All-women garbage collection team cleans up Harare | Africa | DW | 29.03.2016
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All-women garbage collection team cleans up Harare

Jobs like truck driving or garbage collecting used to exclusively go to men, because women were deemed too delicate for the tasks. But that has changed in Zimbabwe's capital Harare that now employs all-female teams.

It is 6 a.m. in Warren Park, one of Harare's low-income residential areas, where an all-female refuse collection team is hard at work. Dressed in orange work suits, the women are going through the neighborhood to pick up waste.

The physical nature of the job can be taxing. Unlike in the Western world where waste management is highly mechanized, the garbage collectors in Zimbabwe's capital do a lot of lifting.

One has to be strong to meet the demands of the job, says Margaret Mugore, who has been lifting refuse bins for six years. But she says it also helps her to keep fit.

Women garbage workers on the truck (photo: Privilege Musvanhiri)

Women workers lift heavy garbage waste bags as part of their shifts

"We used to have health problems, high blood pressure and tiredness because of inactivity, but I am now active," she said.

"I wake up at 4 a.m. and the residents receive us well," she added.

Makanyara Gandiwa, who started as a street sweeper in 1996, is now driving the garbage truck. She says a town clerk who encouraged women to take up male-dominated professions soon after the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995, an agenda for women's empowerment, inspired her.

"I love serving people through driving this truck," she said. "I encourage women to take up jobs that are mostly done by men."

However, she adds, "working a job considered a men's domain should not change you even if you are married. You just have to give an equal measure of respect to your husband even if you are working a men's job."

Female garbage collectors are popular in the city

According to Michael Chideme, acting City of Harare communications manager, female refuse collectors are becoming popular with residents and the city is striving to increase female teams to attain gender balance.

"They make the customers happy," he said. "Women were also pestering that they can do the job and it was also a platform to exercise their skill."

Women garbage workers in the neighborhood, collecting trash (photo: Privilege Musvanhiri)

The female team is very popular in the neighborhood - especially among the housewives

The all-female team is warmly received by the residents. Most of those who say they are happy it's a women team are housewives. The women say the male refuse collection teams often harass them.

"The ladies are so kind," a housewife in the neighborhood said. "Men are so rough to us. They shout at us. Today we are happy."

"It is in the past, when men were the only ones expected to work. What about if I die, what will my wife do if she does not work?" a male resident said. "They are cleaning up Harare. It is 50 - 50. Everyone must work."

Progress on gender equality - but not enough

Zimbabwe has made significant progress in ratifying international gender protocols in various sectors of the economy. However, activists pushing for gender equality feel more needs to be done still - particularly in resource allocation.

The all-female workers team (photo: Privilege Musvanhiri)

The all-female workers are well-liked - especially since they don't shout at residents

"When we see women being paid for the things that we have always been doing it becomes exciting," Sally Dura said. She's the national coordinator for Women's Coalition in Zimbabwe, a network of activists and organizations that advocates for the advancement of women.

"But we then say to amplify it further and perfect it, we need to have conversations and structural ways so that it becomes safe for them and that they are also paid a remuneration that is fair - fair pay for the work that they do."

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