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Hot Seat: Panel discussion on gender violence in Zimbabwe
Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa

February 21, 2013

View this article on the SW Radio Africa website

One Billion Rising is a campaign that takes its name from the fact that one in every three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. The global campaign, commemorated on February 14th, aims to get at least one billion supporters worldwide to rise up to demand an end to violence against women. As part of this initiative Violet Gonda brings you a panel discussion on the Hot Seat programme, to discuss the plight of women in Zimbabwe.

Are some women's groups exaggerating violence reports to get donor funding and why are women failing to speak with one voice in Zimbabwe? These are some of the issues discussed with Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs Jessie Majome, media consultant Grace Mutandwa and gender activist Betty Makoni.

A classic case of violence against women in Zimbabwe, one of the participants, WOZA coordinator Jenni Williams, was unable to take part because she was beaten up and briefly detained by the police during a peaceful demonstration in Harare last Wednesday.

Betty started by talking about what the One Billion Rising campaign means in the Zimbabwe context.

Betty Makoni: I think this one is significant because it is coming at a time when we had high incidents of rape in India, in South Africa and many places so the morale is quite high, everybody wants to express something. It's a world coming together so Zimbabwe is now strategically positioned as a country; first to join the campaign but also to make a review on the situation of women and girls in the country. As you know we still hold a very serious dossier of evidence on women raped in 2008, it's a pending case and it's something we want people to openly talk about because in the country we cannot have some women whose genital organs are in pieces, whose hearts are tattered so we are also coming in with women who have pain. But I am not sure how far it has gone to rural areas.

Grace Mutandwa: I think it is very good to have some of these awareness campaigns but we should really go beyond awareness campaigns. We seem to do quite a lot of talking, quite a lot of marching and nothing really changes on the ground but also I think we need to go beyond even just blaming men for beating up women and raping women and do something about it, especially the issue of domestic violence, political violence. We women are the ones who raised some of these men; when we are in our own homes and raising sons, we must raise sons that respect women, that are gender-sensitive. We also need to inculcate even in our traditional leaders, we need to respect the fact that women have the right to move around without being molested, without being harassed. I think we also need to get to a stage where our legislators need not spend time talking, especially the male legislators, they shouldn't believe just by talking at rallies and denouncing violence against women or rape, they should go beyond that. We should also have a law that stipulates that any man who rapes a woman should be jailed for longer than a cattle rustler. I think a woman's life is more important than a cow in security or life.

Violet: And Jessie?

Jessie Majome: I think this campaign comes at a very fitting time when it is clear that our traditional 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence commemorations are not enough, that we need to do more in order to raise awareness and also change attitudes to gender-based violence and rape in particular so that we have absolute zero tolerance. And I agree with Grace that we set it up with action and actually really focus on exactly what it is we need to do in order to have impact and results in order to reduce gender-based violence. I think it's important that we have these platforms to share information and to give awareness about what for example the government is doing. On the 25th of November 2012 at the launch of the 16 Days of Activism campaign for Zimbabwe, my Ministry launched the national Action Gender-based Strategy, which is aimed at four key result areas. The first one is for protection of women, and men I suppose, from gender-based violence. And then the second key result area is the provision of services to those who would have been unfortunate enough to suffer gender-based violence and the third is documentation and research, monitoring and evaluation - it's the management of this whole process, and the last is the co-ordination of all these efforts to end gender-based violence and the ultimate aim, the ultimate goal of this particular strategy is to ensure that by the year 2015 Zimbabwe would have reduced all incidents of gender-based violence, including rape, by 20%.

Violet: We have heard that in South Africa for example, three to four women are raped every minute but in Zimbabwe we talk about gender based violence but is it known how many women and children are horribly brutalized in Zimbabwe? Are there any statistics Jessie?

Jessie: Yes there are statistics but as I indicated that our national gender based violence strategy has one if its key result areas the issue of research and documentation; that we actually centralise our statistics and get the statistics. At the present moment the statistics that we get are patchy. We've got them coming up from all sorts of places - the police have theirs, the women's NGOs that deal with violence like Msasa and so on, have theirs and so on. So we really need to work better at coordinating. And the health institutions also have their own so that is why one of our key result areas is that of research and documentation and monitoring and evaluation so that we can streamline our data collection. So what we have at the moment is like a general landscape view of the extent and magnitude of the gender-based violence.

The Zimbabwe demographic and health service is so far our most reliable indicator of the trends at least of gender-based violence; the 2010 to 11 one indicated that 30% of women interviewed then have ever experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and in relation to the Billion Rising campaign it is most saddening to note that of the women interviewed, 22% of them reported that their first sexual encounter was forced. I picked this statistic because it indicates that it actually appears as if we have a systemic acceptance in our contemporary culture of physical violence, of rape against women because surely if 22% of women's first ever experienced sexual relations through rape or is forced, it means it's really a part of the system, it's internalised, it's an integral part of the system.

And then also recently we've had statistics, gory statistics of rapes of children, of juveniles that the police have released. We have a problem on our hands but our bigger problem is that maybe we don't know exactly how big our problem is yet and we need to really work on that.

Violet: Betty what can you say about that? What do you make of these trends that have been described by the Deputy Minister and is it worrying that Zimbabwe has patchy statistics and we don't really know the extent of the problem regarding gender based violence?

Betty: We should be ashamed because we are not looking at Zimbabwe from 2013. Zimbabwe had a Ministry of Women's Affairs since 1980 and from then we should know how many women were murdered in Zimbabwe, how many of our children who came for sexual abuse examination at the hospital.

But my work in Zimbabwe from 1998 to 2008 gave me an estimated 6000 girls who came out to report rape, forced marriages given to appease spirits. I also want to say organizations like Msasa Project have been working a long time with the police, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers and I think in terms of the NGO sector we should have a story.

But you know what Violet, women's issues are not only numbers, women's issues are stories. With the coming up of social media it has come to my attention that I was even receiving less because they could not come to my office. If you open my in-box, you will find that from last year I'm getting up to 40 000 emails, most of them about women who are crying to come out of violence. So I think in our attempt to look at the broader picture, I think we should open doors for social media to come in because people are looking for someone to report to anonymously. I know I'm in England, I'm far away from Zimbabwe, I can't be like other people who are there but it's also spilling over. Every day I get ten cases.

Jessie: Sorry can I just interrupt? Betty it is not actually correct that Zimbabwe has had a Ministry of Women since 1981. There was a ministry in 1981 but the life of this ministry has been something like the life of a phoenix - it rises, and then it goes into ashes, it rises again so there has not been a continuous ministry that has been in existence. I thought it was important that we just correct that because sometimes there's been a unit within a ministry . . . (interrupted)

Betty: I thought the last time I interacted with the government minister who had something to do with women was with Minister Oppah Muchinguri; I remember all their staff members, even up to now I'm in touch with some of them - so I'm thinking, if we track even a department, a department of women, and whatever files they have on women, we can actually track everything up to today.

Jessie: You'd be surprised at the extent of, or lack of record keeping in continuity, you'd be amazed at that. Unfortunately it has not been working like that.

Violet: Let me go Grace and get her thoughts on this, especially on the issue of information gathering because there are some critics who have said that there are some bogus statistics - especially on the numbers that we've heard on politically motivated rape cases and that some of the women's organizations are inflating the figures.

Grace: I can't really speak on behalf of various organizations but you know there is also a bit of agenda setting with some organizations so that might come into play where the statistics are inflated and stuff like that. But to be honest with you we have serious problems in terms of monitoring and recording stats in Zimbabwe, be they be violence or rape statistics or even cancer statistics, we have serious issues. We are not well equipped to do it, we don't have the financial resources to do it. I think it's important that organizations should come together and try and as far as possible record whatever stats there are and ensure that these are proper statistics. People weigh what they can do when they have been raped; they either keep quiet and so it's not recorded.

So we have to look at the issue of where we are coming from as a people. Issues of sexuality are not very easy for us to discuss openly so we'd rather hide some of the issues and at times also, us as women, we do not support each other and where political violence is concerned, some people don't even want to be involved, they don't even want to talk about it and we deal with these issues on an ad hoc basis. When there is an election we start talking about violence against women, women being beaten because of their political leanings and then when it's 16 Days of Activism we start talking about domestic violence - we don't seem to actually realise that these are issues that we should deal with on a day-to-day basis, not on an ad hoc basis.

Violet: I will come back to the issue of women activists not working together but Jessie can you tell us why activists like Betty Makoni are able to get statistics and the government is not?

Jessie: The role of the government is not to get the statistics directly because when women get beaten up they don't run to the Ministry of Women Affairs, they go to all sorts of other places. So the challenge there and the task is to actually develop a system that actually collects those statistics centrally and processes them in a reliable manner. So this is what is needed to be worked upon. Statistics are very important because they say that you can't manage what you can't measure, but on the other hand I think we must also be very careful when we bandy around statistics, we must ensure that they are reliable and that they are accurate particularly in issues that are sensitive such as gender-based violence. Because when we do that, we might actually be undermining the credibility of the campaign to end gender-based violence. Let's be very pro-active about this so that we can keep the moral high ground and keep people realizing that this is serious - even just one person who is raped is bad enough. We need to really put our statistics into perspective and show that they're reliable; otherwise we really also damage our cause.

Betty: I think I should respond to Minister. I'm not working as an employee for gender, I'm working as a passionist, as somebody who is emotional about the issue so I'm totally different as an activist. What we should acknowledge first, even with whatever statistics we think is wrong, is just to invite anybody we feel is saying something. So whatever statistics people could have given to media or whatever, a concerned ministry because that's your first point of call, is to call you for a meeting - we hear this, let's just verify issues, let's just follow up with you, what is it that you think we should do. That's what ministers in government are supposed to do. And then the other thing is that when I personally got involved with 287 women depositing evidence on how they were raped during political violence, it was me on the side. The recommendation I want to make to the Minister is statistics are never going to be accurate but based on whatever pieces, stories, whatever we have picked up, a Ministry like yours should be the stepping stone. You can actually say - okay this is what they're saying - wrong or right - but there is an outcry on this particular issue so as the ministry you have the authority to then do thorough research but these women . . .

Jessie: That's exactly why our key result area of the national-gender based violence strategy is to actually develop a means of actually collecting those statistics, research so that we know exactly what's going on, we actually collate them from wherever they are and we assess them and we use them and that's exactly why our key result area number three is exactly that. It's exactly what the government intends to do.

Violet: Grace do you believe we have a dedicated government that wants to see change and is pro-active on this issue?

Grace: I think there is will power within the government but at times they get derailed by other issues. We have a government that's grappling with all sorts of issues; they have political issues to deal with, and at times some of these issues get buried in the cracks because they are busy dealing with maybe matters of the constitution.

But I want to go back to the issue of statistics. As a journalist I think organizations become more credible if they give statistics that are believable, statistics that are real and not inflating statistics. If a woman is raped, that's enough for people to just actually come out and cry rape. We shouldn't wait for 200 women to be raped so that we can be outraged. We can be outraged by just one rape case because at the end of the day, we end up with organizations that are being called trouble-making organizations just because someone has inflated statistics. We don't have to inflate statistics; we should just say rape is bad, it's wrong, it's evil, it should be dealt with.

Jessie: And can I also say something? I think it is important also that understand that we are all human rights activists and so on that even that ministry of the government is meant to do that. So we must avoid getting into the stereotype where we say the government is not sensitive and these things can only be found by women's organizations. I'll give you an example - these 200 or so women who were raped in the 2008 elections, they are not issues that are necessarily with just NGOs. I'm a political activist myself, I'm a women's right activist, I deal with these issues on the ground, I actually know about these things first hand, let's not try and dismember the women's movement. I might actually be more in touch with those issues than possibly, possibly, possibly even Betty because I know, I've worked with these women on the ground, these are women of flesh and blood, they are here in Zimbabwe and we know some of them and sometimes when we say figures and so on, let's be really careful how we use them. I agree with Grace - just one woman who has been raped is bad enough and let's deal with the quality of the violation against women and . . .

Violet: Let me just interrupt you there Deputy Minister - you and Grace have said that one case should be enough to get rights activists to rise up but how come we're not even seeing that? A good example is what happened with the WOZA women - Jenni Williams was supposed to be a participant in this panel discussion today. She was arrested together with some of the members in their organization, they were beaten up but there was no outcry and this is just a few women. This is a case that we all know.

Grace: Can I say something Violet about that? I think that there's something seriously wrong with the women's movement in this country. We as women do not support each other, we have serious issues. You hear that a fellow activist has been arrested or beaten up, some people will not even support because they think that it's not their issue. We look at issues in terms of who is the person that has been affected and I think that's wrong. It's the same like what happened when Jestina Mukoko disappeared. Some people didn't even want to know about it but it's not because she had done something wrong but it's because they just didn't want to know. We seem to bear these grudges that I don't really understand. As a media woman it bothers me because I try to talk to various women and find out about certain issues but you find some people close-up just because they don't want to hear about a certain person.

I think we need to be mature enough to say yes we do not agree on certain issues but we are still all women and we've got the right to disagree but we should still support each other.

Violet: Right. It's interesting that we are talking about this issue right now because there appears to be this unwillingness in the women's groups to work together to fight this epidemic of violence and other issues. For example I had problems just putting this panel together because some women activists were saying that they didn't want to be on the same panel with Betty Makoni for example while others said they didn't want to be on the same panel with Jessie or Jenni Williams.

Betty: Yah and I think Violet you shouldn't go far away from even today's discussion. 'Betty Makoni was on the ground ten years ago', how dare a woman could come to a leader of my calibre to just say your figures are inflated? We know all about this cheap talking amongst us. The thing is we have never sat on a round table to ask - 'when you say this Betty what exactly did you mean?' We have got women who are pointing fingers. If one is not there on the ground like other women you have every opportunity to ask her to sit down to discuss. But the thing is that the roundtable discussion for women are full of women who are full of themselves - they know everything, they are the top ones and they look down upon other women or they are jealous about them. It is also petty jealousy. People fighting over donor monies and not fighting over women who are suffering, women who are divided by politics. Some are aligned to MDC, some women are spending most of their time gossiping in offices and not attending to women we see suffering.

So if we are to call a spade a spade, I think a classic example is how women look down upon other women. How do you know that woman's statistics are all wrong? How do you know you are all right? Who gave you that authority for you to rule over another woman's work? So the most critical thing right now is we must have a dialogue among ourselves. Where I am wrong there is always a good and professional way to talk to me. Where I am right and I get an award, I must be congratulated for that but petty jealousies will continue to divide us. But over small matters . . .

Jessie: Violet you know what? I'm concerned that this discussion seems to have degenerated to something else, not the issue of violence against and rape against women because the reason why we have the Billion Rising campaign is to draw attention to just the horror of rape and its unacceptability. I'm hoping that one day we will solve all our problems and issues in the women's movement but we are better at doing that if we focus on the issues in particular. And I want to say that, back to the women's organizations, we were talking about the issue of Jenni Williams -I was on my way to Parliament today - I saw papers strewn all over the corner of Second Street and Nelson Mandela and clearly they were WOZA papers. There was a demonstration and so I think maybe that's why Jenni was arrested. So I'm saying this to indicate that the women's movement in Zimbabwe and all our activism against violence has been affected by the political polarization in our country. The politics, the national politics that we have where there's also violence and polarization and intimidation makes also some women afraid of associating with maybe women who are seen as maybe vocal or too vocal. Like in this particular case, I know that Jenni Williams and WOZA, they are very bold and they are very courageous; they have their own ways of dealing with things and that kind of way of dealing with things makes others uncomfortable, those that might think it is unsafe to do and they might feel that they are inviting trouble and that is also another form of systemic violence against women. Where women feel afraid to express themselves or feel that they must express themselves in a particular way and be acceptable. So those are some of the issues that we need to deal with but I want to be optimistic.

I'm optimistic that in the draft constitution that we have produced at COPAC we have established, we have tried to set more or less like a framework for a country that has a human rights culture, that prioritises the dignity and the equality of people and that removes violence from our politics and that attends to give checks and balances and also that gives, enshrines equality for women and an end to discrimination.

And also in particular introduces an engendered right to security of the person which includes freedom from violence, even from domestic sources and also even goes as far as the law enforcement agents and administration agents to make sure that they ensure that people lead prosperous, happy and fulfilling lives. And so we have a lot of work to do in terms of changing our mind set, making Zimbabwe safer and safer and more humane and more or less like a kinder society.

Violet: Unfortunately I've run out of time but I would just ask for a final word from Grace and Betty.

Grace: All I just want to say is that I agree with Jessie that at times it's us women who are our worst enemies and we believe that it's within men's rights to actually beat us up but until we find a way of loving ourselves, until we find a way of respecting ourselves, no-one else is going to do that.

Betty: My final word is let's not mystify the issues on women who are going through domestic violence, they are reporting all over. Social media opened a floodgate of reports. There are many groups set up on social media where women are reporting under 'hide my ID' but they are speaking out. And also if we are in leadership, no matter what level of leadership we get to reach to, let's also remember we came from those poor women who are trying to talk to us. I think some offices are way too high even for ordinary women to say how are you, and we should not discourage and accuse them of inflating statistics. We should go to them and talk to them.

Violet: Thank you very much Betty Makoni, Jessie Majome and Grace Mutandwa for talking to us on the programme Hot Seat.

To contact this reporter email or follow on Twitter @violetgonda

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