Making Communities Safe For Women: How Zimbabwe’s GBV Program Has Improved Access To Services In El Nino Affected Districts

By Michael Gwarisa

In every emergency, the vulnerability of women and girls increases. In Zimbabwe, the prevailing El Nino-induced drought has amplified the susceptibility of women and girls to numerous forms of abuse. In both Matabeleland North and South provinces, cases of elderly women getting abused sexually have been on the increase.

In Gwanda and Umguza Districts where mining is rampant, artisanal miners have been sexually abusing young children, girls,women and even elderly women under the false belief that it gives them fortune in their mining endeavors.

In Umguza District, previous accounts have shown that some rape cases were reported of minors who were raped on their way from school. According to official statistics, illegal gold mining has escalated GBV in areas such as Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Perpetrators of rape, sexual abuse and economic abuse are mostly illegal miners who come from different provinces.

Gogo Mancube (69) (Not Her Real Name) from Mbembesi, Umguza in Matabeleland North province is the latest victim of a series of Sexual Abuse cases against elderly women being perpetrated by artisanal miners in the area. A 22-year-old man broke into her hut and raped her in April this year.

“I was all alone in my hut sleeping around midnight, when a young man came into my house on Independence Day,” said a teary Gogo Mancube.

“I identified his face and I called his name out. This made him attack me with an Axe, wounding my shoulder and back. He proceeded to rape me before disappearing into the darkness. I tried calling for help but my neighbours were also scared.”

Since Gogo Mancube, had recognised the rapist’s face, this fortunately helped in the quick identification process of the rapist when she had reported the case to the police. Gogo Mancube was assisted under the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) program, where the Musasa Project through their GBV Shuttle Service helped her to get medical assistance, legal assistance and justice for the heinous crime that was perpetrated against her.

“I am glad I was assisted and given transportation to the hospital as well as to the police station to report my case. I was also assisted during the court days. The vehicle would also take me to and from court. The rapist was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison,” added Gogo Mancube.

The six-months long CERF project was implemented in Gwanda, Chiredzi, Buhera, Chipinge, Mwenezi, Hwange, Umguza and Beitbridge. Since the beginning of the program early this year, a total, of 5,499 survivors (5,348 females and 601 males) have accessed the shuttle service in the eight supported districts. The Shuttle Service is among the four key activities supported under the CERF project. The Shuttle system enhanced the accessibility of survivor-centred GBV lifesaving multi-sectoral services. The shuttle services also improved access to clinical management of rape services, psychosocial support and referrals to legal aid for GBV survivors in remote and hard-to-reach areas and populations such as children, persons with disabilities and the elderly.

The Shuttle service model had counsellors capable to provide psycho-social support to survivors of gender-based violence in hard-to-reach areas. They were reached through a shuttle which would go to any place within that district and be able to retrieve the survivors or extract them from a situation of violence and also take them to critical services that they needed.

The CERF project was a six-month long project that ran from January to June 2024 as part of the El Nino Anticipatory Action Plan over the past six months—led by the Ministry of Women Affairs Community Small and Medium Enterprises Development (MWACSMED) in partnership with the IOM, UNHCR, and UN Women. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) implemented the project in eight districts in Zimbabwe.

Over 30,000 women and girls were reached through the various services offered under the CERF project from the eight districts. Interventions under the CERF program also managed to strengthen community-based mechanisms for GBV risk mitigation and protection from Sexual Exploitation through the establishment of safe spaces for most vulnerable women and girls and the provision of psychosocial support.

Some of the detergents on display during a CERF monitoring and technical support visit in Umguza

Mrs Joyce Ngomeni from Tshongwe Village Ward 11 in Gwanda District who lost her husband in 2017, says the CERF project’s Safe Spaces model has given her a reason to be happy again.

“When my husband died, I became very anxious about life. I was stressed most of the time about how I was going to figure out life as a widow. I have three grandchildren whom I send to school and I also need to eat at home. This gave me sleepless nights. I want to thank Safe Spaces for listening to me and allowing me to heal mentally. This has given me strength to even start some economic ventures and I am not stressed anymore,” said Mrs Ngomeni.

Widowed women like Mrs Ngomeni are exposed to several challenges including sexual exploitation, economic insecurity, discrimination, stigmatisation and harmful traditional practices based on marital status. Situations such as the El Nino have worsened economic outcomes for such women.

When unemployment and poverty affect men, it can cause them to assert their masculinity through violent means. To curb economic driven GBV and abuse, the CERF project has an economic component where women have been empowered economically to produce goods and services.

Mrs Oppah Moyo (51) from Tshongwe Ward 11 in Gwanda is part of the Tswaranang Basad club that makes detergents, Petroleum Jelly and other products.

“Before I joined the club, I would ask my husband for money to buy little things such as salt or even vegetables. Now these are things I buy on my own, there is happiness in my home now. I even pay school fees for my children.  Previously my husband would get violent whenever I asked for money for these small things,” said Mrs Moyo.

Her club makes Vaseline, Form Bath, and Dish Washing Liquid among other detergents.

Musasa Project was the implementing partner of the CERF project in the various districts. Vimbai Mutendereki, the Executive Director for Musasa Project believes they have equipped communities to better respond to GBV even beyond donor support.

“So for us, the nature of this program, being anticipatory, we were able to say, let’s start equipping communities with important elements. So you’ll find there’s a bit of strengthening of local structures, which for us is very important as we talk about sustainability because there’s not an over-dependence on Musasa’s presence. Musasa may not have funding to be able to be there continuously, but when you have a community capacity within that community, they have the skills, you are guaranteed the project will live on,” said Mutendereki in an interview with HealthTimes.

The Ministry of Women Affairs Community Small and Medium Enterprises Development met with different partners in Bulawayo for the closeout meeting where they reflected on the implementation of the CERF project.

“From our end, our key lessons were that we cannot separate any humanitarian issue or disaster from gender-based violence or gender inequalities. We all know that women are the face of poverty. When poverty hits, women are the most affected. With that lesson, we had to ensure that we intervened in time,” said Magdalene Chavhuduka from the Ministry of Women Affairs Community Small and Medium Enterprises Development Gender Section during the CERF close-out meeting.

Patricia Mujajati, the Program analyst with UNFPA Zimbabwe said the CERF program has changed the trajectory of GBV in Zimbabwe positively.

“So we are rounding off our interventions, but we believe that they’ve made an impact. Looking at the shuttle service, this was one interventions where we were mainly around looking at supporting the survivors’ access to specialised services. These are multi-sectoral, we’ve got your health services, legal services, police services and even psychosocial support. So these are the key interventions that survivors need when they are faced with such situations to be able to cope and access justice should they require it,” said Mujajati.

She added that the second area of focus was equipping and capacity building of non-GBV specialised actors to provide services in El Nino affected districts.

“You find, for example, food security actors, as they go out there to distribute food, they should be able to identify GBV survivors and interact with them, but also more importantly, further, specialised services. So that was another key intervention area around the capacity building of those service providers. The third intervention area was around GBV risk mitigation through safe spaces.”

Communities were also equipped to detect GBV in communities. This was achieved through targeted information sessions, strengthening of referral mechanisms for multi-sectoral GBV services by conducting surveillance and community outreach, and timely dissemination of life-saving information on the referral pathways. Community cadres’ capacity was also boosted to ensure adequate coverage of GBV surveillance.

 

NB// The true identity of the rape survivor has been concealed to protect her identity. 

 

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