The year 2013 is one that Maxwell Chikara would want to forget quickly.
Barely a year after getting a job at a local supermarket as a stores controller, he was retrenched together with 20 others.
With no income to sustain his young family, Maxwell teamed up with three of his friends from Chitungwiza and decided to venture into hair braiding temporarily, while looking for formal employment.
Two years down the line, Maxwell says he has lost all hope of getting a job and has resigned himself to fate – never mind the snide remarks from friends and relatives – when he tells them that he is a hairdresser.
Men have been emasculated by the loss of traditional functions and jobs as the effects of economic downturn currently being experienced globally become pronounced in Zimbabwe.
Men have been robbed of their traditional roles as providers, protectors and even pro-creators. The heavy muscular jobs of working with machinery in heavy industries, digging trenches and banging metal from which men derived an assertive productive masculinity have disappeared.
These have been replaced by jobs that favour nimble fingers, flexible minds and ready smiles, scanning bar codes, cooking and serving food in different food courts across cities, areas once thought to be exclusively for women.
Researchers now say that this diminished male, who has been thrust into the deep end of the pink collar jobs, makes a poor mate. His wallet is thin, his self-esteem deflated and his masculinity shrunken.
While women continue to blaze paths in various careers, including those traditionally held by men – in some instances which require physique – it has become increasingly difficult for men to get good jobs with benefits regardless of their academic and professional backgrounds.
“When I started, it was hard to mingle with my friends after work, because they would ridicule me, calling me names. But now things have changed, they appreciate that it’s a survival strategy and some of them have since joined me,” said Maxwell.
Much of this lament is deeply nostalgic. He longs for formal employment in a hard hit area, but deep inside he knows it will not happen.
A fitter and turner by profession, Paddington spent two years without a job until a friend advised him to get one as cook at an open-air eatery along Harare’s Seventh Street.
“I have lost hope of working with production plant machining equipment. I am now fully into this because more people continue to lose their jobs,” he said, while pointing at a silver point with boiling water.
Presenting the 2015 national budget, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa revealed that 55 443 workers lost their jobs after the closure of 4 610 companies between 2011 and 2014.
According to the statistics, the tourism sector was the hardest hit with 2 142 companies closing during the period and 18 413 jobs lost as a result. In the manufacturing sector, 458 companies closed with 9 978 jobs lost during the same period.
The construction sector was not spared with 317 companies closing shop resulting in the loss of 3 651 jobs, with workers in the agricultural sector facing a similar fate.
However, despite the shift in the job market, analysts believe that employment opportunities are still skewed in favour of men.
ZCTU head of women and gender Ms Fiona Magaya said contrary to assertions that men have been emasculated and are losing jobs to women, they still dominate the formal employment sector and are often not targeted for job cuts and retrenchments.
Citing the Zuva Petroleum Supreme Court ruling that resulted in thousands of people losing their jobs on a three-month notice termination, Ms Magaya said more women than men lost their jobs during that period.
Gender discrimination was at play.
“An element of discrimination arises from the fact that whilst there were more than 20 000 workers that lost their jobs, the ZCTU sampled letters received from dismissed members through its affiliates, a total of 1 500 dismissals.
“From that total figure, 1 014 were women. This is a clear indication that women seriously fell victim and were further marginalized. This has serious implications on the welfare of women and the feminization of poverty that comes with it,” she said.
The plight of men as a result of job cuts, shrinking markets and declining production in all sectors, is not being experienced in Zimbabwe alone, but across the globe.
In South Africa the job market is on a shaky ground amid revelations that the South African economy shed 118 397 in February this year, marking the biggest monthly loss in almost three years, according to Adcorp Labour economist Loane Sharp in the latest Adcorp Employment Index.
Job losses in the South African mining sector – largely dominated by men – are likely to accelerate with mining companies such as Anglo-American battling to cope with a global commodity slump.
That development will mean more men will have to cross the floor and invade soft employment sectors once regarded as a preserve for women.