all forms of violence and discrimination of women and girls in the waste picking sector.

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