By Kudakwashe Chitsike
Today is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. For a change we have something to celebrate, after the trial of lawyer and human rights defender, Beatrice Mtetwa finally ended on Tuesday, with the magistrate finding her not guilty of obstructing the course of justice. This is after 7 months of going back and forth to court fight a case where she was just doing her job. Beatrice is a well-known human rights lawyer and her arrest and court battle were publicized in the local and international media, therefore we knew what she was going through. Her story is that of many women who have dared to stand up and fight for their rights and for the rights of others, not only other women but for Zimbabweans as a whole. These women are fighting for equality, social and economic rights, land rights, justice and peace, to name a few. These are all commendable causes and women human rights defenders should be respected and admired, but instead they are vilified. There are thousands of such women whose names will never be known and whose stories will never be told, but who in their own ways, however small, are paving the way for a better Zimbabwe.
The plight of women human rights defenders in Zimbabwe is dismal; they are routinely harassed by the police, arrested without being informed of the charges, kept in filthy cells, verbally, physically and sometimes sexually abused. When we really look at the conditions that these women are being subjected to, we find that there is very little to celebrate. Perhaps we should be ‘commemorating’ rather than celebrating. The authorities should uphold their national, regional and international human rights commitments to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of women human rights defenders regardless of their political affiliation, ethnicity, nationality, religion or belief, status, age and sexual orientation.
Over the last five years, RAU has been documenting the stories of women human rights defenders’ over through reports and videos. Today we stand in solidarity with all women human rights defenders. We are honored to tell their remarkable stories and shall endeavor to continue doing so as long as there is a story to tell.