Category Archives: Sexual Violence

A Crime Against Humanity


In this modern world of instant information, have we become inured to horror? Every day we are exposed to pictures and films of extreme violence, they flicker through our consciousness, moving on to the newest examples of human propensity for violence. And we forget each previous example as the newest hits the media.

However, one example of this propensity for violence, common to every country in the world, is with us every day, has been going every day throughout recorded history, and seems hardly to evoke the same concern as war in Syria, Mali, South Sudan, or Somalia. But it is prevalent in every country in the world – WITHOUT EXCEPTION.

As UN Women has pointed out:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime — the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.

Consider the following, according to the UN Women report, The Violence against Women Prevalence Data: Surveys by Country, based on data from 86 countries

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
  • Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
  • An estimated 150 million girls under 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
  • As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy which increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage, still birth and abortion.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
  • In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented since 1996, though the actual numbers are considered to be much higher.
  • In Zimbabwe, 52% of women reported being victims of political violence, with 2% being victims of politically motivated rape, and 3% reporting that a family member had been raped. A startling 16% claimed that they knew of a women that had been raped.
  • Up to 53 percent of women physically abused by their intimate partners are being kicked or punched in the abdomen.
  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Domestic violence alone cost approximately USD 1.16 billion in Canada and USD 5.8 billion in the United States. In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated USD 11.38 billion per year.
  • Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.
  • In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
  • In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 percent of cases.

So, when it is claimed that one billion women are victims of violence, let us be clear that this is an underestimate. If any of us lived in a country where 70% of half the population suffered these kinds of abuses, we would not be happy, and it would be another of those terrible stories flashing through television and the internet. But is endemic everywhere and hence invisible it seems.

No wonder one billion are rising! Actually it should be three and a half rising! But wouldn’t it be wonderful is all seven billion were rising, and these statistics became a thing of the past.

Maybe we need to see all these violent and discriminatory practices as crimes against humanity, fully one half of humanity. Not merely ordinary crimes, but evidence of deep rooted cultural prejudices, and how do we get rid of these prejudices? Perhaps when patriarchy is seen as a crime against humanity?

*This article first appeared on the RAU blog*


No holds barred:This Atrocity Ends Here


It is her core-her being- her most private self-her pride-her DIGNITY

When you violate it you have stripped away her dignity, self confidence, pride & wellbeing

And so with a warped mind, a sadistic spirit that derives pleasure from her pain

He chooses to target it- pushing the dagger into her fresh wound

Society has normalised it-it happens, men shall be men & shall be men

They blame her-she wanted it or she looked for it, her skirt was too short

Why was she walking alone at night?

Was he not her boyfriend & what was she doing with him alone in a closed space?

They make excuses for him-mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts

If she speaks up, they label her

If she does not speak out, she dies inside

She questions if maybe, just maybe-she might have gotten what she deserves

She feels unworthy, dirty, violated-EMPTY

And why does she go through this? Because she is a woman!

Who understands what it means to walk with constant caution?

To be ever vigilant for your safety–

On your way to work, to school, in your office, even in your own home

And yet this is the experience of half the population of the world-DAILY

But repeatedly this experience is, IS belittled? Overlooked?

Underestimated? Misunderstood? Misrepresented? Sidelined?

Whichever one it is, not enough has been done to address it for the pervasive vice it is

We, the women of this world, deserve to live without fear

Fear of death, of terror, of hate and hate speech

Of violence and all other threats to our physical and mental well being

The world needs to understand that—;

Rape IS NOT about sex

Rape IS NOT about a desperate man dealing with constant deprivation of sex

Rape IS NOT illegitimate sex; hence justifying the marriage of girls to their rapists to retroactively legitimise the act is simply cuckoo

Rape HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH a wife reaching menopause, hence justifying a husband pouncing on his child

Rape IS about power and domination; hence as women we need to claim back our power

Rape IS a crime; and as women we must nail the perpetrators

Rape IS an attack on the physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and personal identities of the victim

And for this reason I AM RISING TO SAY-

This atrocity ends here!!!


One Billion Rising


Add your name to the BILLION!!

ONE BILLION RISING IS:

A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being

On the 14th of February 2013, Zimbabwe will join the progressive movement in fighting violence against women through the One Billion Rising Campaign. Zimbabwe is rising because:-

ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.

ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY

ONE BILLION WOMEN dancing IS A REVOLUTION

Considering that rape and violent culture is on the increase in Zimbabwe, it is important that we join the world and place a demand on ending all forms of Violence against women through walking out, dancing and rising to end the culture of VAW.

In the wake of this, Zimbabwe shall rise and dance on 14th of February in Harare to join and support the One Billion rising movement with the rest of the world. The significance of this event is to raise the voice of women of the world in the fight against VAW and to employ a global culture of fighting local injustices with the support of the rest of the global community.

The outcome is being driven by the need to begin a revolutionary yet peaceful culture of fighting against rape, the stripping off of bodily integrity of women, and creating safe spaces for them to survive in.

Can we walk out, rise, dance together; and demand a stop to violence against women.

This article was written by Nyasha Gloria Sengayi, a member of the One Billion Rising Zimbabwe Team


The Perfect Valentines’ Gift


One in three women on this planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Set against the world population of 7 billion, and a total global female population of about 3.5 billion, it means not a hundred (100), not a thousand (1000), not ten thousand (10 000), not a hundred thousand (100 000), nor a million (1 000 000), but ONE BILLION (1 000 000 000) women shall suffer some form of violence in their lifetime. This is an atrocity of unparalleled proportions, yet it is happening right under our noses.  It needs to stop and there is something that we can all do to change this.

On 14 February 2013, anyone who thinks this is unacceptable can join the global campaign to end violence against women and rise. Imagine one billion individuals rising in unison and solidarity to say THIS ENDS HERE!!!

Spread some love, preach peace and advocate an end to violence against women(Picture credit turnbacktogod.com)

Spread some love, preach peace and advocate an end to violence against women
(Picture credit turnbacktogod.com)

Renowned world leaders such as the Dali Lama have pledged their support and commitment to this campaign. Celebrities such as Jane Fonda , Anne Hathaway , Alice Walker , Thandie Newton, Jessica Alba, Kerry Washington, and many others are rising.

Give yourself and the world the perfect Valentines’ Gift: Rise and play your part. Organise or assist in organising an event advocating an end to violence against women on 14 February. Sponsor such an event. Join an event in protest or dance. Spread the word about the campaign. Blog about this. Sponsor the fight against violence against women. Build a shelter for victims of violence. Counsel an abused woman. Give medical attention to victims. Support a woman to walk away from an abusive relationship. Protect a child from abuse. End child marriages. Fight human trafficking. Educate a boy child not to grow into an abusive man.

A central feature of any event organised to protest the violence against women should be DANCING: as dancing is the quintessential way in which women can celebrate the freedom to own their bodies. It is easy to do, can happen anywhere, and men are REQUIRED (and welcomed) to join in.

Zimbabwe is joining the rest of the world in rising. Like the One Billion Rising Zimbabwe Facebook page, and share your reasons for rising.

*The One Billion Rising global movement to end violence against women and girls is the brainchild of Eve Ensler, an American activist and award-winning playwright.*


The Arrogance or Ignorance of Privilege


Some people believe that enough has been said and done to improve women’s human rights, or to fight gender based violence, or  to realise the goal of gender equality characterised by equal chances for all,  equal access to these chances for all and equal respect among all.Could it be forgetfulness or just a sense of acute arrogance of a privileged few to seriously ask, “What is it that women want?” especially if you are also a woman. But yes some men (and women) ask;

“What is it that women want?”“Don’t they have enough already?”“What more do they want?”

“Do they now want us to live in their petticoats?” “Soon we shall be singing ‘majesty’ and curtseying to the end of the world for them, isn’t that where we are headed at this rate.”“If they have food on their tables and roofs over their heads, what more do they want?”“This women’s rights thing is destroying our moral fabric, our culture and our traditions; we have had enough!”

 Delta Milayo Ndou, a fellow blogger and gender activist, in her article “We are in Danger of forgetting”  said something quite striking when she said,

“There is a period between the worst of times and the best of times in which there is a lull…. The relief of having escaped a horrible circumstance tempts us to ease back for a while and eventually the memory of how bad things used to be fades. We start to convince ourselves that things are fine now because we use the worst circumstance as a reference point instead of using the best of circumstances as an aspirational goal to work towards.”

Are women really making unnecessary noise? Are women asking for too much? Should women be grateful for what they have achieved so far and not demand the ultimate desired and aspirational goal that Ndou talks of? What is it that women have achieved that would make some individuals think that they need not ask for more?

A week ago, a young girl was shot in the head in India because she had confronted a man for urinating in front of her gate. In Afghanistan a young girl of 15 had her throat slitbecause her family had refused an offer for marriage. About two months ago, MalalaYousafzai, a 14 year old Pakistani activist was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban for demanding the right of every girl-child to an education.

But to bring it closer to home women and girls are raped each day in Zimbabwe.One in every 3 women will experience rape or some other form of sexual violence at least once in her lifetime; that is about 1 billion women and girls. Each day there are several reports of women and girls raped, battered and bruised through domestic violence. We read in the papers: Woman struck by her husband on the head with a brick for singing happy birthday to him while he was still in bedWoman raped by pastor;   Woman assaulted for dishing the wrong piece of chicken to her husband; and Popular radio DJ and theatre performer, Tinopona Katsande assaulted by her boyfriend Brian Munjodzi.and these are just few of many stories in Zimbabwe

The perpetrators, most of the time are not strangers. They are husbands, boyfriends, fiancés, fathers, brothers, uncles, and even some men that women consider to be friends. Yes the occasional stranger takes a chance, but the majority of abusers are close relatives, individuals that the victims trust; individuals that the victims never imagined would abuse them; individuals whose depravity is unimaginable.

Why would anyone ever ask what it is that women want? You either have to be a ‘blind’ fool, walking around with a pair of dark goggles over your eyes not to see the injustices that women face or you would have to be totally ‘deaf’ not to hear the cries that women and girls are constantly making.

In Zimbabwe, the thought of elections sends shivers down many women’s spines; chills of fear because elections symbolise a time of destruction and loss. Loss of women’s dignity as young men force themselves upon women old enough to be their mothers or grandmothers; loss of women’s control over their bodies as they are raped while sticks, butts of guns, ashes, chillies and all sorts of foreign harmful substances and objects are thrust down women’s genitalia; loss of women’s health as they are wilfully infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; loss of women’s reproductive choices as they are made pregnant, have no access to safe abortions and are forced to give birth and take care of babies whose fathers they do not know.

A cursory look at the legal framework would make it seem as if everything is in order. There is a Domestic Violence Act that prohibits all forms of domestic violence including marital rape and supposedly affords women the opportunity to report their matters to the police. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Units within the police stations, catering to the needs of victims and attending to their complaints with the requisite sensitivity. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Courts that allow the victim to tell their story in a safe space without facing a trial as if they were the perpetrator.  There is a Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that prohibits incest hence one would think a father or uncle would never want to have sex with, let alone force himself upon his daughter or niece or a brother upon his sister.

Yet the reality on the ground is no stranger than fiction. Fathers rape their daughters, brothers- sisters, uncles- nieces, soldiers-civilians.Is there a single soul out there, oblivious to the commission of these horrible atrocities?  If not, then why would anyone think women do not need any more protection than they already have?

But why would anything change when Zimbabwe has a constitution that tells its citizens it is OK to discriminate against women as long as the issues relate to customary law and personal matters such as marriages, custody and guardianship of children, in case of divorce, division of property acquired during marriage, inheritance, access to land and many other instances. Women want to be treated like equals because they are also human beings. Is this too much to ask?

Why would anything change when people still perceive rape as ‘illegitimate sex’-that a woman slept with another man who is not her husband and hence she gets blamed as if she wanted it?-Women want a situation where rape is recognised as a crime, they want perpetrators to be punished in accordance with the severity of their crimes, and not to get a fickle 5 years or to swagger around with total impunity for politically motivated crimes.

Why would anything change when the immediate thought that pops into people’s heads when a woman is battered is  what did she do to deserve it, rather than examining what is wrong with the man to do such a thing to a defenceless woman or often a child? Women want and need a society that recognises that no amount of provocation justifies the use of violence against any woman.

So let those sitting in their high horses of privilege- or maybe halos of ignorance- be they men or women understand that the struggle for women’s emancipation is far from over!


World Mental Health Day-10 October


This article first appeared on the Research and Advocacy Unit Blog and was written by Jocelynne Lake, a colleague…

Today is World Mental Health Day with this year’s theme being “Depression: A Global Crisis”.

The aim of having a day which highlights Mental Health  and especially depression is to raise awareness and bring this important health issue, which is often trivialised, into the open to get people talking about and understanding it.

Whatever the symptoms, depression differs from normal sadness in that it engulfs the day-to-day ability to function of the person affected, interfering with work, study,appetite, sleep and one’s ability to enjoy life. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness are intense and unrelenting.

Although depression is treatable the majority of sufferers are unaware that they are depressed and therefore do not try to seek professional help.

One wonders what the statistics for depression are in Zimbabwe given the rampancy of violence and intimidation which is often committed with impunity?

Unfortunately, there appears to be very little research into this mental condition and it’s prevalence in Zimbabwe with the exception of research paper that RAU published in November 2011 in conjunction with our sister organisation The Tree of Life entitled ‘Trauma and Mental Health in Zimbabwe.’ In this research paper results from a survey done in Mount Darwin, an area badly affected by political violence around elections in 2008, showed that 24 percent of the people interviewed stated they were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 21 percent from depression. These statistics are similar to figures quoted in a medical article by Dixon Chibanda based on a case study conducted in the high density suburb of Mbare, Harare which stated that 25 percent of people attending primary healthcare services as suffering from depression or kusuwisisa (deep sadness) in Shona.

These are numbers based on two small sections of the total population of Zimbabwe and the people interviewed were probably only adults. The effects of both experiencing violence oneself and also witnessing it are extremely traumatic and far reaching so one wonders whether these figures are actually much higher and what will the effects be in the future…


African women on fire!!!


2012 has been a progressive year for African women in global politics.

In April Joyce Banda of Malawi became the first ever female president of Malawi and the Second Female president in Africa. In June, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia became the first female and African Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004. In June again, Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone was appointed as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under-Secretary-General.  She replaced Margot Wallström.  Just yesterday, Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma became the first female Chairperson for the African Union Commission.

Whilst others do not celebrate her appointment given the political debates, politicking and struggles that characterised her election, it still remains fact that her election preludes a significant shift in African politics and in the history of the African Union (AU).

In my view Dr Dlamini-Zuma was a strong candidate not only because she had the requisite experience and skill having served as Foreign Affairs Minister for South Africa for 10 years between 1999 and 2009 and led a number of peace and security initiatives with the AU in Lesotho, the DRC, the Comoros and others but also because she represents a new paradigm shift as the first female Chair and bringing a new face to AU politics where Southern Africa is given its rightful place as an integral member of the AU. Previously it seemed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region was repeatedly sidelined, in what appeared to be legitimacy battles given that there was not a single representation of SADC at the inception of the AU then known as the Organisation of the African Unity as all the Southern African countries were still under colonialism and doubts about SADC sharing a common Pan-African vision given its population demographics.

While some people may choose to look at Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s main challenges as the new AU chairperson in country specific terms, for instance, resolving the conflict in Mali, in Somalia and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as a woman I perceive her biggest challenge to be that of forging ahead a dispensation that addresses African women’s plight.

I am hopeful that should Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s vision for the AU be fulfilled, seeing as how it resonates largely with women’s agenda, then African women are going to be in a better position than they have been so far.  She articulates her vision with the following strategic aims (adapted from the Press statement by Mac Maharaj, spokesperson for President Jacob Zuma):

(i) To implement programmes supporting the AU Decade for Women (2010-2020);

(ii) To prioritise integration, peace and security and conflict resolution as key pillars of Africa’s developmental agenda

(iii) To consolidate the institution of the AU as a formidable, premier, Pan-African institution;

(iv) To reinforce the importance of NEPAD infrastructural development projects as an important programme of the AU;

(v) To focus on the youth of Africa in development programs;

(vi) To spearhead Africa’s continued advocacy for reform of the global governance architecture.

The AU has largely been about rhetoric, focusing on sugar coating a semblance of unity and Pan-Africanism at the expense of the most vulnerable members of its society, especially women. Hence despite the rape and mutilation of women in Zimbabwe, in the DRC, in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Liberia the focus of the AU’s efforts have not been on giving these women an effective remedy but about reaching compromised solutions. Of course, the peace vs. justice debate had raged on and partially consumed the African continent. So never mind the scars that Omar Al-Bashir inflicted and continues to inflict on the bodies, spirits and minds of Sudanese women and children, and men for that matter, but the AU was prepared to protect him and rescue him from the clawing paws of the huge, ferocious and African-hating mammal called the ICC than afford justice to the individual women on the ground.

“Every man [and woman] must decide whether he [or she] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” (Martin Luther King) I hope that the former- creative altruism – is what Dr Dlamini-Zuma represents. The AU Chairpersonship requires a seasoned diplomat not a politician and certainly not a proponent of certain African leaders’ political ideological standpoints! Her statement to the press ignites hope in my mind;

“South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is, [ I] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution.”


Nudity cheapens women yet it sells


Misogyny-a deep hatred of women- is the sentiment that the media is brewing with the content that it is spawning each day and yet we have allowed them to get away with it-even becoming accomplices to the crime ourselves as women.

Representation violence! Anyone ever heard that expression before?  When people hear of violence against women, physical violence comes to mind-the one that leaves bruises and scars on women’s beautiful skins.

Yet everyday representation violence is in our faces yet we hardly see it and we do not even comprehend its consequences and how it fosters mindsets that make the other forms of violence permissible in our society.

Naked women on advertisements of cars-do boobs drive cars?

Surely by itself if the car is worth buying people will buy it. How does the naked woman make the Lexus the car of my choice?

Naked women on realtor’s websites-what has that got to do with selling houses?

Movies in which men beat up their girlfriends because they caught them cheating-what happened to dialogue?

Music videos with naked women caressing and (whining up) to a fully dressed man-and the songs are about making money-explain the link between nudity and money please?

Yes each day the media, print, electronic is prostituting women’s dignity and perpetuating violence against women.

Oh yes some of you right now are thinking-but the women want it. They love posing naked. They consent to these adverts-They are paid for it so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the media has cheapened the body of a woman to such an extent that any advertisement without an attractive woman will not sell. What sells is not the product but the face of the advertisement.

So if the industry has already laid out its rules driven by masochistic tendencies, what choice does a woman who is fighting for survival in a  harsh world have besides capitulating to its demands.

If the first advert had not had a naked woman, would this woman have such a terribly sexist precedent to fend off?

The reality of today is that nakedness sells and the choice is limited to selling or not selling. At the end of the day, that is no choice.

People buy perfumes because they smell good, not because a naked woman is used in the advertisement. Why do women continue to be abused in this manner?

The media names and shames a woman, blaming her for being sexually assaulted and imputing that she “asked for it.” In films teenage girls who get raped will  either be wearing a short skirt, flirting with the guy or get drunk and so when they get raped the sentiment is why were they doing all that-. They should have been more careful. -But what excuse ever justifies a man who forces himself upon an unwilling woman-drunk or not, naked or not??? In other words, the media through such films represent rape more as a sexual act rather than focus on the violent aspect which makes it a crime.

Criminologists have conducted studies which have shown that the majority of child sexual offenders, child molesters and other perpetrators of sexual offences are regular consumers of pornographic material-be it films or magazines. Pornography increases behavioural aggression and cultivates views of women as objects rather than beings. Again the media’s representation of women is to blame.

The media has normalised the face of rape as that of a woman and so no one is shocked anymore when they hear that a woman was gang raped by 12 men.

The media has made it seem as if fat and big women are unattractive and so women starve themselves, deprive themselves of the food they love in a bid to be smaller and hence more attractive. Is this not psychological violence?

How do we make it stop when few women worldwide own the media? How do we restore the value of women? How do we negate repair terrible representations that paint women as objects? How do we repair those who already view women in this manner?

I was inspired by the lyrics to the song Times like these by the Jamaican artist Queen Ifrica in which she bemoaned the negative role that artists and the media have played in ploughing under society’s decency and exploiting women when she says:

“They took away the voices, that gave the people pride
Now we’re plunging into darkness
We all have to play our part, make a bold start
Every disc jock[ey], tell every artist
Media houses, we notice you love [to] support the slackness
How so much alcohol [is] in our parties
While the girls are broke out
And the something she drinked [has drunk has] knocked her out
Now she don’t [doesn’t]care where they prop her up”

Watch the rest of the video here


IWD: We the poor women in this rich world


*I would like to sincerely apologise to those who follow my writings for my long absence. Among other things I have spent the past month focused on lobbying the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, (the CEDAW Committee) to, in its review of the state of Zimbabwe, take on board the issues of the women on the ground as represented by our views to them as Zimbabwean civil society*

 Each year as we commemorate International Women’s Day personally my heart bleeds as I think of all the troubles, injustices and pains that my womenfolk are exposed to. If you can’t get what I mean look at it this way: Somewhere in this world, right now, at this very moment, a woman is getting raped. A mother is dying giving birth. A woman is being abused, verbally or physically by her partner. A woman is going hungry and her heart is breaking as she looks at her children starving yet she has nothing to feed them. A woman is freezing from cold because she can not cover herself adequately. A woman is walking miles to get water, or firewood or to reach a health facility. Yes at this very moment, somewhere in this world, that is happening, believe it or not!

 This year’s theme in commemoration of international women’s day is focused on eradicating poverty among rural women. In my view poverty needs to be eradicated amongst all women not just rural women. Indisputably, our rural women suffer the most as they live in the areas where basic services are the least accessible hence making life much more difficult for them.

 But today my view is that the women of this world, not only rural women, and especially on the African continent do not only suffer from the kind of poverty that is measured by their inability to access basic resources such as food, shelter, clothing, shelter and education. They suffer huge deficits in basic dignity subjected to all forms of degrading, inhuman and humiliating treatment at the hands of their governments, their own families, their male counterparts and society at large. Hence the lives of most women of this world are bankrupt in monetary, emotional and social terms. Not by their own design, of course but as a consequence of the circumstances in which they stumbled upon when they exited their poor mothers’ safe, warm and secure wombs.

 We talk of human trafficking especially modern day sexual slavery where women are held forcefully and prostituted, feminicide-the widespread killing of women, systematic rape, female genital mutilation, child marriages, domestic violence, wife inheritance, polygamous relationships and the toil they exact on women emotionally, economically and physically (spread of HIV/AIDS), and many other harmful cultural practises that women are forced to endure. We talk of discrimination in the community-where women are considered lesser beings, in the workplace-with women earning less than men or expected to give sexual favors in return for promotions yet they deserve the promotions anyway, discrimination in the family –with the boy child preferred over the girl child.

 And I have people asking me why women are still making noise about discrimination and why they still demand for equality when national constitutions say we are equal.

 Excuse me! If you are living in a hole where you are not privy to the sufferings of this world then stick to your hole. Not everyone in this world is encased in a little world like yours. Women’s struggle for dignity is far from over. Besides, a constitutional provision talking of equality does not guarantee equality! The substantive nature of equality demands that the law manifest itself in the lived realities of women. Only until that point when women are treated equally, when it is a given that men and women are equal, when women feel and can see that they being treated equally can we say there is equality.

 To bring it closer to home, in other countries, International Women’s Day is a holiday. Just across the border in Zambia women are resting today and celebrating their womanhood. In Zimbabwe, we shall commemorate it but our government does not think it important enough to set aside this day as a holiday. Instead we have Defence Forces Day as a holiday to celebrate the militarisation of our state and the consequent impact this has on women as they are abused by the very same people who are supposed to protect them. Police brutality and abuses by the armed forces against women are commonplace in Zimbabwe.

 Just yesterday, I witnessed a very disturbing incident. I was using public transport in a commuter omnibus known as a combi in Zimbabwe. As this was during the rush hour, there was a lot of confusion with the traffic and on this particular junction (the Corner of Robert Mugabe Road-(no wonder) and Harare Street it was worse as there is no traffic light. There was a gridlock at the intersection. A police officer, going in the opposite direction, blocked by the combi I was in, got out of his car, started slapping the driver in the face and ordered him to reverse. Right there in broad daylight, in the most humiliating manner the poor guy (the driver) quietly reversed his car.

 The police officer’s behaviour was inexcusable. Had he ordered the driver to reverse in an attempt to bring the traffic to order then there could be a slim chance of justifying his behaviour, but alas, it was completely for his own selfish ends. Soon after the combi driver reversed the police officer got into his car and drove off leaving the chaotic traffic as he found it. He was a law officer, one on whom society is supposed to depend to respect, enforce and restore law and order.

 This incident reinforced the reality that Zimbabwean society has become so permissive of systematic abuse.  Can an abused woman depend on this kind of police officer to handle her case of abuse in a victim friendly manner? Will the same officer hesitate to wield and unleash his baton stick on a woman human rights defender if he finds her protesting on the street? Clearly not! Is it any wonder then that women in Zimbabwe are exposed to all forms of abuse including politically motivated rape when the culture of violence has become so commonplace?

 Oh we suffer, we the poor women of this world. But guess what; women are made of sterner stuff than steel. If men had to endure half of what women endure, this would be a women’s world. No men left! We celebrate womanhood today, we embrace our strengths, we remember our sorrows and tribulations but we applaud our convictions and immense willpower to soldier on even in the most difficult circumstances. That is what International Women’s Day is all about.


51st CEDAW Session: Part 1


A less jittery me, an hour before I was set to make my presentation

Monday the 20th of February it was. I would think the exact time was 1525 hrs, Geneva time. The Session had begun at 1500hrs. I was the 7th speaker among 8 designated speakers; 3 from Algeria, 2 from Jordan and 3 from Zimbabwe. Each speaker was given 3 minutes to say all they had to say.

What would I say in 3 minutes? What was the most crucial message for me to get across to the Committee members? What if I ran out of time before I said it all? What if my words failed me?

My delivery was obviously on the issue that is dear to me; the physical, mental and finacial integrity of women and the one thing that I was fighting in that Committee Room in the Palais des Nationes on that cold Monday afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland was violence against women. The government delegation of more than 18 people was listening attentively.  All 23 members, except for one of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women were listening to hear what Miss Rumbidzai Dube from the Research and Advocacy Unit from Zimbabwe had to say to them.

Was I nervous, of course! This was not a moot court competition. This was the real deal. A deal breaker. Women in Zimbabwe depended on me to make the Committee know how much they suffered at the hands of violence. They needed me to be brave to respond boldly to the questions of the Committee when they asked me who were the perpetrators of political violence. I had to name the Police in the presence of a top police official. I had to say political parties in the presence of all representatives of the political parties. I had to say the military  and war veterans in the presence of the  Ambassador of Zimbabwe to Switzerland. Yes I had to say it. The women I was representing needed me to tell the Committee what they want, what they have always said they want to address violence:

  • Prosecution of offenders
  • Psycho-social support
  • Trauma Counselling
  • Compensation
  • The truth of what happened
  • Public and sincere apologies

So, I did as the women asked as best I could in the 3 minutes I was given and this is what I had to say…

51st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

 ZIMBABWE NGO Statement and Delegation

 The following text will not be read out:

 The Zimbabwe Civil Society Delegation wishes to present the NGO Report which has been endorsed by 27 CSO organisations and is the result of wide consultations in Zimbabwe.

 Presented by:

Zimbabwe Civil Society Report

Emilia Muchawa, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association

Rumbidzai Dube, Research and Advocacy Unit…

 Rumbidzai Dube

 Violence against women

a) Madame Chair, we acknowledge the positive development of the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act which has provided a framework for addressing violence in the private sphere.

 However insufficient resources to ensure the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act have been provided. In particular the state has not allocated adequate resources to the effective function of the Domestic Violence Council or for public education and awareness raising. There are only 4 formal shelters in the whole of Zimbabwe to cater for the thousands of victims that seek refuge each year.

 We recommend that:

  • The state allocate adequate resources to the national gender machinery and the Anti-domestic violence council for the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act
  • Further that the state builds adequate shelters to give women a refuge  and safe space when subjected to domestic violence

 b) We also note that violence in the public sphere has been on the increase especially in times of elections. Politically motivated violence plagues Zimbabwean women.  In 2008 alone, civil society organisations documented the use of an organised campaign of violence against women in the period towards the Presidential rerun which violence resulted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Election Observer Mission deeming the election not free and fair.

 Women human rights defenders are persistently targeted, arrested, detained, tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment. In 2012 alone 27 women from the activist organisation Women of Zimbabwe Arise were arrested for demonstrating peacefully.

 The state has not adequately protected women from sexual violence including politically motivated rape, and targeted rape against sex workers and LBT women. This has also led to increased HIV/AIDS infections where women comprise 56% of people living with HIV/AIDS as these women are forced to have unprotected sex. Social and cultural norms limiting women’s control over their sexual and reproductive rights including negotiation of safe sex, also increases women’s risk of exposure.

 The state has acknowledged the severity of the problem of politically motivated violence by setting up an Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration and the 3 Principals in the Inclusive Government have also acknowledged this.

 However cases of politically motivated violence remain largely uninvestigated and unprosecuted leading to a culture of impunity which feeds the cycle of violence. Existing institutions such as the Organ on National Healing, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JOMIC), and the Human Rights Commission which has a prescriptive mandate are not adequately capacitated to effectively address this form of violence.

 We recommend that:

  • The state should prioritise the sensitisation of bodies such as the police, the courts and other key bodies facilitating the protection and access to justice of women victims of politically motivated violence with a view to ending impunity in line with UN Resolution 1820 as part of a comprehensive approach to seek sustainable peace, justice, truth and national reconciliation;
  • The state should set up a multi-sectoral investigation into politically motivated violence led by the Ministry of Women Affairs in collaboration with the Ministries of Home Affairs and Justice and other stakeholders before the next elections to ensure that politically motivated violence does not recur
  • The state should not only condemn but also hold accountable those responsible for the perpetration of politically motivated violence.

    Minister of Women Affairs, Honourable Olivia Muchena and Minister in the Organ on National Healing, Honourable Sekai Holland at the 51st Cedaw Session


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