The Space that Exists Before the Violence Happens – A Reflection on Women Peace-builders in Zimbabwe

Dudziro Nhengu
Posted August 17, 2015 from Zimbabwe
Sthembile Mpofu, Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PIECE WAS WRITTEN BY STEMBILE MPOFU AND PRESENTED AT A POLICY AND PRACTICE DIALOGUE ORGANISED BY UN WOMEN. DUDZIRO NHENGU POSTED IT ON PULSE WIRE.

Firstly, I would like to thank UN Women and UNDP for asking me to be a discussant on this panel. It has given me the opportunity to read a very important report and while doing so forced me to think critically about two things – firstly about the work that I wake up to do every day as a conflict transformation practitioner and secondly about what it means to be a woman in both my private and professional life.

The report highlights the challenges women face as a result of their gender. These challenges take the form of physical abuse, sexual violence, discrimination and exclusion. It clearly lays out the courageous journey that has been travelled by Zimbabwean women over decades, illustrating their trials and tribulations and their hard won victories. The report has had the effect of making me appreciate many rights I take for granted as a woman living in Zimbabwe. And to those who fought for and won those rights I would like to express my deepest gratitude.

As I read the report through the lens of a peace builder, I felt a deep solidarity with the women who are present at every level of society working to build a better society. However, my practitioner’s eye could not help looking for the story that lay beyond the women’s story that is in the spotlight. I tried to see the shape and form of what lay in the shadows beyond the light. When you do conflict transformation work you soon realize that where the destruction or violence manifests is rarely where the problem lies. So I asked myself, “What is happening in that space that exists before the violence and destruction happen? Who lives there and what happens there?” We do of course, men, women, and children, with our dogs and cats and cattle. It is you and I going about our daily business of living. The question is, how we ALL behave in that space that exists before the violence happens and then we have to deal with the violence. We deal with the effects of the violence through resolutions and legislation and ensuring that there is representation of women in all fora at all levels. This is important work because this is how we must ensure that women are safer and more secure. But how much attention are we paying to that space we all occupy before the violence happens?

This is where the second part of my reflection came into play, where I began to ask myself what role do I play as a woman in that space that exists before the violence happens, what role do all women play in that space before the violence happens. As a daughter, a mother, a wife, a sister, friend, work colleague, director, parliamentarian, Minister, Vice President, President. As women who are working for a better Zimbabwe, I felt that we need to reflect on what we do in this space. I thought of the mother who lives next door to me whose children live in perpetual fear of her violent temper and her belt, I thought of an incident I witnessed at a police station charge office, where a policewoman took great delight in slapping and kicking three drunken men arrested for public drinking. I also asked myself to what extent the women we celebrate as being in those coveted positions of influence have contributed to improving conditions for everyone in the space that exists before the violence happens. When we as women have power and influence at any level in our society are we any less corrupt or divisive than our male counterparts, are we any more transparent or fair in our dealings. Are we kinder, more empathetic, do we hold society’s interest at heart any more dearly than our male counterparts. My answer to myself was based solely on my own assessment of what I see around me every day and that answer was, sadly, that for me, there is little difference. In looking after that space that exists before the violence happens should we not ensure that equity, justice, fairness, accountability and transparency prevail, if our society is to be a peaceful one?

In my reflection I concluded that an equal amount of energy and time must be put into working in that space that exists before the violence happens as is being put into working in the space where the violence happens and in the space after the violence happens. And we must, as women, self introspect to see how we in our different roles, contribute to the culture of violence that exists within our society. Ensuring that as women we are making the right choices in our private and professional spaces will contribute immensely to building peace.

Comments 4

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libudsuroy
Aug 18, 2015
Aug 18, 2015

This is quite thought-provoking. Thank you, chibairo, for sharing this with us. This piece reminds us,women and men peace builders and conflict transformers, to shift our attentive ears and eyes to that space and moment of pre-violence. Thus, conflict-prevention is thus acknowledged as key factor to confliict transformation.

I wonder if there were discussions afterwards. Did the group to which this piece was addressed able to formulate concrete steps to respond to this concern?

Nakinti
Aug 18, 2015
Aug 18, 2015

Dear Chibairo,

I always love reading your posts; thought-provoking as my sister Libudsuroy says. This pulls me back to what a woman told me in a counseling session yesterday. She said her husband reported her to the Police for carrying her property out of the house because for 12 years her husband stopped giving her money for the upkeep of the family on grounds that he was having financial difficulties. This very husband asked her to quit because he considered her a source of ill-luck. Surprisingly, the case landed in the hands of a female Police officer who told the woman that she was wicked and irresponsible. To cut a long story short, the Police Woman told her that her husband was under no obligation to give her any money for upkeep because he was facing financial difficulties. The police woman said the woman had to fight for her family by raising the money needed by the family. When the victim told the police woman that despite all the struggles, her husband refused signing a marriage certificate with her for twelve years, the Police [woman] officer told her that a marriage certificate is a mere paper and that men have the right to study their women for as long as they want before embarking on legalizing marriage. Really? I imagined. This was a woman with four children for the man. What will a man study for 12 years?

Dear Chibairo, my thoughts rushed to that particular police [woman] officer and many other women in leadership positions when you  asked the question:

"I also asked myself to what extent the women we celebrate as being in those coveted positions of influence have contributed to improving conditions for everyone in the space that exists before the violence happens. When we as women have power and influence at any level in our society are we any less corrupt or divisive than our male counterparts, are we any more transparent or fair in our dealings? Are we kinder, more empathetic, do we hold society’s interest at heart any more dearly than our male counterpart?"

Sisters, lets journey together and bring change in our communities. One step at a time, we will get there.

Love and kisses

Nakinti

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Mar 23, 2016
Mar 23, 2016

Dear Chibairo,

Your story really stood out to me, more so this paragraph it gripped me. "As I read the report through the lens of a peace builder, I felt a deep solidarity with the women who are present at every level of society working to build a better society. However, my practitioner’s eye could not help looking for the story that lay beyond the women’s story that is in the spotlight. I tried to see the shape and form of what lay in the shadows beyond the light. When you do conflict transformation work you soon realize that where the destruction or violence manifests is rarely where the problem lies. So I asked myself, “What is happening in that space that exists before the violence and destruction happen? Who lives there and what happens there?” We do of course, men, women, and children, with our dogs and cats and cattle.  It is you and I going about our daily business of living. The question is, how we ALL behave in that space that exists before the violence happens and then we have to deal with the violence. We deal with the effects of the violence through resolutions and legislation and ensuring that there is representation of women in all fora at all levels. This is important work because this is how we must ensure that women are safer and more secure. But how much attention are we paying to that space we all occupy before the violence happens?"

Let us hear some of the solutions and the actions which your are taking or have taken to bring awareness, support, and push for a change in legislation.

Sherna

Community Champinion 

Dudziro Nhengu
Mar 29, 2016
Mar 29, 2016

Dear Sherna

Thanks dear. This piece was infact written by Stemnile Mpofu, and I helped by just getting it published on pulsewire. Thank you for your strong comments on that story. I love you girl.

Kind regards,