I suppose for some people, when they have never worked with real victims of certain circumstances, they just can’t understand the gravity of the situation you are talking about. The first time someone made me extremely upset was when my colleagues and I presented the documentary ‘Hear Us’ to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Gender and one traditional Chief said. “They are lies. This film was staged and these women were lying. Men are not dogs that can sleep with one women one after the other without using protection.” There we were, with one of the victims who had volunteered to accompany us to make her appeal to the representative body of the people of Zimbabwe, Parliament and she had to listen to such nonsense and get re-traumatised. I get equally upset every time I hear people ask “what was she wearing” when they hear that a girl was raped by a random attacker. What women wear, or how they dress does not rape them, it is the warped mind of the perpetrator that conjures up images of the person before him naked that causes him to then take advantage of the victim. More so, in the case of politically motivated rape, the victim’s body is used as a tool of war. She is raped to spite her husband, father, brother or uncle with whom the perpetrator will have bad relations. So why would she lie that something so terrible happened to her if it did not and why would someone who has no idea what forensic evidence the woman gathered after her rape, deny that she was ever raped?
Many a times, I have talked about the nature, the causes and the consequences of politically motivated violence and rape against women in Zimbabwe. I have written articles on it which those of you who have not had the chance to read can read on my worldpulse journal. My colleagues at RAU and I have consistently documented these violations in many reports such as ‘Preying on the Weaker Sex: An account of Violations against women’, ‘Forced Concubinage in Zimbabwe’, ‘Women and political violence and update’ all available on the RAU website. We have also produced documentaries, ‘Hear Us’ and ‘What about Us’ in which the victims themselves have told their stories at great risk to themselves and their families.
Some excerpts of the accounts of victims from the political rape report RAU, together with Doors of Hope and the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights produced are as follows:
A woman from Manicaland testified that, “On the 22nd of June 2002 at 1pm three men came to my homestead. They entered the kitchen where I was and stood by the door. The policeman said they had come for a final search for the gun. They started searching for the gun everywhere. They did not find anything. One of the men said,” let’s burn the house. I pleaded with them not do so because my husband was away and I would not have anywhere to stay. Then one of the men covered my head with a cooking pot and told me not to remove it. Then they kept beating me with sticks me on my left leg around the hip area. I fell down and the pot fell off my face and they put it back and continued beating me. They said, “You refused to give us the information that your husband is hiding, so we are going to make you our wife.”
Another woman from Manicaland stated that, “When I woke up the following morning on the 26th of June 2008, they had put a skirt on me and a ZANU PF t-shirt, I had blood all over my skirt and my thighs were swollen. My vagina was full of semen; I had wounds and cracks from being raped continuously. I could not walk because my legs were swollen. At around 5 am 5 men came to me and told me I could go. They carried me and left me by the road near a primary school. Two of my friends found me lying down by the road. I told them to go and get my husband. My husband came back with a wheelbarrow and carried me home. I told him that I had been raped
But even as we continue to do our work one thing bothers me. That thing is the inaccessibility of justice for the victims of such violence. The women of Zimbabwe just like the men have suffered so much at the hands of political parties and many of them live with their wounds both psychological and physical with no access to trauma counselling, medical care and medicines.
However there is a group of women, who took their own initiative to find their own form of justice. These women began their Foundation in 2009 and called it Doors of Hope Development Trust. It operates as a non governmental organisation and a support group giving hope to victims of rape. The members are mostly victims of politically motivated rape some who have contracted HIV/AIDS from their rape as some of the rapes were gang rapes and most of the perpetrators did not use protection. Politically motivated rape has unique consequences apart from the usual stigma attached to rape. Mainstream institutions that assist victims of rape are intimidated and scared to address victims of politically motivated rape. The victims are therefore forced to find somewhere else for help or get the help in those institutions but suppress the political element in their accounts of the incidents. This amounts to re-victimisation and hence the victims never get healed.
The strength that the women of Doors of Hope have within themselves and the willpower they yield to pick up the pieces and continue to rebuild their lives never fails to amaze me. Each time I interact with them I wish they could get the assistance they need to set their support group for victims of rape running as smoothly and be as well established as the support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS. And so today I want to recognise their resilience and celebrate their strong spirit.
Currently Doors of Hope operates in ad hoc meetings of members. Their vision is to bring life and hope to rape victims. Their mission is to empower women victims of rape from the victim to the survivor mode. Their objectives are to find and attract other victims and encourage them to speak out, to assist women to access medication and counselling and to provide emotional support to victims. They have specific needs for capacity building including how to communicate with funding partners, identifying victims, separating partisan affiliations and professional space, proposal writing skills and organisational management skills.
They also need empowerment workshops that will help them to find their voice as Doors of Hope. Currently Doors of Hope does not have proper office space or equipment to create a database of their members. Any well wishers, moved to assist these women to find new meaning in their lives and rebuild their crumbled castles let us know so you can help these women.