Eradicating Violence – My Community’s Story

When it comes to the fight against violence against women and girls, it’s quite safe to say that in my community we haven’t won yet. However, we are making progress, and this progress is due to the dedication of Village Health Workers (VHW).

Aside from offering health care, VHWs are instrumental in advocating for the abolishment of violence against women. I understand that women the world over face violence in so many forms, and that the problems women in my community are facing are mirrored in challenges women face globally.

It’s how we’re tackling gender-based violence in my community that makes us unique.

Royden-Nyabira in Mashonaland West province is located 50km from the capital city of Zimbabwe – Harare. We do not have a dedicated organization in my community working to end GBV, however, that has not incapacitated us from tackling the issue.

Village Health Workers are the ones who have taken up the advocacy as well the policing role in the fight to eliminate violence against women. VHWs act as the eyes and ears of the village and work with law enforcement agents and the Ministry of Health – which has resulted in a sizeable number of cases of GBV being reported.

There are still a lot of men who are resistant to change and continue resorting to violence as a means of solving family disputes. However, we do not tire because this is a fight which we must win. My community’s strategy has always been  simple and realistic – VHWs educate community members through conversation and discussion.

It’s perfect for us because there is room for everyone to interact and ask questions, while VHWs have the opportunity to answer and clarify things. There is a lot of information about GBV available online, but people in my community are very poor and cannot afford to buy data to access information on the internet.

By circulating information through word of mouth everyone has the opportunity to learn – even those who can’t read or write or access the internet – and so the possibility of leaving anyone behind is reduced.

Utilisation of what we have available is what makes us a unique community. Oral education has had a positive impact so far, and the community’s attitudes to GBV has changed – as evidenced by the reduction of GBV cases. Our Village Health Worker’s commitment to ending GBV has not been in vain.

On top of everything else, VHWs voluntarily conduct a door-to-door operation to engage with residents. This has helped victims of violence to come out of their silence and tell their stories in safety. The method itself has helped build trust between the health worker and the victim because without trust it’s difficult to convince victims to share their stories.

VHWs work on voluntary basis and are very committed. Their opinion on gender based violence is that it is an abuse of human rights and a health care emergency, which means that when reacting to reported cases of violence, they treat no case as an afterthought.

This door-to-door process is time-consuming but it is effective, as evidenced by the community’s growing understanding of what GBV is and the implications it has on the well-being of victims and the community as a whole. In my community, we believe everyone has a role to play in ending gender-based violence. If we can’t do it for the present then surely we have to do it for our future generations.

I believe that if people are willing and committed to the fight to end violence against women, we can and will be successful. We can and will reach Goal 5.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals so that by 2030, there will be elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

This is a very ambitious target, but it’s achievable if everyone joins in.

Women in Rural Zimbabwe are Being Left Behind

Being a young woman living in a rural or remote community can be very daunting. You have to fight tirelessly to loosen yourself from the grip of sociocultural stigmatization to have any sense of autonomy over your sexuality.

The situation is worsened by the absence of easy access to modern family planning methods. The problem lies in the fact that when coming up with sexual and reproductive interventions for women and adolescents, our governments still rely on ‘a one size fits all’ approach.

But women in rural areas have different lifestyles and challenges than women living in urban communities.

When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, one size fits all really makes no sense. One size fits all isn’t good enough.

In Zimbabwe, the fact that young women and adolescents in rural and remote communities are still struggling to access modern family planning methods – or even comprehensive sex education – is overlooked. These issues are still regarded as taboo, and in my community you can’t talk openly about them.

It’s a different scenario for women and adolescents in urban communities within Zimbabwe. In urban areas, it’s possible to access both information and services through youth friendly centres, Non Governmental Organisations and other diverse forums.

I believe that women can only enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights if they have access to relevant services and supplies – including access to contraceptives and accurate information on how to use them – regardless of geographical area or socioeconomic status.

The government of Zimbabwe is committed to ensuring improved availability of and access to quality integrated family planning services for all women irrespective of age, marital status and their geographical location by the year 2020.

A sizeable number of interventions have been made. For example, we now have an ambassador for Family Planning to advocate for family planning. This is a great initiative, but in rural areas this ambassador is not visible, and so issues are misrepresented! This type of intervention is relative – it primarily benefits the adolescents and young women in urban areas the brand ambassador is engaging with – which makes it an unfit approach for women collectively.

I believe that this kind of intervention leaves a lot of women behind. 

A large percentage of Zimbabwean women are in rural communities. Adolescents and young women in rural areas need interventions they can relate to – services that resonate with their particular reality and their existing level of understanding.

As much as there have been family planning and contraceptive outreach services, it is still absurd that in rural areas adolescents and young women continue to have unwanted pregnancies and new cases of HIV infections. The reason behind this is a lack of positive and affirmative approaches towards women’s sexuality.

From my experience in a rural area, the healthcare service providers are not youth friendly and they tend to have a negative perception of young women trying to access family planning. As a result, adolescents and young women shy away from these health centres as they don’t trust the service providers.

This is very disturbing, as trust should be one of the core values health service providers should strive to uphold at all times. I believe that it would be a great idea for genuinely youth friendly centres to be established in rural and remote areas. This would encourage adolescents and young women to seek out sexual education and feel comfortable asking questions about the family planning methods that will work best for them. It would also help conservative rural communities to recognize family planning as not only a priority, but also a right.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescents in rural communities should be prioritized in Zimbabwe, and the government must be held accountable for delivering meaningful and diverse approaches in tackling the family planning challenges our country faces. Without this, achieving the FP2020 targets will not be possible.

If truth be told, rural women and adolescents have had enough of being left behind.

My Voice is my Purpose, What’s Yours? – #YoungWomenSay

This blog post was originally published by The Torchlight Collective and Say It Forward as part of the #YoungWomenSay campaign.

I believe in introspection, where one digs deep in their heart to search for who they really are and what their purpose is. This introspection isn’t just for personal gain, but to meaningfully improve the lives of those around them. This process led me to realize that girls and young women often suffer in silence. This has motivated me to speak louder and begin my journey of elevating the voices of the voiceless.

I am eager to affect change that will make my community a better place for girls and women.

Menstruation is a natural phenomenon to girls and women; it has no shame. Yet, even today, girls and young women in my community are still using cow dung, leaves, and unhygienic pieces of cloth during their menstruation. Every month, girls miss school because they feel shy to walk the 15 kilometers to school with cow dung or leaves stuck between their legs.

The situation is only worsened during the day because some schools don’t have the facilities the girls need to wash themselves. Teachers are often forced to send these girls home until their periods are over. This is a major blow to a girl’s education because missing a few days of school every month makes it hard for her to keep up with her coursework. The lack of sanitary products is not only striping girls of their right to education, but also of their human dignity.

Many girls in my community never finish high school. This is caused by society’s negligence to award both girls and boys equal educational opportunities. It is this negligence that has created social imbalance where most girls and women are not able to read or write coherently, while boys and men do both with ease.

Gender inequality limits girls’ options, and it is a malicious way of making sure girls and women remain incapacitated.

Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, a Nigerian novelist and my role model, once said, “culture doesn’t make people, but people make culture.” This is a powerful reminder for me that my community can change. The girls in my community need knowledge. Knowledge will give them the power to fight gender inequality perpetuated by a culture that gives more value to boys than to girls.

This is why I believe that we need a new way of looking into the future, while learning lessons from the past. The past makes the present coherent, and the past will remain horrible for as long as we fail to assess it fairly.

Equipping girls and women with knowledge will serve as a stepping stone and an antidote to gender inequality.

I believe that one day, girls and young women will not be trapped the same way our mothers and grandmothers were. My dream is to encourage girls and young women to live the lives they desire, dream about the life they want, and break the silence!

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Zimbabwe’s Elections: Old Habits Die Hard

Today, 31 July 2018, Zimbabwe will hold elections.

However, women are not fairly represented in these elections – clearly demonstrating that even in Parliament, men continue to dominate. I want to highlight some of the critical issues which I feel act as a bottleneck and prevent women from entering politics, as well as what this means for women and girls in general.

Political parties don’t seem to be doing enough to promote and support women as candidates. In fact, they seem to be actively standing in their way. This is being done through naming and shaming of women who want to run as councillors, members of parliament or presidential candidates. Men use vulgar language and focus on physical appearance to silence women, especially those who try to be vocal. 

Such harassment has caused understandable frustrations and in the past, female candidates have been intimidated and forced to back down – leaving the path clear for male candidates. It disgusts me that even in 2018, these denigrating tactics have been used by male candidates to silence women.

Research carried out by the Department of Political and Adminstrative Studies at the University of Zimbabwe – The Implications of the Quota System in Promoting Gender Equality in Zimbabwean Politics – found that sexual harassment of women is a weapons used to silence women at constituency, party and parliamentary level. This, of course, impacts negatively on the fair representation of all genders in Parliament.

Since 1980, when Zimbabwe attainted it’s independence, the representation of women in Parliament has always been lower than 33%. In this forthcoming election, representation of women in parliament raises a lot of questions regarding the country’s seriousness when it comes to promoting and effectively supporting women as equal citizens.

In my opinion, democracy is non-existent if there is absence of equal participation of men and women in politics. Equal representation in parliament is pivotal as it allows all genders to present their issues. For instance, women’s issues, desires and goals are not identical to those of men. There is need for more women to be in Parliament to advocate meaningfully for girls and women’s rights, including reproductive health and rights, socio-economic independence and political freedom.

The quota system has been helpful in making sure certain percentage of seats in parliament are reserved for women, however, running for office is very costly and women often don’t have the same access to loans to finance their campaigns. For many women, actually making it to parliament remains a pie in the sky dream.

In Zimbabwe, the level of progress towards achieving gender equality is not satisfying. In fact, women are viewing politics as a dirty game which they need not involve themselves in for safety reasons. This is problematic in many ways, and we’re getting further away from closing the gender gap as more and more women continue to shun politics.

The fact that Zimbabwe has a proportion of 16% women in local parliament is pathetic. It shows that very little progress has been made in allowing women political space for representation in parliament, and clearly shows that old habits die hard! Without real change in this year’s elections, women and girls will continue to have to fight hard for their voices to be over the next five years.

I believe that in Zimbabwe, the  representation of women in parliament can improve only if there is financial support. As it stands, running in an election is increasingly costly and women are greatly affected by a shortage of available financing and campaign support. Quota systems have been helpful, but more needs to be done and political parties also should shun the harassment of women as these factors are seriously hindering women’s representation in parliament.