MBIRE district in Mashonaland Central is home to vast wildlife including the famous Big Five even though one of the animals, the Black Rhino has since vanished from the picture. Despite the rugged terrain and a poor road network ahead, the meandering and curvaceous road leading to Mbire through the Mavhuradonha mountain range makes one green with envy.
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Mbire
However, beyond this beauty lies a monster, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), which has led to a spike in the incidence and prevalence of early child marriages, pregnancies, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in young women and girls in Mbire. Mashonaland Central province has the highest prevalence of SGBV and early marriages and Mbire District owns the bigger share of the problem. According to the National AIDS Council (NAC), close to 5000 cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) were recorded in the Mash Central province during the COVID-19 period.
Due to marginalization of communities in Mbire especially in ward 2 where there are the Doma tribe and ward 3 which houses the Chikunda tribe, harmful traditional practices that expose women and girls to violence and HIV are rampart. Some of the cultural practices include rape, early marriages as most of the young people do not go to school.
To ward off the burden of SGBV, HIV, early marriages and Early Unintended Pregnancies (EUPs), Katswe Sistahood through support from the UN to End Violence Against Women (UN Women) Zimbabwe, is working in two Wards in Mbire namely Ward 2 and 3 where they are implementing a program called the SASA model. The implementation of the SASA Methodology is supported under the Spotlight Initiative Supported programme.
The Spotlight Initiative is a global partnership to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. It was launched in September 2017 by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General and the European Union (EU) High Representative and Vice President (HRVP). It is a visible political and financial investment from the EU in the multilateral relationship with the UN and in gender equality. The Spotlight Initiative in Africa is being implemented in eight countries namely Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe the Spotlight Initiative is being implemented by six UN agencies Namely, ILO, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women Zimbabwe, EU and UN Women (RUNOs)
The Sasa Model was evaluated in Kampala, Uganda between 2008 to 2012 to challenge harmful traditional practices and transform inequitable gender norms. The SASA model takes a structured and phased approach and is grouped into four parts namely the start, the awareness phase, the support and the action phase.
Dzidzai Jasi, a Community Activists from Ward 2, Wirira or MaDoma Village said before the SASA program was introduced, they would struggle to get justice and services for girls and women who would have been raped.
The SASA model has greatly transformed our community. This has greatly reduced the number of girls who are getting married at a tender age. Where I come from, I advocate and stand for children who are either married and those who get raped. I take these young girls to court and ensure they get the required assistance regarding their case.
“Previously, we would struggle to get help for young girls who would have been raped. Girls would be raped and impregnated without any action being taken. With the introduction of the SASA project, those cases have gone down now and even cases of early marriages have also gone down because we can now get justice for those who would have been raped,” said Dzidzai.
She added that the model has made it possible for girls who would have dropped out of school as a result of pregnancy to resume studies and pursue their dreams. She also said many girls as young as 13 lost their lives in Wirira village owing to pregnancy related complications before the SASA project came to them but they have since gone down.
The first phase of SASA focused on building knowledge and capacity of 50 community activists (25 men and 25 women) on the of types of violence perpetrated on women and power imbalances. The activities targeted the individual to change and realize the power within to act and change issues that affect women and girls in the district.
Mrs Taurai Kamurandu who is also the village heard wife in the Madoma Village said the Doma people would allow girls to be given away as peace offerings to spirit mediums or marry them off to appease avenging spirits.
“It would break our hearts to see little girls being sent to the Mhondoros (Spirit Mediums) and also to pay for sins of their fathers as peace offerings. Even cases of child marriages were high. Recently there was a young girl who had been married at the age of 13. I went to where she was married and collected her now she is back in school.”
The SASA project has roped in participation of men and traditional leaders, a move that has greatly reduced SGBV prevalence in the district. The male Community Activists work to positively influence other men in the community to go and get tested for HIV through the He for She Campaign.
Sabhuku Chikondoma said they use drama and other edutainment activities to teach people in the Doma and Chikunda villages on issues around SGBV since majority of people in those villages cannot read or write.
“These are not communities where you can go and read papers and teach them using languages they cannot comprehend. To bridge this information and knowledge gap, we use dramas and this strategy has proven to be effective. Issues of wife battering and abuse were very high here. Even after a good harvest, men in these parts would squander the monies without even consulting their wives and that would result in high cases of GBV. However, the Drama model we have introduced through the SASA has worked to our advantage, we are now having few cases of men who beat up their wives,” said Sabhuku Chikondoma.
The SASA model is also assisting in training in-school and out of school peer educators since majority of the SGBV cases and early marriages are being reported in that age group. Katswe in partnership with the Ministry of Education, ministry of health, the National AIDS Council (NAC) and other partners.
Fadziso-Fadzisai Maunganidze, the Programme Officer for Katswe Sisterhood said under the SASA project, they have also incorporated a livelihood and resilience aspect which seeks to empower women economically through engaging in income generating projects such as livestock rearing amongst other projects.
“The SASA engages whole communities including boys and men in transforming women and girls on issues of GBV. Katswe is carrying out the SASA project in Mbire, in lower Guruve where there is a rough terrain and there are few schools and clinics. GBV is prominent in this areas, making women victims of what have been deemed as economic violence, emotional as well as SGBV.
“The SASA project has helped a lot through engagement acclivities that improve girls and women’s writing skills through peer education thereby boosting their confidence and communication skills to empower them to fight against GBV. We are also running engagement activities through goats, piggery, sewing clubs and weaving. We distributed 54 goats to 23 groups in 2019 and to date, there 133 goats,” said Maunganidze.
Meanwhile, the Mbire District Development Coordinator (DDC), Mr Richard Maruta said through the SASA project, they have initiated the idea of a Safe House for victims and survivors of SGBV and other forms of violence against women in a bid to offer services under one roof. t
“The start awareness support action which is in its first stage where its being supported by Katswe in conjunction with the National AIDS Council (NAC) has brought on board the voucher system. The voucher system is for rape victims, domestic violence where its issued to the victim so that they get assisted in terms of transport to visit the police and health care facilities. This has gone a long way in assisting those who were unable to report their cases before.
“This has seen an upsurge in reports and some of those unreported cases which used to happen in communities and concealed are now being unearthed and reported. Through SASA, the district has also initiated a local safe house project, this is a project in the pipeline where we have engaged other development partners who are girl child and women centered to have our own safe house here in Mbire,” said Mr Maruta.
He added that they have also managed to engage traditional leaders and have brought them on board to expedite reportage of cases as well as address the harmful cultural practices rampart in communities. He added that previously, traditional leaders would preside over cases of rape and SGBV and ask perpetrators to pay fines or tokens in the form of livestock, however to concretize them about the justice system, the SASA project has also initiated dialogue and discussions between traditional leaders, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the Magistrate Court.