No Means No! Empowering Adolescent Girls To Ward-Off Sexual Violence Through Self-Defense

Tarisai Mhlanga (10), a Grade 6 pupil at Tafara Primary school in Chipinge says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. However, with the increasing cases of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in her community, she fears her dream might never come true.

By Michael Gwarisa

Though she is still very young, Tarisai dreads that one day on her way from school, when an abuser might just pounce on her and change her life completely. Her fears are real. Sexual abuse is rife in Manicaland province. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and related series of lockdowns, Manicaland province reported an increase in gender-based violence cases, with 49 percent of all criminal cases reported to police from the beginning of the COVID-19 national lockdown being domestic violence related. Of these cases, 83 percent are said to be happening in the homes.

Somewhere somehow, Tarisai does not want to end up being one of the GBV and sexual abuse statistic in her community. To empower adolescent girls like Tarisai, in 2021, Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT Zimbabwe) in partnership with NO Means NO Worldwide with support from The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID Zimbabwe held a month long virtual IMPower Instructors training.

No-Means No Is a worldwide program that targets girls between the ages 10 to 14 years which teaches empowerment through self-defence.

I am glad that we have this program now. I now know that when I am facing abuse, I can use various skills to escape that incident. I can either scream or attack the abuser’s most vulnerable spot on the body and escape,” said Tarisai.

The training of adolescent Girls and Young Women drawn from Manicaland province seeks to increase girls’ assertiveness and boundary setting by developing the verbal and physical skills they need to defend themselves and escape when facing sexual assault; with the ultimate aim of increasing disclosure of sexual violence among boys and girls and ensuring that they are referred to the services they need.

The IMPower initiative has since inception reached out to not less than 8000 adolescent girls and young women by 2022 in Makoni, Mutare and Chipinge districts of Manicaland province. The initiative has empowered Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYWS) at community level with self-defence skills and also link survivors of sexual violence to legal, psycho-social support and clinical services.

Pride Johnson, a Social Worker and an instructor under the No Mean No program said they have reached out to many girls and have made it point to visit every school in Chipinge district with their program.

“Empowerment self-defence includes defending oneself from any form of assaults using physical skills mental skills and verbal skills. In the event that other skill fails to work, you use the other. This training gives girls options to fight back abuse using any of these skills. The aim is to reduce and sexual and physical abuse of young girls in our communities.

“We want these young girls to be able to prevent and stop assault at community level. We also wasn’t to raise awareness in our communities that it is bad to assault person. Force should never be used as tool to get anything from anyone. ,” said Pride.

In Chipinge, every instructor has not less than 20 girls under and the instructors move across every school in Chipinge district and in communities teaching and training adolescents these basic self-defence skills.

Mr Gabriel Mutisi, the headmaster of Tafara Primary School in Chipinge said girls from around the community had welcomed the No Means No program with both arms.

“We are glad about this program and we are glad about our partners who are working with the girls to ensure they stand for themselves and fight back assault through the skills they are learning from the No Means No program. As a school wed have welcomed them and we see that our young girls are happy about this program. Some travel long distances from neighbouring school just to be a part of these trainings,” said Mr Mutisi.

Meanwhile, through intervnetions from FACT, at least 55% of Sexual offenders and perpetrators of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Manicaland province and some parts of Masvingo have been convicted since the year 2019 to date.

The cases were facilitated and processed through the assistance of the Family AIDS Caring Trust Zimbabwe (FACT) legal division in the districts FACT is implementing the Children Tariro and DREAMS projects namely Makoni, Mutare, Chipinge, Buhera and Gutu.

Mr Trevor Nyatsanza, FACT Zimbabwe Legal Coordinator said in most cases, family members 
and close acquaintances are the abusers.

“In 2021, 960 Gender Based Violence Survivors were given pre-trial legal counseling and support. Since 2019 to date, 1,769 cases of GBV survivors have been reported to the police through our facilitation. Of the 1,769, 1,167 led to arrest of perpetrators. From that number, 736 have been prosecuted so far while some are still pending. 357 have been convicted.

“Currently we are saying 55% of the cases that we facilitated reporting and were processed through the court system, 55% so far have led to convictions of perpetrators. We need to build community confidence in the justice and legal system. It’s not good enough to say we have given you clinical care so be on your own or go to court on your own,” said Nyatsanza.

He added that they were working to ensure all pending cases are attended to and justice is rendered to survivors of all forms of violence. He also added that most survivors of Sexual violence were not reporting abuse within 72 hours and they were not getting their Post-Exposure Prophylaxes (PeP) to prevent HIV infections.

“The first survey we conducted shows that 88% of survivors of GBV were abused by a close family member. That is immediate family, your father, mother etc and family members and close acquaintances. The second survey that we conducted reveals that 13% face stigma, 26% is because of being threatened by perpetrators and 46% are failing to report abuse cases and are failing to access critical emergency services in time because the family is the one preventing reporting.

“The third survey that we conducted on Child marriages indicates that the 15 to 17 age group is the one where people mostly get into child marriages and most perpetrators are within the 18 to 25 age groups. Most perpetrators are at least 10 years older that the survivors. The leading cause of child marriages was mainly poverty.”


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