Day 1: On boys and toys


By Tony Reeler

 

Global action against militarism has been the theme of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence for the past three years, and what do we have to show for this. In one of the more horrible stories in 2014 has been the abduction of young girls by Boko Haram and now apparently sold into what can only be termed sexual slavery. Whilst this is obviously not the only serious gender violence that has taken place since 2013, it illustrates so clearly why this campaign must continue, and why the theme must remain a focus upon militarism.

Women and young girls are always at the greatest risk when the worst aspect of militarism rears its ugly head: war in all its forms is the time when all women live in fear. For, as the Boko Haram example demonstrates, as did the conflict in the former Sarajevo, women and young girls provide both the easiest target through which to undermine one’s enemy, but they are also prey to all the serendipitous violence that accompanies men free to operate outside the law. This is no new phenomenon, and has been going on for centuries. In the last century, tens of thousands of women were forced into concubinage by the Japanese army, let alone the many thousands that were raped in Nanking. The Russian army in its final push across Eastern Prussia to Berlin in 1944-1945 committed rape on a genocidal scale: Niall Ferguson points out that the Red Army may have raped over 2 million German women.

It seems impossible to hope that violence against women and young girls in times of civil war or national wars can ever be stopped, or even that this can be stopped in times of lesser political violence as has been witnessed in Zimbabwe in the past decade or so. However, there are places where a start can be made, and why not with small arms, a rather innocuous term for the proliferation of automatic weapons across the world. Every news reel seems to show the AK-47 being brandished by young men, sometimes in the hands of mere children. In Zimbabwe, we see these weapons every day in the hands of our police: weapons of war issued to civilian police and we are clearly not at war with anyone.

Amnesty International has been running a campaign to limit the accessibility of such weapons for over a decade, but every day sees more and more guns rather than less and less, and for sure it is big business. But this could change if there was the political will.

And different would the world be if small arms were controlled? Try this little thought experiment. A man bursts in to a bank waving a long knife, tells the 20 or so people to lie on the floor, and give him the money. Or, a man bursts into a bank waving an AK-47, tells the 20 or so people to lie on the floor, and give him the money. Failed robbery versus successful robbery? By reducing the means for violence we can perhaps reduce the scale a little.

Of course, this cannot stop violence completely, and certainly nobody can resist against a gang or a mob: they don’t need small arms, as axes, knobkerries, and iron bars can do the damage just as easily as the world learned in Rwanda. It requires a change of mentality from men for women to be safe. No boasting about degrees in violence; no calling one’s opponents “enemies”; just the commitment to solve disagreement and difference the way that women do all over the world, by dialogue and discussion. And perhaps women need to take the lead in how they bring up their sons: to help them value their feminine side – their anima – as well as their masculinity – their animus. This is not as hard as it sounds, and can start in every home, but certainly men and boys will have to stop seeing themselves as so important to the world.

Change is Possible and Change is Happening


Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director: Message for International Women’s Day 2013

Today on International Women’s Day I join every individual who believes that change is possible. We are guided by a founding principle of the United Nations: the equal rights of men and women.

All around the world, our voices are rising, and silence and indifference are declining. Change is possible. And change is happening.

Change is happening when every country, for the first time in history, has women on their Olympic teams, as they did this past summer in London.

Change is happening when people worldwide declare solidarity with a Pakistani girl who was shot for championing education for all, a girl named Malala.

Change is happening when protests erupt across the globe with women and men, young and old, rising up and saying no to violence against women.

Today on International Women’s Day I have a message that has two sides, one of hope and one of outrage.

I have hope because awareness and action are rising for women’s rights. A belief is growing that enough is enough.

But I am outraged because women and girls continue to suffer high levels of discrimination, violence, and exclusion. They are routinely blamed and made to feel shame for the violence committed against them, and they too often search in vain for justice.

My message today is simple and straightforward. This year on International Women’s Day, we say enough is enough. Discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century. It is time for Governments to keep their promises and protect human rights in line with the international conventions and agreements that they signed onto. A promise is a promise.

When we set up UN Women more than two years ago, we made ending violence against women one of our top priorities. We are fully aware that this requires changing attitudes and making headway towards equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation, especially in decision-making.

Last November, on behalf of UN Women I sent a letter to all heads of State and Government of the United Nations. I asked them to COMMIT and announce new actions to prevent and end violence against women and girls. So far, some 45 Governments have committed. I urge all Governments to commit to actions to end violence against women.

As we observe this Day, Government representatives and activists are gathered at the United Nations for the largest international gathering on ending violence against women. At the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, Governments are negotiating a global roadmap of actions to prevent and end these widespread human rights violations.

Ten years ago, when nations came together in this forum on this same issue, they were unable to reach agreement. Today, we cannot allow disagreement and indecision to block progress for the world’s women.

Yes, change is possible and change is happening. But given the atrocities committed each day, we must ask ourselves: Is change happening fast enough? How many more women and girls need to be violated? How many more families need to suffer?

The right of a woman to live free of violence depends on a strong chain of justice. Countries that enact and enforce laws on violence against women have less gender-based violence. Today 160 countries have laws to address violence against women. However, a law is only as strong as its enforcement and in too many cases enforcement is lacking.

So let us work together for strong laws and policies and for effective implementation. Let us work together for prevention and education and for programmes that provide essential services for the victims and survivors of violence.

int women's day 2013

Today and every day we say NO to discrimination and violence against women and girls.

NO to domestic violence and abuse.

NO to rape and sexual violence.

NO to human trafficking and sexual slavery.

NO to female genital mutilation.

NO to child brides and child marriage.

NO to murders committed in the name of honour or passion.

NO to femicide.

NO to impunity.

And we say YES to peace, human rights, justice and equality.

Today on International Women’s Day and every day, let us go forward with courage, conviction and commitment, with the message that women’s issues are global issues that deserve urgent priority. There can be no peace, no progress as long as women live under the fear of violence.

Let’s keep our promise!


We have been speaking about an end to violence against women at every opportunity we have e.g. during the 16 Days of Gender Activism, The Women and Peace Conference  and on V Day with the One Billion Rising and we will speak up again on International Women’s Day on the 8th March but where is the action?

This year’s theme for Women’s Day  is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” Let’s all do our part to end the violence against women and girls.

women and peace

But how will we do this? How can we really change the world so that it is women friendly? Are we trying to make patriarchy more “female friendly”? Or are we trying to re-design patriarchy altogether? Is this time to start the conversation amongst women about what a “women designed” world might look like and would it look anything like the world as it is?

One place to start is in discussions about the political structures that govern all of us. What would democracy look like if designed by women? Zimbabwean women, supported by Idasa, have begun this project and their first thoughts have been published and will be presented in a book being launched on Friday this week. If you are interested, come to the launch at the Book Café at 11am on Friday, 8th March.

Politically motivated violence against women in Zimbabwe


With the breaking of the news about the AidsFree World submission of a dossier on politically motivated rape to the National Prosecuting Authority in South Africa, it is worth remembering that political violence against women is an unfortunate feature of the electoral landscape in Zimbabwe. It is also worth remembering that this is not merely a matter for history. Simultaneous to the reporting to the AidsFree World action was a report of the arson attack on the Maisiri home in Headlands (and the murder of 12 year old Christpower Maisiri), and the revelation that his mother too had been victim of political rape by Lovemore Manenji in 2008.

RAU, and its various partners, have been raising the spectre of politically motivated violence against women even prior to the 2008 elections, and thus it was gratifying to see the issue being given a national profile last year through the Women and Peace Conference, organized by Musasa, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, HIVOS, and UN Women. There were strong commitments by Government Ministers, UN agencies, international NGOs, and local women’s organisations to stop political violence, sexual violence, and rape of women.

The issue was raised again in 2013 on Valentine’s Day under the umbrella of the One Billion Rising initiative, where women from all walks of life came together at the National Gallery to dance their commitment to ending violence against women.

RAU therefore wishes to draw your attention to the research of several years on the issue of political motivated violence and intimidation of women. Below are a selection of reports that can be obtained by following the links, but other reports can be found on the RAU website:

www.researchandadvocacyunit.org

RAU (2010), Women, Politics and the Zimbabwe Crisis, Report produced by Idasa (An African Democracy Institute), the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), and the Womens’ Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ). May 2010. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=54&Itemid=90]

RAU (2010), Preying on the “Weaker” Sex: Political Violence against Women in Zimbabwe. Report produced by IDASA (An African Democracy Institute), the International Center for Transitional Justice [ICTJ] and the Research and Advocacy Unit [RAU].  November 2010. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=96&Itemid=90]

RAU (2010), “When the going gets tough the man gets going!” Zimbabwean Women’s views on Politics, Governance, Political Violence, and Transitional Justice. Report produced by the Research and Advocacy Unit [RAU], Idasa [Institute for Democracy in Africa], and the International Center for Transitional Justice [ICTJ]. November 2010. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=54&Itemid=90]

 RAU (2010), No Hiding Place. Politically Motivated Rape of Women in Zimbabwe. Report prepared by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) and the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR). December 2010. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=170&Itemid=90]

RAU (2011), Women and Law Enforcement in Zimbabwe. Report produced by IDASA (An African Democracy Institute), and the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU). March 2011, HARARE:RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

 

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=97&Itemid=90]

 

RAU (2011), Politically Motivated Rape in Zimbabwe. Report produced for the Women’s Programme of the Research and Advocacy Unit. May 2011. HARARE:RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=102&Itemid=90]

RAU (2011), Women and Political Violence: An Update. July 2011. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=54&Itemid=90]

Women, Stand up for your rights!


On Saturday the 24th of November the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development officially launched the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The 16 days kicked off with a three day fair at which different organisations that offer services to victims of gender-based violence show-cased their work. The aura at the launch was inspiring. Men and women who understand the destructive nature of gender-based violence gathered to demand “Peace in the Home and Peace in the Community.”  Artists such as  Sniper ‘gweta remabhebhi, ’Albert Nyati, Tererai Mugwadi and others also graced the occasion to add their voices to the demand for an end to gender-based violence. The MC, a lively man, kept the crowd roaring with laughter but underneath all the humour his message stood out loud and clear that people should love their partners and not abuse them.

Often, around the 16 days, many comments are raised about how women are not the only victims yet all the attention is on them, why women do not leave if they are in abusive relationships, and about what women may have done to deserve a beating from their partners. These comments are condescending  because one can never know what it feels like to be beaten senseless or to be genuinely petrified of the man you said ‘I do’ to. Many women are caught in a web of violence and do not know where or how to get help.

The fair gave some women access to legal services to get protection orders and others knowledge about the location of safe houses when the need arises. The fair provided a space for all citizens to understand that violence is unacceptable as well as to know where to go to seek help.

We often hear arguments that the women’s movement in Zimbabwe died a natural death. However whether that is an altogether accurate assertion cannot be proved more wrong  than by the woman who was chased out of her house and had some lawyers fight for her or by the woman who was beaten every day and didn’t have anywhere to go but found an organisation that gave her shelter and counselling to enable her to be alive today.

Although these efforts may not be as comprehensive as is required, they are significant to the thousands of women without which there would have been no assistance at all.So when we talk of the 16 days of activism, it is not a time for ‘bitter women to rut against men’ as some may perceive it to be. It is a time to stand up against violence that has affected our society, because be it a sister, a neighbour or a friend of a friend we must say no to  gender-based violence!

Address Women’s issues now!


Going through my e-mails , I came across an auto-reply from a South African colleague, saying she was on leave from work for a  week, as part of Women’s Month commemorated in South Africa every August. Curious, I followed the website link she had provided to get an insight into what the commemoration was all about.
It turns out that South African women are among thousands of women across the globe that spend a month celebrating women’s contribution to the survival and existence of humanity in history and contemporary society.
Not only South Africa celebrates women’s history month but also the United States every March, and in the United Kingdom , Australia and Canada in October, women are celebrated.  In South Africa, the month long commemorations were even marked by protests and marches, as thousands of women took to the streets, demanding the equal treatment of women in all sectors.
The popularity of women’s history celebrations has become widespread and in Africa it is increasingly becoming an important event on the feminist calendar. It has actually become a money spinner for women’s movements, who instead of using the money to assist the poor and marginalized women who need help, organise unnecessary workshops and other events. Yes, initially I was a bit disappointed that the World Woman’s Month does not appear on our national calendar and public holiday events, with the exception of the International Women’s Day, which largely goes unnoticed.
It is also sad to note that there is a black out on the month long celebrations in Zimbabwe, while in neighboring South Africa, it was a big event.

But on second thoughts, I realised that there was no real reason for Zimbabwean women to spend time questioning whether we celebrate or not. What women need to do is to establish whether the programmes that non-governmental organisations and policy makers have been implementing to help empower women socially, politically and economically, warrants any form of celebration, whether it be a day or a month.

Zimbabwean Women marching

For a long time, non-governmental organisations, the civic society, political parties and even the government have been mouthing platitudes on “women’s empowerment”, “gender equality”, “gender mainstream” and other equally empty euphemisms that have done little to improve the plight of the ordinary woman.
All these euphemisms have been supported by high-sounding national, regional and international conferences where women’s empowerment issues, have been discussed ad infinitum.

IT IS HIGH TIME THAT ALL THESE ORGANISATIONS MUST TAKE ACTION AND START PRACTICING DIRECT ADVOCACY FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND CHALLENGES USING A GRASSROOTS UP APPROACH….

International Women’s Day Press Release


This Press Release was published in the Daily News and in Newsday on International Women’s Day

(8 March 2012) Today, the Research and Advocacy Unit [RAU], an NGO working on providing specialist assistance in research and advocacy in the field of human rights, democracy and governance calls on the Zimbabwean government to eradicate politically motivated violence against women as it is a drawback to the development of communities in commemoration of International Women’s Day.

RAU is deeply concerned with the manner in which political violence has contributed to poverty and poverty traps for rural women. Political violence as witnessed during the 2008 disputed elections resulted in the injury of many women, leaving them maimed and unable to fend for their families. Breadwinners were killed or disappeared resulting in income losses and at times forcing families into abject poverty.

Homes were destroyed and whole granaries of harvest burnt to ashes. This loss of assets forced many women into deprivation and economic distress from which they are still to recover.  In many of the cases, national leadership, traditional leadership and the police were unresponsive to the women’s pleas for protection and accountability.

Homes Destroyed-Picture Credit SW Radio Africa

RAU also notes that political violence affected education and literacy, two important factors to the eradication of poverty among rural populations. The disruption in schools by political campaigns as well as the setting up of political bases at schools created security fears among communities as schools had become political battlefields. As a result the girl-child dropped out of school and teachers fled to ‘safe’ zones, depriving especially rural school children of skilled teachers and the teachers of their sources of livelihood.

Political violence also impacted the delivery of health services which is an essential indicator of poverty in any country. Victims of the violence incurred injuries, ill-health and severe psychological damage. Most of these individuals have still not received adequate redress.

RAU expresses concern with the eradication of poverty especially among rural youths as such persistent poverty created grounds for youths’ increased participation in violent campaigns during the 2008 elections.

RAU calls on the  Government  to  end  political violence against women in Zimbabwe by bringing perpetrators to book, providing assistance to victims and preventing recurrence of  such violence in the future as part of their ongoing campaign. It further calls for the involvement of women in positive and committed reconciliation processes because this is not only a question of justice but also sustainable development. RAU calls for humanitarian and psychosocial support for all the women affected by political violence as reiterated in the Global Political Agreement and the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development which protects and upholds women’s human rights to which Zimbabwe is a party.

RAU also implores the government to direct the Zimbabwe Republic Police to investigate and prosecute all perpetrators of political violence against women. In the absence of such measures, the recurrence of violence is highly likely. Such violence only serves to entrench regression of the status of women, especially rural women into poverty.