Roads to resilience: Reconnecting communities and advancing women empowerment in Chimanimani

A road is more than just a way for getting from one place to another – for most communities in Chimanimani District, roads are the lifeline to markets, food and basic services such as education and health facilities. The destruction of road infrastructure caused by Cyclone Idai was especially debilitating for such communities as they were totally cut off.

One such road, Ruwedza, connects 2 villages to the only satellite primary school in the area. The two villages have no secondary school so students walk 3kms to Mkombiwami Secondary School. The nearest health center for this community is the Mutambara Mission hospital which is 28kms away. The rugged terrain makes it impossible for villagers to develop shorter routes so they follow the main road. Access to this community was cut off so much that the National COVID-19 vaccination program had excluded them as there was no means of reaching them.

United Nations for Projects Services (UNOPS) is rehabilitating this road through the World Bank funded Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP). UNOPS is implementing a community-based approach that provides employment for the local community to carry out labour-intensive work such as the construction of culverts and drainage channels for the roads. 

This modality has been effective in producing temporary income opportunities and transferring skills while disaster-struck communities rehabilitate their assets. For sustainability,  labour-intensive works utilise local materials. This ensures that communities are resilient to future shocks.  The communities have the requisite skills to source material and repair damaged roads on their own.

“Now that cars can travel to our village, I saw the opportunity to open a tuckshop and sell groceries in the village using the money I am making working on this road with UNOPS,”  a community worker at Ruwedza road,  Juliet Tsarara (aged 58) exclaims. “When my contract ends, I will still have a source of income to look after my family.” Since the road was rehabilitated, the ZIRP-supported mobile outreach clinic was able to provide basic healthcare services free of charge to the community.

158 community workers are currently employed at Ruwedza Road, and of these 100 are women. This is a deliberate effort to ensure that women can access income opportunities in even these non-traditional roles of construction. UNOPS invests in community awareness activities in order to create gender transformation. Further, UNOPS creates an enabling environment for women once they are a part of the project. In every site, separate, safe and menstrual hygiene friendly  toilets are provided. UNOPS has also put in place ‘child friendly’ spaces at each site which provide a safe sheltered place for women who are breastfeeding or who have young children in their care to bring them to work. Child care givers are assigned to look after the young children at each work site.