Tackling domestic violence in Zimbabwe
At the end of my first full day in Zimbabwe and my head is buzzing with information, conversations, new learning and experiences. At 8.30am my Womankind colleague Tsitsi and I arrived at the Harare office of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) and already there were more than a dozen women queuing up outside to ask for legal advice and assistance with issues relating to domestic violence, inheritance and family law.
Womankind is ‘like a good friend’
After a quick tour of the office and meeting each of the staff we headed off to Rusape with Emilia ZWLA’s Director. On the way along the long, straight, hot road I quizzed Emilia about the work of her organisation and especially about the value of the partnership with Womankind Worldwide. She said that we were like a ‘good friend’, there in hard times as well as good, that we don’t just manage the grants they receive via us but we understand their policy context, share the commitment to their cause, learn together and help to link them to similar organisations in other countries.
She thought there might be more we could do to enable shared learning, for example by linking them with the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) in the UK where a mutual transfer of knowledge could take place. ZWLA know all about helping women without access to public funds and in exchange perhaps the AWS could help to support them in taking test cases. It’s definitely an idea I will explore when I am back in London.
No safe house for women
Our first stop in Rusape was the building which houses the government Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development where ZWLA holds a mobile advice clinic every Monday, again there were queues of women waiting to get legal advice from ZWLA solicitors or help with from the ZWLA trained peer educators with filling in official forms. The peer educators are actually local Ward co-ordinators working for the Ministry in community development and they were in the middle of giving us a talk about their work when we were whisked off to meet the local District Administrator.
He told us that they desperately need a safe house or shelter in the district for women escaping violence in the home and that often he or his staff are so concerned about a woman’s safety that they take her back to their own house. He also talked about the need for transport to help to get women (and the police) from a rural village in to the one stop shop in Rusape in time for forensic tests to be done and prophylactics to be given to a woman who has been raped. He seemed to be a very enlightened and well informed public official with a genuine commitment to ending violence in society.
Raising voices, raising awareness
Our next visit was to a Salvation Army church hall where around 150 women and 10 men had gathered for a talk from the peer educators on domestic violence. The session began with spontaneous singing ( in wonderful harmony) of a hymn. The educators talked about the Four Ps – protection, prevention, participation and programmes.
They started by asking for examples of domestic violence and some of the reasons why it may take place. People talked about financial pressures, lack of harmony in the home, a husband taking a girlfriend, alcohol, imbalance of power or access to resources. The educators talked about the responsibility of the whole community to speak up and to support each other, they talked about the law against domestic violence and about the need for women’s empowerment.
There was then a tour de force as a nurse from the local one stop shop for survivors of sexual assault talked animatedly about the centre and her work. She gave some chilling statistics about the number of children under 15 raped in the district in the last year and about the importance of the health service, police, counsellors and legal advisors working together – four doors under one roof. One of the female police officers from the centre also spoke and she mentioned the new ‘victim friendly units’ in all police stations where people who had been sexually assaulted would be treated with sympathy and in confidence.
The session ended with a drama enacted by volunteers which illustrated the maze which a woman who had been raped could end up in if she went to family, the church or friends rather than going to the one stop shop for help.
Before the final hymn, there was a quiz with the prizes being mugs and plates with the Four Ps on them. The fact that every hand in the room went up to answer some of the questions showed how much of the information people had absorbed as they sat in a hot, dry and airless hall on hard benches for two hours. Afterwards, when I questioned the hymn singing, Tsitsi and Emilia said in Zimbabwe it wouldn’t be a community meeting without singing.
Supporting survivors of violence
After a late lunch under the shade of a tree, we visited the one stop shop in the grounds of the local centre and were shown the facilities and the statistics on the numbers of people who come there for help. The Government pays for the police and medical presence, volunteers provide the counselling and ZWLA provides the legal advice – a real co-ordinated service, rooted in the local community and meeting a desperate need. I noticed that the only transport the police had there was a bicycle. The counsellors echoed the words of the District Administrator when they said they wanted to try to raise funding for a safe house for women survivors.
We arrived back in Harare as darkness was falling, after a tiring but inspiring day. And this is only the end of Day One of my visit to learn about the work of our partners here in Zimbabwe. I am so proud to work for Womankind Worldwide and so determined to try to increase our resources so that we can do more to help women like those I met in Rusape.