Zimbabwe is Violating Human Rights

“We are fine. We are safe”.

My brother’s words over the phone, following a government-sanctioned internet shutdown in my home country, sounded like music to my ears.

On Tuesday 15 January, Zimbabwe experienced a complete internet black-out ordered by the government. Millions of Zimbabwean citizens lost contact with the outside world, some relying on virtual private networks (VPNs) to share information regarding the situation inside the country.

I was one of many Zimbabweans living outside the country feeling confused and panicked, no longer able to get in touch with family, friends and loved ones. I rushed to Twitter to stay updated on what was occurring back home.

My Twitter feed painted a very sombre picture. On Saturday night – prior to the blackout – Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa held a press conference to announce a 150% increase in the price of fuel. Many Zimbabweans were angered and upset.

Much of the population has been struggling with socio-economic hardships from severe cash shortages, fuel shortages, high unemployment rates and dilapidated infrastructures.

A national strike was called for by several trade unions and activists, such as Pastor Evan Mawarire. Unfortunately, the protest strike on Monday was marred by violence against protestors by police and military forces.

It is believed that incidences of looting and vandalism by protestors led to a crackdown by the forces. This resulted in what is estimated to be 12 deaths, and 100 (possibly more) cases of assault on civilians.

Hundreds were arrested following these events. In addition, there has been reports of home invasions and abductions in Harare. The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, an NGO, says they attended to more than 172 patients in the aftermath of last Tuesday afternoon. They also confirmed human rights violations had been committed. At least 844 human rights violations have been recorded by The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

Businesses, schools and industries have been affected by the internet block, causing a further strain on what was already fragile. However, the biggest impact of the internet shutdown has been the hinderance of the nation’s access to information and ability to express themselves – a direct infringement of their human rights. The United Nations states that internet access is a basic human right that enables individuals to “exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

Internet service and social media access has remained unreliable since then. On Wednesday, I was finally able to talk to my family and close friends to check on their wellbeing. My heart was relieved that all of them were safe, but remaining at home as a precaution.

The pain is not over. Many families have lost children, breadwinners, parents during this period of violence and chaos. Many young people continue to exist with no clear direction of what lies ahead, feeling robbed of a future, uncertain of whether they will be able to work, go to school or make ends meet in 2019.

Mental health and physical health is declining for many as their lives are filled with depression, anxiety and poor access to treatment. Others fear for their safety, no longer feeling safe in their country and living in exile – such as Thandekile Moyo who fled after being vocal against the government.

Most tragic of all is that lives have been taken, like that of Kelvin Tinashe Choto, whose murdered body was pictured lying on a police station reception counter.

It is deeply important to me to share what has been happening in my home country of Zimbabwe. We need the international community to be aware of the human rights violations and unjust incidences taking place.

Our voices need to be heard in this time as we cry for help. 

Note: the author of this post has chosen to remain anonymous, as there are mounting concerns over the safety of those speaking out on the current situation within Zimbabwe.

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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