2010 VOF Week 3

Breaking down the barriers, one community at a time.

I have always considered myself a women’s rights activist and therefore have always thought it was fairly straightforward who my community was. In the past few weeks l have been privileged to meet some very important women, survivors of politically motivated rape. These women and their experiences have got me thinking about inclusion and exclusion. Their experiences of violence and exclusion have made me ask the question, “who is my neighbour”? “Who is my community?” I want them to be my community. I hope they can consider me part of their community.

Their experiences typify the challenges l face in reaching out and creating change. These women stand at the intersection of gender, power, poverty, violence and exclusion. They challenge me. Their gender, poverty and fear of further violence make them invisible. If she speaks out, she can lose her home and be further victimized. Her lack of power especially within the home means she cannot make the decision to speak out. One woman was raped in 2008. 2 years later, she hasn’t received any medical attention. There is therefore limited information around which to craft a response. We do not know the numbers of victims of political rape and therefore the full extent of the problems. It is clear that they are repeat victims; targeted every election cycle. How then do we respond to their needs in a context of conflict when we do not even know how to programme for work in conflict environments? How do l work with them WITHOUT exposing them to further targeting?

These wonderful women have now come together to form an organization. They have no programme skills, they cannot write a proposal, and they have no office. They have no access to donors. They have the passion and the commitment. They speak the language of experience which gives them access to even more victims. Isn’t that a great thing? But, our organizations are full of professional programmers and donors speak the language of results, frameworks and impact. They want proposals and Gantt charts, systems and structures. The result is that they tend to work with established organizations who are able to prepare winning and convincing proposals, thus further excluding my community of rape survivors. The political nature of the crimes means that a lot of us are afraid to engage.

I would like to connect women with women, those who don’t have the skills to those who have the skills. I am trying to link them to established organizations in the hope that they can receive some capacity support, even if its accompaniment. I hope to use PulseWire to reach out to organizations of survivors in other countries for ideas and advice to get this community off the ground. Through PulseWire, I can begin to link this community of women to the outside world so that they can get the tools to start speaking their own stories and being agents of change for their own communities.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Application: Challenges and Solutions to Creating Change.

Comment on this Post


Write on my sister!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

Hi Catherine,

Your piece was very personal. You also brought up a couple challenges advocates and allies face. First, how do you help someone without further exposing them? Second, how do you get donors when they can be so results-oriented? I'm glad you brought these up because these barriers are too important to overlook. Great work!

Can you tell me more about your role? I'm really interested. Sounds like you're the middle person/relationship builder in all this.

Thanks for sharing your story. You got me more interested in learning more about sexual violence against women for political motivations.

Cheers, Jenn

Hi Jenn

Thanks for your comments. I have been trying to get assistance for the survivors (l am not sure if l should even be calling them that because some of them barely survived) I'm feeling my way through because as l said, what these women have is resilience and passion, but not much in the way of skills to secure the resources they need. Another challenge is that counselling services are so limited in Zimbabwe. They have not all received the support needed to come to terms with the rape so they are also still healing, which poses a challenge in itself. Because l'm essentially feeling my way, l am also concerned whether the path that we are charting is the right one. Shouldn't we for instance rather link them up to an existing organisation which can then add on this issue to their agenda?

Hi I was really touched by your post. The challenges of encouraging women to speak up, providing them with a safe place to do so, and finding adequate training and financial resources can be overwhelming. It's wonderful that you have brought these women together, and I agree that working with an existing organization may be a route worth considering. Existing organizations have structural guidelines, experience, and skills that may help your group develop greater cohesion and understand what steps you can take next to empower even more women. Unfortunately, I don't exactly where to direct you on that front. But, like you said, World Pulse is a great platform for asking the questions you raise and asking the community to help brainstorm ideas. I look forward to reading more of your posts.


"The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage." -Thucydides, ancient Greek historian & author