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Defending women - defending the rights of a nation: Preliminary report on political violence against members of WOZA
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
September 2007

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Over the past seven years, Zimbabweans have experienced the virtual total transformation of their economic and social world. The formal economy has collapsed, producing intense social dislocation, emigration and extreme forms of poverty. This disintegration of the underpinnings of an entire society has been brought about by the abuse of power by a political party and government, which have seemingly deliberately brought misery to the lives of millions of Zimbabweans. When political opposition grew and civil society organisations mounted protests, the government responded with draconian legislation as well as extra-legal actions, which have silenced all but the bravest of government critics.

One civic organisation which has refused to be silenced is a grassroots women's social justice movement, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). It has continued to protest in the streets, claiming the right to freedom of expression. These protests have resulted in frequent arrests and extreme brutality perpetrated against the members by law enforcement agents.

Violations against members occur with regularity in spite of the obligations of the Zimbabwean government under both domestic and international law. The Bill of Rights in the Zimbabwean constitution protects freedoms of assembly and of expression. Zimbabwe is also party to numerous international instruments which commit the government to guarantee freedoms of speech, assembly, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Among these are the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights.

This interim report reflects some of the initial findings of a research study of the violence experienced by WOZA members at the hands of state agents. The full report documenting the extent and nature of the violations perpetrated against members of WOZA will be released in due course. This report is issued before the study is completed in order to draw attention to the risks faced by women activists in view of the fact that Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states have recently stated that free and fair elections can be held in Zimbabwe early next year.

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