When I first heard this piece of news I was shocked, then I became angry and then I turned defiant and decided that I would chart my own destiny. The piece of news is that out of the 192 member states of the United Nations, Zimbabwe has decided to declare itself so special, setting itself apart by changing the theme on the Commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence to suit its own ‘context.’
The official United Nations and global theme for this year’s commemorations is supposed to be:
“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”
The new (Indigenous) Zimbabwean theme now reads:
“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge All Forms of Gender-based Violence.”
To back-step a little bit let me start from the beginning…
The 16 days of Activism against gender based violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991. The 16 days begin every year on the 25th of November which is earmarked as the International Day for the elimination of violence against women to the 10th of December celebrated as International Human Rights Day.
This year’s commemorations cover five (5) sub- themes namely; Bringing together women, peace, and human rights movements to challenge militarism Proliferation of small arms and their role in domestic violence Sexual violence in and after conflict Political violence against women, including Pre/During/Post-election violence Sexual and gender-based violence committed by state agents, particularly the police or military
The 16 days’ campaign is a time to educate one-self; to spread the word; share knowledge, to organise events and activities, to engage with the media; celebrate women human rights defenders and activists, advocate for women’s human rights, and lobby the government. Usually these things are done with the particular theme for the year in mind. What this means is that during this year’s commemorations we must educate ourselves on militarism, spread the word about it, share the knowledge we have on it, celebrate the women who have been subjected to it and lobby the government to end it.
Is anyone wondering why the Zimbabwean government changed the theme?
Maybe this should bring us to the question of what militarism is, in the context of gender based violence. It is an ideology. That ideology creates a culture of fear. It condones violence and induces fear by cultivating a culture of terror among populations through the use of military warfare, aggression or other forms of violence.
Why must we reject it?
Militarism has grave consequences. It is coercive, intrusive on the dignity of people and poses a huge challenge to human security. Since it is a way of looking at the world; it influences how we perceive those who surround us; family, neighbours, the general public and the rest of humanity. If we embrace militarism then we are condoning a culture that perceives every individual as the enemy and embracing violence as the only effective way to resolve disputes. That is unacceptable!
Why is it important for Zimbabweans to discuss militarism?
If there ever was a more appropriate for Zimbabweans to talk about this issue, then this is the moment we should seize. Our past experiences with politically motivated violence in the context of elections need to be aired. Militarism has been used to suppress dissenting voices and those who think that they have an inherent right to take this country to its purported historic destiny feel the need to rid it of any contrary views and positions. Violence has become an instrument for these people to achieve their grandiose end.
In 2008 when Zimbabwe had its combined municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections, violence was used to force people to vote for certain political parties. Such violence wrought havoc on the lives of many. The killing, maiming and scarring of children, women and men, traumatising and shattering their lives was never accounted for. The women who contracted HIV/AIDS from the rape now have to live with the disease and the wounds on their hearts remain fresh to date. Mothers bore children whose fathers they do not know consequent of gang rapes during elections. Homes were burnt and destroyed. The memories of the insertion of sharp objects and hot substances such as ash and chillies into the private parts of women remain vivid yet no one wants to talk about it loudly.
Elections are in the pipeline. Probably the campaign plan is to do in 2012 as was done in 2008. Why am I not surprised that the theme for the 16 days of gender activism has been distorted. Of course talking about militarism will bring the dirty linen into the public (as if we already don’t know it all). What is in play is the realisation that talking about it will lead to calls for action to end it, and address its past occurrences, something that those who hold our nation by the horns do not want to see happening. Without militarism they lose their political stranglehold.
So no, there shall not be discussions of militarism in Zimbabwe these 16 days.’ Before we have started speaking to this theme, the government of Zimbabwe has hijacked the process and has distorted the theme to prevent the concept of militarism from being fully explored in the discussions taking place. Of course, there is a lot they have to hide.
Join me in rejecting this blatant abuse of power by speaking as loudly as you can against militarism in Zimbabwe.