Standing together to end gender-based violence in Zimbabwe
Canada in Zimbabwe
Women, men, traditional rulers, faith leaders and parliamentarians are coming together to end gender-based violence in Zimbabwe.
No matter where they are or what they are doing, the threat of gender-based violence is real and ever‑present for women and girls in Zimbabwe.
Stigma, impunity and silence have allowed this violence to continue. Many fear the situation is actually escalating, not improving.
But now is the time for change.
Canada is an international champion for gender equality. The Embassy of Canada to Zimbabwe partnered with local and international organizations for a series of projects to address gender-based violence and encourage women’s rights and gender equality.
Together, we can end gender-based violence for good.
Survivors and parliamentarians work together to end child marriage
Child, early and forced marriages have devastating impacts on girls, families and communities. It is a violation of human rights and a barrier to sustainable development and peace.
Through the embassy’s Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust brought together victims of child marriage, local civil society organizations and parliamentarians from the ruling ZANU PF party and the MDC Alliance party to discuss what legal and policy changes can be made to prevent further child marriages.
Local civil society organization and previous CFLI partner, Oasis Zimbabwe, shared alarming statistics:
- Every month, 113 girls aged 13 and 15 are seeking treatment for sexual abuse at just one clinic in Mbare, one of Harare’s high density suburbs.
- For every girl who is sexually abused, 10 more cases go unreported, often because victims know their perpetrators and find it difficult to speak out.
And even when sexual violence is reported, more than 70% of perpetrators of rape are acquitted.
“There is so much mistrust of the justice delivery system in the community when it comes to cases of gender-based violence. Some perpetrators are just arrested for a few days and are released, leaving the survivors even more vulnerable.”
Many members of parliament voiced their support and agreed that a multi sector response including healthcare, justice and education is required. While there has been some recent progress in legislation, all agreed that more needs to be done.
“Members of parliament must do their best to fight gender-based violence in parliament as well as in their constituencies.”
Changing attitudes in rural communities
Living in a rural community often means girls have little knowledge of their rights and the value of gender equality is not widely understood. This leads to higher incidents of gender-based violence, including abuse, child marriage and early pregnancies.
That’s why local girls’ rights organizations took action in the rural community of Chihota, an hour outside of the capital city of Harare.
The embassy’s CFLI was also used to bring traditional rulers, faith leaders, local government officials, girls, boys, women and men together to address the gender-based violence in their community at a discussion hosted by Shamwari Yemwanasikana.
The community raised the issues of poverty and lack of education. Poverty drives some parents to marry their children in exchange for food or money. There is also an unfounded belief that sleeping with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS which puts girls at risk. Victims of rape are often forced to quit school after relatives discover they are pregnant.
“It is true, girls are becoming mothers at a young age but non governmental organizations have been bringing knowledge and people are changing.”
The dialogue encouraged continued progress by naming “Gender Equality Champions” in the community. Talkmore Chandisaita was named Best Child Advocate for Gender Equality for his work standing up to gender inequality among his peers.
“One of the biggest challenges I faced is from other boys who would laugh at me that I am behaving like women.”
Support for girls who experience sexual violence
When sexual violence does occur, The Bethany Project is there to provide support and resources for young women and girls in the Zvishavane district of Masvingo Province.
Over the course of 4 months, The Bethany Project mentored 500 girls and young women on issues surrounding gender-based violence, including child marriage, rape, pregnancy and sex work. Girls learned how to identify sexual violence, the risks associated with it, and shared their own experiences.
These sessions provided a safe environment for girls to express their thoughts and concerns outside of the expectations or judgment of their immediate family and community.
500 girls in the Zvishavane district now know their rights and what services are available if they need help through this CFLI project.
Men stand in solidarity
Men play an important role in ending violence against women and girls. They have the power to challenge social norms, advocate for change in their communities, and stand in solidarity with women.
To build Zimbabwe’s network of male allies, the Embassy of Canada to Zimbabwe proposed that senior male diplomats based in Harare unite as gender equality champions, as part of UN Women’s “HeForShe” campaign.
“Diplomats need to walk the talk and take action.”
Nine male diplomats joined Canadian Ambassador René Cremonese to announce their participation during UN Women’s “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”:
- European Union Ambassador, Timo Olkkonen
- Indian Ambassador, Rungsun Masakui
- Japanese Ambassador, Mr. Toshiyuki Iwado
- South African Ambassador, Mphakama Mbete
- United Kingdom Chargé d’Affaires, Simon Thomas
- United States of America, Ambassador Brian Nichols
- Zambian Ambassador, Emmanuel Tawana Chenda
- United Nations Development Program Resident Representative, Bishow Parajuli
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Regional Director, Professor Hubert Gijzen.
In both their professional and personal lives, the men committed to raising gender issues, collaborating with women’s groups, and talking with other men about gender violence throughout the upcoming year.
Women with disabilities, albinism, HIV and sexual and reproductive health issues were invited to share how gender inequality affects them. Not only does their gender put them at risk, but their ability or health condition further stigmatizes them in society and increases their risk of violence.
These women encouraged the diplomats to continue to support women throughout the year, not just during the “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.” The male diplomats plan to reconvene and share what they have accomplished after one year.
Committed to ending gender-based violence for good
Gender-based violence isn’t just a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue, and it must end.
The Embassy of Canada to Zimbabwe will continue to stand up against gender-based violence by engaging parliamentarians on legal changes to prevent girls under the age of 18 from child marriages. They’ll work with partners to ensure commitments by the government are implemented, and support local organizations helping women and girls.
The Ambassador of Canada to Zimbabwe, René Cremonese, will continue to champion Zimbabwe’s network of male diplomatic allies and looks forward to a future where no child ever experiences gender-based violence.
“What we must remember is that for every child who experiences gender-based violence, especially in forms of child marriages, rapes, physical and mental abuse, a whole generation will be impacted.”
The Embassy of Canada to Zimbabwe is committed to helping bring about a future free from gender-based violence.
The Herald [2018/12/18]: Diplomats pledge their commitments to Gender Equality
Diplomat Magazine [2018/12/06]: Ambassadors championing HeForShe initiative
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