Sheltering survivors of violence in Zimbabwe
I was out early this morning attending a breakfast meeting of G20, a cross party and civil society lobby group working to ensure that the draft constitution for Zimbabwe does not discriminate against women and, more positively, recognises their civil, political, economic and social rights. Women MPs from each of the three parliamentary parties were there, as was the Minister for Women, Gender and Community Development. Some of the most powerful women in Zimbabwe coming together to argue for rights for all women.
‘Musasa’ means a tree which gives shelter
I then went to the office of one of our partners – Musasa, which works to confront and prevent gender based violence in Zimbabwe. The word Musasa, in Shona, means an umbrella shaped tree which give shelter. Musasa works on policy and legislation, but they also provide physical shelter for women who are fleeing gender based violence.
Their Director Netty told me about their work from the grassroots level up to Parliament and showed me the new One Stop Centre which they are building with financial support from the Japanese Embassy.
Netty told me that it is very difficult to fund raise for service delivery because the numbers of women they can help directly is small (hundreds) compared to the millions who can be reached through changes to the law.
Taking care of women’s health
Netty took me to the Harare safe house and there I observed women in a workshop learning how to look after their physical health, this one was about breast cancer detection and prevention. I saw the house in which the women, and their children, live while waiting for their case to come to court, for their physical and psychological scars to heal and for them to find a permanent safe place to return to.
Many of the women come in need of medical treatment, there is no NHS here, only very basic health care is free. Netty told me about one of the women who had half her face burned with acid by her husband. She needs $3000 worth of surgery, which somehow Musasa has to raise so that she can leave the shelter with a positive lasting difference made to her life.
Before I left the safe house I had one of the most heartbreaking experiences, as I listened to Tsitsi Muzanago tell me her story. It feels so wrong to meet a stranger and to have her tell you the most intimate and painful details of her life.
Tsitsi is 40 years old, single with no children and she has been in the safe house for one month. As a child she was often beaten by her mother and by her siblings. When she was 16 she went to stay with her female cousin and one night the cousin held her down while the cousin’s husband raped her.
She managed to escape and walked for three days to her grandmother’s house. She reported the rape to the police and went back to her mother’s house but her mother threw her out, blaming her for the assault. Her family offered her money to withdraw the rape allegation, and when she refused they went to the police and said she had changed her mind.
All of this happened 24 years ago, and since then Tsitsi has moved from place to place searching for work, for safety, for peace of mind and for justice. She had pain for years and was tested for different diseases, but finally she realised the pain is in her mind and heart. She cannot escape the impact of the rape. Just a month ago she decided to take her own life but the hospital referred her to Musasa and they have given her counselling, a safe place to stay and the chance to talk to other survivors.
“There is life after rape, they have given me hope. I met a girl who was raped by her own father, now I know it’s not my fault I was raped. I trusted my cousin, and now I find it difficult to trust anyone. I wanted justice for what happened to me, but my case has run out of time. So please tell my story, put my photo on the news, those people are still abusing others in the village, maybe publicity will stop them and I can save others from going through this pain.”
We need to lobby at the highest political levels to make violence against women unacceptable and punishable, but we also need to help to save women like Tsitsi – each woman who needs shelter and legal protection.
Sharing women’s experiences with decision-makers
My last meeting of today was with officials from the Department of International Development at the British Embassy, talking about the UK government’s focus on violence against women. We talked about statistics, high level policy and how to make a difference. Tsitsi is not a statistic, but her experience and her story – and those of many women like her – was in the room at the British Embassy and at the breakfast meeting in the morning.
Jackie Ballard took up the role of Chief Executive in September 2012. Jackie was formerly Chief Executive at Action on Hearing Loss and Director General of the RSPCA. Prior to this Jackie was Member of Parliament for Taunton and has been a Board member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority since its inception in January 2010.