The sale of second-hand undergarments in Zimbabwean flea markets has come under fire on health grounds with some calling for the government to ban the trade.
News reports this week said the Finance Ministry had taken steps to ban such commerce. However, government officials declining to be identified in connection with the sensitive issue said that the statutory instrument has not yet been enforced.
The independent daily paper Newsday reported that Finance Minister Tendai Biti had imposed a ban saying that he was shocked to discover that many Zimbabweans are accustomed to buying pre-owned underwear from flea markets or stalls.
The paper quoted Biti as saying, “if you are a husband and you see your wife buying underwear from the flea market, you would have failed.”
Health professionals welcomed the move to ban the sale of such garments. But others said it is a reasonable way for people to obtain necessary garments at a low cost.
One woman from Harare's Highfield suburb who asked to be identified only as Grace, told VOA that she has no choice but to buy used underwear at the Mupedzanamo flea market in Mbare district because the garments are very cheap and durable.
“They can ban it but truthfully speaking the Mupedzanhamo is really helping us. These China products they are bringing in Zimbabwe are not durable. Most of them you use them but in a week’s time they are gone. They must consider us, the poor," she said.
Community Working Group on Health Executive Director Itai Rusike said considerations of personal hygiene and possible transmission of sexual diseases argued for a ban on the resale of such clothing. “It’s a public health issue, it’s a personal hygiene issue and traditionally it can also be a moral issue," Rusike said.
“We have a perennial water shortage and people are not able to get water in their homes easily so there is a risk that someone may buy a pair of panties from a flea market and not be able to get water to wash those panties and not have the luxury of buying a detergent to kill any bacteria," he said.
Legislator Thabitha Khumalo said the sale of second-hand undergarments threatens the dignity of women. "Every single woman has to menstruate how then are you able to keep the sanitary towel in position without a panty. What is that plan B in order to close that vacuum of $1 for two because nature does not allow for a vacuum?”
The legislator said the situation is worse for female prisoners who are have very little access to undergarments. “Can you imagine what these women are going through in prisons as we speak with the shortage of sanitary towels and the shortages of panties.”
Elsewhere, activists say the government should budget on gender-responsive lines so as to promote equality in the economic, social and political domains.
The Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Center and Network, with other organizations, said that although Zimbabwe has signed conventions on gender, the funding and implementation of these commitments remains poor.
The Finance Ministry’s 2012 budget allocated $3 million to women's development, but advocates say the amount is inadequate and that the government should rethink its approach to the standing of women as a developmental issue.
Zimbabwe Women’s Coalition Chairwoman Virginia Muwanigwa said funding has not matched policy and that resources are critical to advance gender equality.