by Daniel Mususa
We have been fighting to end Gender Based Violence for some considerable time now. From the early “we don’t need men anyway” radical feminist approaches in the 1970s, to the contemporary “together as men and women” approaches, we have seen a plethora of programs, projects and schemes aimed at fighting Gender Based Violence. Each one has had its rationale, merits and demerits. And I believe, we have learnt a lot from these phases and have sharpened our arsenal to more effectively understand and address GBV. Gender and Development (GAD), Gender in Development (GID), Women in Development (WID), Women and Development (WAD) etc. the list is endless, as we have incorporated into new designs the strengths of the previous versions and dropped the weaknesses.
In Zimbabwe, in some regards we have moved quite quickly in our acceptance of plans to improve the situation of women, than many countries. The majority of women are allowed to drive, to go to work, get paid maternity leave, can wear what they want and can be whoever they want to be and do what they want with their lives, with a good education. Zimbabwe is a signatory tothe Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)-a canon international instrument in the fight against GBV, Domestic Violence and other discriminatory ills that pull women back. Zimbabwe has adopted and quickly operationalised CEDAW and other international conventions and guiding frameworks. In fact, Zimbabwe seems to be ager to become aa signatory to most of these international instruments and codes. Resultantly, the civil movement in its pursuit of women empowerment has been buoyed by the relatively pacy adoption of these codes into actual legislation. From self-help schemes, village level and nationwide micro finance lending schemes, cooperatives and psycho-social support groups, Zimbabwe has benefitted from an array of programs tackling gender issues and addressing the marginalisation of women.
There is every reason to applaud the adoption of international instruments such as CEDAW, the Beijing Conference, efforts to punish perpetrators of GBV, efforts to facilitate dialogue and improve communication between intimate partners. All approaches toward women empowerment have some weaknesses for example, Linda Mayoux discussing microfinance schemes, argues that increasing the money available to women does not necessarily equate to their empowerment. There still remains the question of who, within the household, controls that money? That is the man, the husband from whose clutches and power we are trying to help wrestle the woman. Each approach has its given problems.
We have successfully identified most of the factors and processes responsible for GBV and have evolved strategies to deal with them, to change the wider societal structures that house these processes and to monitor that change. However, we have not dentified and utilised strategies for monitoring our own role as activists/human rights defenders in defining the problem, developing the project design and our Monitoring and Evaluation plans. We can astutely monitor all other variables except this one: Us. We have not developed plans to monitor our personal biases, baggage, our values, beliefs, incompetencies, misconceptions and most importantly, our willingness or lack of it in seeing actual change in our own behaviour, attitudes etc. towards Gender Based Violence.
I have heard civil society actors whisper a “but izvi zve gender nemadzimai hazvinatsoshanda”[…but this gender and women empowerment thing does not really work]. Women’s rights organisations struggle to get their issues prioritized in fora that have so-called human rights minds gathered. In other words, gender concerns are marginalised by those in development work, making the work an industry in which the actors are not sincere, as Hancock puts it.
With this current campaign to end gender based violence coming to an end, we need to address how we are glossing over our deficiencies in ending all forms of GBV by:
- Project mentality
We have had an abundance of projects/programs aimed at empowering women to stand up against GBV. Each project has been implemented by one or two organisations on limited funds. Durable solutions can only come out of a process of sustained community engagement to establish contextually, the causes and manifestations of GBV and the best implementation and M& E strategy. Lone projects are just that; lone projects. They end at the end of the money
- Lack of co-ordination
There is just an appalling clustering of work on the same thing. In the same communities you find two or three initiatives addressing GBV. The only difference is that one takes a microfinance angle, another on participation, another on constitutional/rights awareness and another on cross border trading. Why not combine forces and come up with a comprehensive thing whose impact and change can be noted over time. After all, GBV is supported by forces such as culture which cannot be moved easily? I remember a Shona adage “Rume rimwe harikombi churu.” Cooperation is key!
- Taking one case study as signifying larger societal change
Perhaps because everyone has to show that they are doing “something,” we are guilty of over-glorifying one case/project in we which we think we are doing well. That one “successful” initiative is glorified, put in annual records, pasted on social media, quoted in conferences as if that one case proves everything and shows that we are succeeding in ending GBV. Individual contributions matter, but our combined efforts are what will change the status quo.
- We lack studies giving evidence of how social relations that put different people at risk of GBV have changed because of the work we do. There is no literature with substantive numbers and qualitative explanations on how the relations have changed and where. Gender Based Violence has deeper structural foundations than we have been willing and able to monitor. A project cannot change people (both men and women who are benefitting from the current status quo) to suddenly let go of their privileges. GBV is based in culturally ascribed privileges and benefits that present GBV (and Domestic Violence) as ok when perpetrated under certain circumstances e.g. a woman’s refusal to have sexual intercourse with a cheating husband. We need research; a simple feedback report to say one had a meeting with a chief is not proof that the chief’s perceptions and attitudes have changed.
- We still have not yet come up with effective measurement mechanisms that tell us how much of our own baggage/beliefs and stereotypes have been reduced in designing, planning, implementing and evaluating our efforts to reduce/eliminate GBV. What we have become so successfully skilled at is measuring how our preconceived variables or “Objectively Verifiable Indicators” as we call them, are changing in the target populations/ among project participants or beneficiaries. We need to evaluate how our own biases taint our approaches to the work we do.
Going forward, we now need to target GBV where it is in the communities, not just where just it is easiest to reach. This includes developing tailored strategies to reach marginalised populations more effectively to gather their views on what we do including those who drop out of our projects. We need to hear why they think what we do is not worth their time, because it really may not be worth anything to them. Are we willing to hear these stories? To make durable change we need to stop monitoring everything else but ourselves. Our eyes should be on ourselves just as they are on our project beneficiaries. We cannot end Gender Based Violence if we are unwilling to look at our own shortcomings as men, women, communities and women’s rights defenders.