Women building peace in Zimbabwe
I was in Zimbabwe conducting one of our monitoring visits and visiting the beneficiaries of the peacebuilding project implemented by our partner, the Womens Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ).
I wanted to hear first-hand the challenges and issues women face when trying to address issues of political violence and peacebuilding. All was going really well; I was really looking forward to the workshop and the women were interested in my visit. At the workshop, the police suddenly joined us. The presence of the uninvited police at a workshop trying to deal with peacebuilding and to unravel issues of political violence made me feel uneasy.
It was explained to me later that as elections get closer, more and more work is ‘observed’ by the police and other public officials. Everybody wants to know what is going on, who is talking about what and who is doing what.
Here is what one of the women attending the workshop told me:
“I got engaged with this organisation because they helped me very much with my family and my community. I used to attend their skills training programmes, became a community leader and I am now able to share what I have learnt with other women in my community.
When I first started to engage with women in the communities as part of the peace building project, they would tell me they didn’t know what I, and others like me, wanted. It took a while for women to warm up and start to open up and acknowledge issues of violence.
As a starting point, it was always domestic violence that women – and to some extend those men curious enough to attend the workshops – would talk about. I had been trained by WCoZ, attended their workshops and became familiar with their peacebuilding manual. The message was “political violence does not change people” violence starts at home.
I use the peacebuilding manual when I go to the communities to start discussions on issues of peace and peace within the family. It is important to engage at the community level at a starting point if you want to penetrate the communities and reach the women.
In our context it is difficult to talk about political violence, you never know who is next to you, who is listening, you get worried people may start spreading rumours if you talk. That’s why it is easier when we start discussing issues of domestic violence and how to reach peace at home, how violence affects everybody; the women, but also the children, and the men. Women feel more at ease when discussing violence happening to a third person, ‘a friend’, a ‘neighbour’, ‘I heard’…
I have noticed young men become more responsive to women’s requests as in some cases they see women as their mothers. As many young men get engaged in political rallies and can become perpetrators of political violence it is important that women develop strategies to stop those young men if they need to.
I think the project is challenging but I find talking about peace opens other spaces. I can see women have been slowly gaining more confidence to engage in discussions in relation to peace, peace building and discuss actions they can take should violence occur in their communities.”
What you can do
- Join our campaign to put women at the heart of peace.
- Make a donation to support our partners like the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe who are building peace in challenging contexts.
- Read our report on women building peace at the local level, From the Ground Up (PDF)