Women lobby groups castigated

HARARE - As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world to commemorate the global campaign; 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence slated from November 24 to December 8, women lobby groups have been castigated for doing little for the poor woman who continues to wallow in poverty.

 The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence and is coordinated globally by Centre for Women’s Global Leadership.

 The start and end dates of the campaign are November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence, and December 10, Human Rights Day. November 29 is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day.

 Defending Women Defending Rights is an international campaign launched in 2004 for the recognition and protection of women human rights defenders.

 The campaign asserts that women fighting for human rights and all activists defending women’s rights face specific violations as a result of their advocacy or their gender.

These dates were chosen to emphasise that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights.

 While the campaign has been successful in many countries because of the activism of millions of women and tens of thousands of organisations worldwide, who are committed to ending gender-based violence, in Zimbabwe organisations dealing with gender issues have little to show when it comes to implementing programmes for grassroots communities.

The frequency of gender-based violence (GBV) varies with location and the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women, states that globally, one out of three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries.

 The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action clearly identifies violence against women as including violations of the rights of women in situations of armed conflict, including systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy; forced sterilisation, forced abortion, coerced or forced use of contraceptives; prenatal sex selection and female infanticide.

 It also recognises the particular vulnerabilities of women belonging to minorities: the elderly and the displaced; indigenous, refugee and migrant communities; the disabled; women living in impoverished rural or remote areas, or in detention.

 GBV has devastating consequences, not only for victims, but also for society as a whole. It impacts women’s health, particularly reproductive health.

GBV eats up earnings due to death and lost productivity, job loss, lost productivity of the abuser due to incarceration, and loss of tax revenue due to death and incarceration.

 Locally, the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, ZWLA has in the past commemorated the day by holding marches through Harare City Centre bringing together people from all walks of life.

The marches are usually meant to encourage Zimbabweans to use the Domestic Violence Act so as to promote domestic harmony.

 In 2007, the Zimbabwean government passed into law the Domestic Violence Act which was hailed as a progressive step in providing remedies, and ensuring stronger legal enforcement, against GBV.

The aim of the law is basically to provide relief and ensure protection for survivors of domestic violence, as well as long-term measures for the prevention of domestic violence.

Various forms of abuse against women are clearly defined crimes in the law, including emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; economic abuse; intimidation; harassment and stalking.

The law also outlaws forced virginity testing; female genital mutilation; pledging of women or girls for purposes of appeasing spirits; forced marriages; child marriages; forced wife inheritance and sexual intercourse between fathers-in-law and newly married daughters-in-law.

In 2009, the ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development launched the Anti-domestic Violence Council in terms of Section 16 of the Domestic Violence Act.

 The council, which comprises representatives of the judiciary, religious and NGO sectors among others, was mandated to monitor the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act in Zimbabwe.

Motivational speaker and broadcaster Soneni Gwizi said as Zimbabweans join the rest of world in commemorating the 16 Days of Activism Against gender based violence, it is important to remember women with disabilities who suffer silently without their stories being told.

 Gwizi is herself disabled, and proud of it.  “As we fight against GBV this month let us consider women with disabilities and listen to their stories and report on them. When you educate a woman with a disability you remove poverty, stigma and discrimination from her,” said the broadcaster.  

She said violence affects mostly women who have hearing impaired problems and the visually impaired.
 “This is mainly caused by a serious lack of communication between the victims, the community and family support,” said Gwizi. “Imagine if you are a visually impaired woman and someone rapes you. You have no one tell because the people around you never think that you can become a victim of sexual violence or physical abuse.”

Gwizi said the hearing impaired woman is mainly abused because she fails to negotiate for a safe relationship or safe sex.

“The majority of the hearing impaired persons are not well educated, this becomes a challenge for then in using contraceptives and condoms as they are not able to read well or follow instructions.

“People take advantage of their communication barriers.”

Poet and project coordinator for several girl-child programmes, Mbizo Chirasha said while a lot has been happening, especially on projects to campaign for women rights, there was need to do more.

 “It is time that lobby groups looked at women living in the streets, some of them who are blind and have no hope of a better life. We need more serious and passionate projects in farms, villages and other peripheries. As of now, it seems the whole campaign game is urban-centred,” said Chirasha.

 The poet said Girl-child Creativity, an organisation they formed to develop talent and motivate the girl child, has done a lot when it came to address the issue of gender violence.

“Our Girl-child Creativity project has spread to include visits to Mental health care centres where our teams major in artistic therapy and impart knowledge on gender violence and how the mentally disturbed can cope with abuse,” said Chirasha.

 He however, bemoaned a trend that has crept in many women organisations as directors amass wealth at the expense of the poor and abused woman.

“Such things happen as we see women organisations bosses drive posh cars, bleaching in good lifestyles while the people they purport to be serving are ruined in poverty and are abused right and centre.”

 In an earlier interview, writer Virginia Phiri hit out at local women organisations for doing little to uplift their status. “While we have been lobbying for the establishment of women organisations and groups to advance our programmes, that effort has only benefited a few at the top.

 “They drive big cars; buy properties for themselves while nothing drips down to the women at the ground. The grassroots woman is the least developed yet we have all these women organisations led by executives who are enriching themselves.”

 Amakhosi Arts Community director Cont Mhlanga said it is unfortunate that the champion women activists have a very narrow western defined violence and gender outlook.

 “This then tends to fit in activism agenda of the middle class women of our society most of which is theory talk activism, advertising that speaks above the grassroots victims and is misunderstood by the majority of the grassroots women.

“Once issues are removed from the local context of the majority they then become just office projects to make some livelihoods for those that create and manage them,” said Mhlanga.

He added that activism must come from the grassroots community and once initiated should be self-driving until it becomes part of the community life and culture.

 “Activism that is driven by external budgets for ever is not worth the effort as it will not influence behaviour change. Activism should engage the local communities,” said Mhlanga.

Phillip Pasirayi, a director for Centre for Community Development said while credit should be given to women activists for lobbying government to promulgate the Domestic Violence Act, they’ve not done enough to involve grassroots women whose rights are trampled on a daily basis.

“These women’s groups still have a lot of work to do especially raising awareness among the grassroots so that their issues are not seen as elitist by ordinary rural women.

 “Women groups need to move a gear up and also bring men on board in the fight against domestic violence. This is not a battle that women alone can win but there is need to engage other stakeholders and show solidarity with rural and young women,” said Pasirayi.

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