The increase in cases of gender based violence, with women and girls as victims in the majority of cases requires that women in Zimbabwe build strong strategic alliances to strengthen a women’s movement that can mobilise resources, network and demand for an end to such practices.
Although a lot of efforts are underway in building a strong women’s movement, there are a lot of uncoordinated efforts which if such efforts were brought to one front would push women’s agenda a lot more. Women in politics for example seem not to be uniting with their counterparts in the civic society in addressing issues of violence against women and girls. Women in churches also seem to have a different view on issues of gender based violence. The value systems within churches may influence the way women in churches define gender based violence.
The political system in the country, in which opposing political candidates view each other as enemies, is making it even more difficult to build a united women’s movement. Yes, we have seen women representatives from both ZANU (PF) and the two MDC formations attending workshops and other public programmes together but this has failed to cover up the underlying differences that exist. More united efforts by women in politics and those from the church and non-governmental organisations must be seen on the ground so as to advance the women’s movement.
Like all other movements, the women’s movement is a political process, that is, it is about ideologies and the policies that flow from ideologies. It is about resources and how such resources are distributed. To address gender based violence, the women’s movement in Zimbabwe should address issues on the availability of resources to fight gender based violence including strengthening community reporting and referral systems and the establishment of effective judiciary system.
A women’s movement is a political process because it should address the substructure of ideas, beliefs, and assumptions that are polled in a certain set of power relations in society and therefore determine how resources are distributed. The movement has a strong agenda of changing the way resources are distributed.
In order for Zimbabwe to have a united women’s movement that can address effectively issues of gender based violence against women and girls, non-governmental organisations in particular, have to help build grassroots women's groups to participate as one unified women’s movement. Non-governmental organisations have to be catalysts in creating spaces for poor women to gather, mobilize, and organize.
Non-governmental organisations should also support grassroots women’s organizations, linking them together and helping transform them into a movement. They must also support women's groups to develop critical social change and action agendas. It is important that they do not to impose agendas but provide information, analysis, and alternative viewpoints about issues related to gender based violence.
Non-governmental organisations can also help grassroots women's movements to form alliances and partnerships with a range of other movements such as the youth movement, religious movement and political movements in order to change the agendas and perspectives of these other movements. If women have a formidable mass base they can't be ignored. However NGOs have tended to address women as beneficiaries of various kinds of economic development programs.
A strong women’s movement can help bridge the gap that exists between the rural women and those in urban areas, women from affluent families and those who are poor, women from the church and those who do not go to church. It can also bridge the gap between those who are straight and those from sexual minority groups. After all gender based violence knows no boundary.
A women’s movement therefore should strengthen the analyses of issues pertaining to women so that their rights are not seen as peripheral to other social issues. Women’s dialogue with different interests and other social groups, among women themselves and with other groups should also be strengthened.
By Gertrude Pswarayi