“There is never- never – a reason to treat a woman violently. There is no excuse for doing so, under any circumstance, and it is never about passion or emotion and certainly never about love – it is abuse, it is violence and it cannot be tolerated.”
The American Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Harry K. Thomas made these remarks last week after touring Musasa’s One-Stop Centre together with one safety shelter both in Harare. The tour was organised to mark the beginning of Women’s History month and for the American diplomat to have an appreciation of the work of Musasa as one of the embassy’s beneficiaries.
Ambassador Thomas stated that the tour was of importance to him as an individual and to the embassy as a whole.
“March is Women’s History Month and March 8th is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme, “Be Bold for Change,” calls on individuals and communities to help forge a better and more inclusive gender-equal world. That world simply is not possible where Gender Based Violence is prevalent,” said Ambassador Thomas.
“One of the primary goals of the U.S Mission to Zimbabwe is to help end this scourge by empowering women and by educating both men and women about the corrosive effects this violence has on society as a whole,” he added.
Since 2015, the United States Embassy has supported efforts to economically and socially empower women and girls who are survivors of gender based violence (GBV). To achieve this objective, the United States Embassy provided funding to Musasa to support activities that positively impacted 8,000 women and girls in Zimbabwe (specifically in Harare, Bulawayo, Chiredzi, Gweru, Buhera, Bubi, Chikomba, Gokwe, Gutu, Marange, and Mwenezi). The primary beneficiaries have been adolescent girls and young women aged 10-24 years old who have received, among other services, financial management and life skills training; emergency cash transfers; youth connection and vocational training; and access to safe spaces and mentoring. The U.S. funding also enabled Musasa to conduct community discussions for over 1,200 men and adolescent boys in order to underscore the vital role men and boys play in countering GBV.
Netty Musanhu, director of Musasa said it is unfortunate that the country does not have a baseline hence it is difficult to measure if there is really an increase or a decrease in the Gender Based Violence cases. However, she said, from her organisation’s perspective they are observing an increase in the cases mostly due to the economic situation that the country is currently facing.
“The change of gender roles has brought a strain in homes since some men are now unemployed and most women have become bread winners, which in most circumstances leads to GBV,” she explained.
From the cases that Musasa is receiving most of them are of rape involving girls aged between 10 to 15 years old, she said.
In Musanhu’s view, GBV in Zimbabwe is very real and the situation is worsened by very few accessible services for survivors. Some survivors have to travel over 200km just to access a police station. Survivors may be aware of the procedures they have to follow when reporting GBV but a lack of resources makes it difficult to access help.
Musanhu’s argument was based on the fact that an average of 500 women visit the One-Stop Centre in Harare for services every month. Other shelters like the one in Marange where there are higher cases of child marriages the situation is said to be very dire. The hope is that the government of Zimbabwe can effectively implement the Domestic Violence Act so as to ensure that women are protected and safe.
Vimbai* one survivor from the Harare shelter spoke about her experience in trying to find protection and justice after being physically abused by her husband.
“After numerous reports to the police he was never arrested for the abuse,” said Vimbai.
“I finally managed to get out after a female police officer referred me to Musasa, by giving me the Harare address and telling me I was likely to get assistance there than at a police station”, she added.
Vimbai stayed in the shelter for a year. During this time, she leant how to sew. Currently she is the team leader of a team of five women who are undertaking the sewing project. They started off with baby clothes, later on they grew their range to t-shirts for schools shopping bags for big retail stores.
In 2015 Musasa provided counseling services to 22,991people across Zimbabwe, legal services to 9507 survivors of GBV, life skills training to 769 women and girls which include training in basic computer skills and dressmaking as a way of empowering women to become economically active in their lives and to be able to meet their needs. The organisation also managed to integrate 2372 clients with their parents, relatives and/or any other place of safety outside the shelters therefore assuring that women and girls are safe and are out of the abusive environment.
Musasa operates from four regional offices which include Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Chiredzi; and temporary shelters in Bubi, Buhera, Chikomba, Gutu, Gokwe, Gweru, Harare, Marange and Mwenezi.
Main image by the U.S Public Affairs (PAS) section.
*Not her real name