Covid-19 devastating Z’bar entrepreneurs’ lives

22May 2020
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Covid-19 devastating Z’bar entrepreneurs’ lives

SINAJAMBO Makame of Makunduchi   in Unguja South region is one of women entrepreneurs in Zanzibar who are engaging in making and selling handmade crafts to visiting tourists  in the Indian Ocean archipelago. 

For the past two months, Sinajambo hasn’t sold any handmade craft because there is no flights landing in Isles due to the outbreak of Covid-19. 

Sinajambo, a mother of six says: “In those good days, I used to get between 300,000/- and 400,000 per month. But, now things are totally different, my life has changed completely. I’m not generating any income.”

  Sinajambo says: “My customers were tourists who   bought handmade leather wallets and other related products on every Tuesday and Thursday. I used to sell those goods in US dollars.”

  Covid-19 pandemic  has destroyed my business   in all aspects of life, as she cannot   run her family any longer.

Sinajambo recounts that the business  sales started plummeting soon after the Isles’ government announced a ban on international flights as part of the measures to curb the pandemic.

Apart from selling traditional goods to tourists, Sinajambo who is also a tailor says: During Ramadhan, I  used to get a good number of tenders, but now I have nothing. This shows how coronavirus has badly affected our businesses.   We’ve nothing to do now.”

Sinajambo is not the only woman in Zanzibar who is putting up a brave fight despite the hard times she is facing. Zana Aziz Machiano, a mother of three at Chwaka village in Central District of Unguja blames nobody, but Covid-19, saying her business has gone down   because of   the pandemic.

Zana’s business involves selling handmade goods such as handbags, leather wallets   and other related merchandises.

“We used to move and sell our products in open-air markets, but, due the pandemic, such markets are nowhere to be seen because the government had banned such gatherings and encourages social distancing as one of the measures to curb the disease.”

“I never experienced such difficult times we’re in now. Times are hard, people are not buying as they used to before this coronavirus,” she says, adding: “So, I am asking myself as when this pandemic is going to end? How am I going to feed my four children if this disease persists?” 

In Zanzibar, large number of women work  in the informal sector as entrepreneurs running small and medium enterprises.   Zanzibar women often depend on public open spaces and social interactions, which are now restricted to fight the pandemic.

Zana however commends Tamwa-Zanzibar and Milele Zanzibar Foundation for giving them (women entrepreneurs) a tender of making face masks, saying it had relieved her lives, appealing to other organisations to emulate Twama-Zanzibar.

Halma Mohamed says: “To me I see Covid-19 as disastrous to people’s livelihoods. There are no businesses going on here.” 

Halima who is a treasurer with the opposition ACT Wazalendo in Malindi. She   says before the pandemic many women were engaging in selling fresh fish at Darajani Fish Market, but now they aren’t allowed to do   due to the virus.

“So, in a nutshell, this disease has shuttered women’s dreams. There are those who have failed to repay their loans from Village Community Bank (Vicoba)...I have no better words to explain this, but the situation is bad,” she says, suggesting the need for Zanzibar government to come up with a strategies that will assist women entrepreneurs to revive their businesses.

For Mwanamrisho Abama from Chumbuni Constituency the pandemic has destroyed almost everything from social, economic to political aspects.

She isn’t sure on whether this year’s general elections campaigns will be allowed as politicians   will be able to   visit their voters and talk to them.

“I don’t see the room for us   organising public rallies and sell   manifesto  to voters because of this pandemic,” she says, adding: “Right now we’re waiting for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to tell us on how we’ll get into election campaigns  because right now there are no political meetings.” 

“Taking into account that 99 per cent of Zanzibaris are Muslims, and during the good days it was common to see people   supporting each other during Ramadhan, but this remain a story of the past due to Covid-19.”

Mwanamrisho who is a chairperson of the opposition Chadema women wing in Unguja North Region says: “Women who are engaging in food vending businesses are no longer doing so.”

She encourages parents to take serious measures to educate their children on dangers of Covid-19 and protective measures against the virus.

Tamwa-Zanzibar, policy analyst and advocacy manager Salma Lusangi describes women as key in the country’s socio-economic development, but the pandemic has destabilided their activities. 

“We’re encouraging women entrepreneurs to continue with their socio-economic activities, but, they (women) should adhere to the government directives on protective measures against the virus such as frequent hand washing, sanitizing, observing social distancing and wearing face masks,” she says. 

According to World Health Organization (WHO), the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, coughing, and breathing problems and if someone have severe symptoms should contact responsible authorities.

“Protecting yourself and others from the spread COVID-19, this is our main message to people,” she says, adding that coronavirus is deadly but can be prevented and contained.

Zanzibar’s Minister for Trade and Industries, Ambassador Amina Salum Ali admits that the pandemic has destabilised the country's economy. 

So, the minister urges Isles’ women entrepreneurs to venture into massive production of Covid-19 protective gear such as liquid soap, sanitizers and face masks to generate  incomes. 

She says: “Coronavirus has opportunities in disguise. So, entrepreneurs should use it to get out of poverty trap.” UN Women Representative, Hodan Addou once quoted as saying her agency will partner with the government to conduct a gender rapid assessment to examine the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods.

The assessment will also look into how women and girls have been affected as well as coming up with recommendations on to improve their welfare.

“We will collaborate with the government and other partners to establish short and long-term gender-responsive recovery plans to address the economic recession on women-led businesses,” Addou said.

Some of the recovery measures will include removal of barriers that prevent full involvement of women in economic activities, promotion of equal pay and equal opportunities for women and men, engendering fiscal policy and social protection mechanisms, promoting access to finance for women entrepreneurs and application of various mechanisms that can boost women’s self-employment.

Globally, 740 million women work in the informal sector while women aged 25 to 34 years are 25 percent more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.A United Nations Policy Brief on the Impact of the COVID-19 on women warns of different impacts on the economic and productive lives of women and men.

This is attributed to the fact that across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector.