CHIHOTA, Zimbabwe – In April 2016, more than two dozen Zimbabwean women who had managed to escape their abusive employers in Kuwait arrived safely back in their home country.
More women followed, and so far more than a hundred Zimbabwean women having been repatriated from the Arab state, all of them survivors of human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Although Zimbabwe was praised for its efforts to tackle trafficking, once the women were home they quickly found themselves on their own. They received some counseling and were given $100 for groceries. But amid a sagging economy and soaring unemployment, many struggled to support themselves.
Now, however, about 100 of those women are earning money and running their own small businesses, with help from an initiative launched by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In collaboration with the government, the IOM identified trafficking survivors who could use support and asked them to select ventures they thought would allow them to sustain themselves.
“They developed proposals which were analyzed for feasibility,” says Lily Sanya, the IOM chief of mission in Zimbabwe.
Successful applicants will get a total of $1,500 in two batches: the first to launch their business and the second for restocking and continuing costs. They can also get help with training and support as they build up their management and business skills. Most of the women have already received their first batch of funding.
That’s how Memory Chimbwanda, 29, from rural Chihota in Mashonaland East Province, ended up with 135 chicks and $600 worth of chickenfeed.
Chimbwanda, a single mother of two, was one of the women who escaped from Kuwait last year. She had gone to work as a housemaid after hearing on the radio that there were opportunities in the Gulf state. But after three months of “working for no pay, no days off or rest,” she ran from the house and sought refuge at the Zimbabwean embassy, which helped her get back home.
Two months ago, Chimbwanda started her poultry business with funding and support from the IOM and Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.
“I see there is a good market here in my rural area,” she says. “As I look after my children alone, I will be able to get them to school and meet their daily needs.”
Other women enrolled in the project have opened grocery shops, started selling hair products and cosmetics, and gone into cattle rearing, interior design or dressmaking, says Sanya from the IOM.
Others have opted to use the money to go to college to study accounting, advanced first aid and civil engineering.
Representatives from the IOM and the labor ministry visit the projects to monitor their progress. “The majority are doing well as they were able to make between $200 and $500 in the first month of operation,” says Sanya.
Slow Progress on Tackling Trafficking
As they work together to help trafficking survivors reintegrate, Zimbabwe’s government and the IOM are also focusing on awareness campaigns to stop other women from falling into the same trap.
In its 2017 Trafficking in Persons report, the U.S. Department of State notes Zimbabwe has been making significant moves toward closing the gaps in its measures to eliminate human trafficking. Along with last year’s repatriations from Kuwait and Sudan, the government has increased efforts to prosecute alleged traffickers. It has also trained police officers in victim identification at interviews and begun to implement a national action plan. One trafficker has been convicted so far, and Zimbabwe has not yet amended its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Act to make it consistent with international law.
Corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary impairs the effectiveness of the country’s anti-trafficking work, says the report, as does inadequate monitoring of its borders.
Pamela Mhlanga, chair of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, says the government needs to focus more on preventive measures.
“The government should take more decisive steps to warn its citizens, especially young women, of the importance of validating information on cross-border opportunities, and use case studies of current gross violations to warn them of the dangers,” she tells News Deeply.
Mhlanga would also like to see the government step up efforts to dismantle syndicates responsible for trafficking and ensure its foreign missions are equipped to rescue citizens.
As Memory Chimbwanda puts her traumatic experience behind her with the help of her new poultry business, she already has plans to expand. She wants to buy some land for farming and eventually open a small grocery store.
Another recipient of the inputs has bought a peanut butter-making machine from the proceeds of her poultry business. “She is one of the success stories,” Sanya says.
“I want to add on my poultry business with farming at small scale in order to adequately look after my family,” Chimbwanda says.
“I am hoping to get a piece of land, make use of the proceeds from my sell of chicken and save for my farming project.”