It has been extremely difficult for me to sit down and write for a while. It hasn’t been writer’s block (trust me, in fact I have too much to say on the subject) but more an attempt to gather my thoughts and not come across as “a crazy black woman” or “a feminazi”. I truly believe as a country and a continent we must continue to address the elephant in the room. The truth is the war on women’s bodies is so glaring-it’s difficult to live your best life in this environment. From a very young age the Zimbabwean girl is told how to behave, how to dress and be afraid of men. And this caution is with good reason.
Gender based violence is violence directed at an individual based on their gender or biological sex. The list of violence include sexual, physical, emotional, verbal, psychological abuse and/or economic deprivation, threats and coercion. We can’t rule out that men may also experience this violence, but, unfortunately, there are more cases of such a nature towards women. Reports of such abuse have increased and the lockdown has resulted in even more cases as, women find themselves stuck with their abusers at home. In November 2019, Zimbabwe Gender Commission released horrifying figures:
1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 years have experienced physical violence
1 in 4 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years
22 women are raped daily in Zimbabwe
1 in 3 girls are raped or sexually assaulted before the age of 18 years old
Rape cases increased from 4 450 in 2010 to 8 069 in 2018
We clearly have a problem and now the question is what do we do to protect women in Zimbabwe? The most important thing is to support those who survive these ordeals. Many people don’t know what to say/do when someone reveals that they are experiencing gender based violence at home, in the workplace or anywhere really. I remember when I was in University, a friend of mine came to my room to tell me that the guy she thought was a sweet, kind gentlemen had assaulted her. I supported her during the process and in the end she was able report the matter. She managed to write exams without the fear of running into him at the exam venue. Sometimes all someone needs is a listening ear with no judgment.
I Believe You
Women have described surviving such an ordeal can be dehumanising and paralysing. Many people don’t report their cases because there is no support from our immediate family and society. Sometimes it’s other women you confide in, who victim blame you into silence or make excuses for the abuse. “But what were you wearing, when he commented on your butt?”, “You shouldn’t have even been in his room”, “He insults you cause he likes you, that’s what guys do sometimes”, “Ndozvinoita varume, dzimba dzakaoma idzi” (that’s how men are, marriage is tough).
So the next time a friend, a sister, a colleague, a daughter, musters up the courage to break their silence:
- Listen Sincerely– if someone has come to you with such a personal encounter you need to listen. Listen to what they want to say. The fine details of what has happened to them is not relevant, you just have to listen to what they feel comfortable with sharing.
- Believe– accepting someone’s story and showing them support is letting them know that you believe them. Confidentiality is also important to survivors and you should not push to know the perpetrator. Things you might be able to say could be “I am sorry this happened to you”, “What happened is not your fault”, “How can I support you, if you need my support”
- Respect her wishes-supporting someone means respecting their decision, whether it is to report the abuse or not.You are there to support and not pressurise the survivor.
- Provide resources-Many of us are not counsellors or trained to help people with their healing process. In truth, its a personal journey for someone. There are a few places someone can contact for legal advice and counselling. For help you can call:
Victim Friendly Units at police stations
Zimbabwe Women Layers (ZWLA) 08080131
Musasa Project 0775442300
Adult Rape Clinic 0775672770
Phoebe Zimbabwe 0714396012
5. Continued support-if you are able to accompany this person to receive the help they need, then you can support them through the process.
It is necessary to start fighting the mansplaining and excuses-its women’s’ responsibility to do so. Its necessary to talk to our male counterparts and explain that this war on our bodies is unacceptable. It is devastating to realize that 1 of the the 22 women raped daily in Zimbabwe could be a close friend or family of myself. I truly believe that creating accepting environments (in the communities, the workplace and especially in the home) for people to be comfortable to break their silence is the best way to make sure that legitimate cases are reported and people are punished for these abuses.