Activists ring alarm to GBV

HARARE - Zimbabwe will today mark International Women’s Day with meetings and protests against rising gender-based violence (GBV), although there are some celebrations for hard-won victories.

In the capital Harare, where dozens of women continue to take refuge in shelters after gender-based attacks, victims are due to call for greater government efforts to stop the brutal practice.

Nearly 50 women seek help everyday, according to aid agency Musasa Project. 

At least 30 women are kept at Musasa Project secret shelter for the abused. 

International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on March 8.

Netty Musanhu, director of Musasa Project, said this momentous day comes amid rising rape cases in Zimbabwe.

The latest Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey states that one in every four women suffers sexual violence, while one in three women aged 15 to 49 years has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.

“Thirty-four women are in our shelter now and 24 of them are young people who are victims of rape, the youngest being a 12-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated,” Musanhu said.

She said aid agencies such as Musasa Project were confronted with the mammoth task of  walking the survivors through the whole process of healing.

Experts say rape as a weapon is part and parcel of embedded socio-cultural attitudes towards women — characterised by “roora” or bridewealth, an inherently patriarchal practice where women are framed as property or conduits of male wealth.

This is when a man pays cash or livestock to the woman’s family to enable him to get her hand in marriage. Analysts say by so doing, the woman will be expected to submit to the man.

This leaves women vulnerable especially where poverty is prevalent.

But there are also advances in the new Zimbabwe Constitution providing the framework for gender parity; including setting up of the gender commission and striking gender balance in public institutions.

A number of festivities were arranged for the celebrations, with a musical concert at the Book Café, where female singers and songwriters such as Prudence Katomeni, Rute Mbangwa and the women’s acapella group Nobuntu from Bulawayo shared the stage on Thursday.

The Australian Embassy in Harare, marked the day  with a seminar targeting Australian alumni with the theme Inspiring Change and Mentorship.

The event featured presentations from Sekai Nzenza, a writer and development consultant and recently appointed CEO of the Rio Zim Foundation; and Musanhu.

Heather White, co-founder of the newly launched Pachedu Designs, a social enterprise supporting women in Zimbabwe, led an open discussion.

Matthew Neuhaus, Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, said: “Gender equality is an over arching principle of Australia’s aid programme and all our aid programmes are required to address gender equality and women’s empowerment,” Neuhaus said.

“The (Australian) government recently appointed Ms Natasha Stott Despoja as Australia’s Ambassador for women and girls. This reflects the government’s aim to be at the forefront of efforts to promote the empowerment of women and girls.”

The Australian government also focuses on education as a powerful tool for empowering women and girls, promoting sustainable development and improving living standards. The Australia Awards programme in Africa in particular ensures equal educational opportunities for women and men.

Neuhaus said: “We believe this is one of the most effective ways of supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.”

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