Muzvare Betty Makoni

Muzvare Betty Makoni
CNN Hero and Decade Child Rights Hero

Monday, 19 September 2011

When the world lists most vulnerable people for Aid, my plea is for rape survivors during war and conflict

I always know there are good Samaritans out there who want to help women and girls and I am grateful to them. My appeal to the world is when financial aid goes to Africa lets not forget women and girls raped during conflict and war.Here am referring to countries like Zimbabwe, DRC and many countries where rape was used as a weapon of war. A tree cutter easily forget but the tree cut bleeds in pain goes my Shona proverb in Zimbabwe. How easily forgotten the women are and still they hold hopes and aspirations. Many of the women were divorced by their husbands for getting raped right in their faces .But what could the women have done to stop rape against them? Nothing in circumstances where the militia were a gang and bullied them into submission. Many women contracted HIV and AIDS and many are on their death beds. The girls who fell pregnant are single mothers, jobless and rejected by families and societies. Their pain is permanent.

I know many people give help and please do not forget to extend kindness to women and girls raped during political violence in Zimbabwe. Their pain and trauma cause my heart to bleed

I have been attending a conference at Pittsburgh University whose theme is Silence No more Rape as a weapon of war in Zimbabwe-18 to 20 September 2011 and so many practical ways to help victims came out

Zimbabwe Rape Survivors Association

By rape survivors and for rape survivors

Brief background
The violence that characterized elections left a trail of disaster in Zimbabwe. The post election violence from May 15 to 29 July 2008 left hundreds of women and girls traumatized because of rape which was used and continue to be used as a weapon of war. Many women not only lost their homes they had worked so hard for the past two decades to own but also hands, fingers, legs and their genital organs. Despite political leadership transition in Zimbabwe the women are angry and disappointed that there is no pointer that there would be transitional justice for the rape survivors and moreover many of them are still terrified, displaced and are constantly mocked by their perpetrators and many men left their wives as a result of the public shame brought by the rape. It is feared more than 2000 women and girls in Zimbabwe were raped and due to intimidation and fear have not come out.

The Zimbabwe Rape Survivors Association is a loose network of women who survived rape perpetrated by the youth militia and they will not let this case slip off like those before AIDS Free World collected and preserved evidence and on 11 September 2008.

The idea to come up with the Zimbabwe Women Rape Survivors Association was conceived in Gaborone in Botswana with a vision to create a new culture of transforming rape victims into fearless leaders so that many more women who have not opened do so and have their evidence preserved and survival strategies and security put in place now that the political situation has somewhat stabilized.

Although much is said, written and supported for well known urbanized networks and so called experts and human rights defenders, the facts lie bare but hidden that the real activists and women who fought in the trenches in Zimbabwe are grassroots women whose stories remain undocumented and like the years before them the stories die a natural death. Evidence on rape as a weapon of war from a sample of typical 200 rape victims ranging from age 12 to 75 from Zimbabwe resembles sophisticated torture.

The women were and are still traumatized, insecure, homeless and have become laughing stocks in their communities. The Zimbabwean Women Rape Survivors movement was conceived in Gaborone, Botswana after women gave testimonies to a group of to AIDS Free World and team of international Lawyers and had their evidence documented and preserved, however being aware at the fact that the road to justice is long and winding, they strongly feel that speaking out on their cases is therapeutic.

Facing bully and arrogant perpetrators calls all women to be united, come up with security measures as well as rehabilitating themselves into families and ensuring that they create the critical social economic and political systems to help them claim their spaces. The women who were raped although illiterate, poor and marginalized and not on mainstream development projects sponsored by donors show that they are the unsung heroines.
Tapiwa Sithole is their leader, young and passionate and just looking at her no-one would believe that she is the one who gave them shelter, counseled them made sure genital wounds are treated and heal. She wiped off tears and walked the path and struggled to have their evidence preserved. She was greatly inspired by Betty Makoni to start a unique network of women rape survivors that would be the voice for the voiceless women and girls who cannot break the silence and get justice. The women were also inspired to form sister to sister counseling groups and worked out a secret network that offers emergency temporary shelter and also to know all the safe places they can turn to in Botswana and Zimbabwe should the backlash remain as bad as it is

It is against such inspirational activism that is less documented during conflict that Zimbabwean Rape survivors wishes to announce its formal existence on 11 September 2008 .This is announced against the background that no such initiative exists in Zimbabwe and the region and if anything the women will unite on this issue to name and shame perpetrators who one day must face justice and signal to the whole world that victims do not die but they have power to unleash their potential and take charge of themselves

Why the Zimbabwe Rape Survivors Association
To rebuild confidence in the women, enabling them to fully rehabilitate themselves in society and enjoy their democratic rights. The association also seeks to break the silence around rape as a weapon of war , by the marginalized Zimbabwean women who are suffering in agony, enabling them to stand up and speak out for the World to not only understand the Zimbabwean Situation but to do something about it.

The association envisions a country where women freely enjoy their democratic rights rather than being used as sex weapons in perpetrating violence any time an election is held in Zimbabwe thereby upholding women’s dignity in a society.

Our mission is to maximize the protection, trauma counseling and access to justice and services women post election violence rape survivors’ rights particularly in rural and marginalized areas of Zimbabwe .

The Situation for women rape survivors
Zimbabwean women have been at pains and looking for a platform and forum to break silence on politically motivated sexual violence. During the war of liberation they were used as sex objects whose importance were to serve Zimbabwean soldiers at any time they would have been commanded to do so.

Sexual Violence in Zimbabwe dates back to the liberation war before 1980 where militia bases existed where horrible stories of sexual violence are being told in women’s circles even to date with many women who were gang raped then not able to tell their children who impregnated them. No one case has been exposed and brought to book.

During the Gukurahundi which was again state sponsored violence directed towards the minority Ndebele people and to date hundreds of women tell stories of having been used as sex objects . Like in 2008 and all the years before women and girls were gang raped in the process, some having to endure the burden of raising families alone as their husbands were murdered by the ruthless regime. The regime at that time was thwarted women’s rights who did not have the same links like today and they failed to stand up and break the silence. Again people were killed, raped and their homes.

In March 2008 the elections were violent free and so they participated but little did the women know by exercising their constitutional and democratic rights they were exposing themselves to a ruthless and oppressive government that had organized systematic murder, rape and torture in order to wipe away the suspected opposition members .Raping women would result in them weakened and living in fear of being infected by HIV and AIDS as well as traumatized. Torture Bases were created in rural areas where youth militias and war veterans were deployed to further do whatever necessary to wipe away any opposition elements from children to women and this was against an argument that a child of a snake is a snake and a male snake is no different from a female snake and that is why women were raped in the event that youth militia found no man or boy they were looking for. Girls as young as 10 were abducted by the militias to these torture bases where they were forced to attend night vigils singing and dancing all right through after which they were raped and physical assaulted to cow them into submission. One young girl aged 19 from Buhera in Manicaland was abducted taken to a torture base where she stayed for 5 days being gang raped but had nowhere to report .

Zimbabwean women have been at pains and looking for a platform and forum to break silence on politically motivated sexual violence. During the war of liberation they were used as sex objects whose importance were to serve Zimbabwean soldiers at any time they would have been commanded to do so.

Now the women are desperate as in their undergarments they have pain and issues sexual cannot be easily brought to the fore .They have lost virtually everything from marriages to material possessions to self esteem and confidence. The pain the endure will last for years to come and unless and until they stand up for themselves no one else will because even the best doctors and activists are so terrified by the youth militia that they would never want to be known for any reason that they assisted the women because the retribution would catastrophic. So what makes the situation of the women worse is the fact that those trying to help them play hide and sick which in any way traumatizes the women more

After they gave evidence to AIDS FREE WORLD and the lawyers the women feel more convinced than ever that they have only themselves to turn to and hence the apparent need to come up with this initiative that stands to be a solidarity for each other as well as an advocacy platform for justice. There are many organizations that want to bring Zimbabwe government to book and this group of women want to be one of them

Urgent needs of the women

During the brief stay in Botswana the women felt that they need the following

1.Justice –that the perpetrators of rape be brought to book. They felt relieved and rejuvenated after giving evidence to AIDS FREE WORLD
2.Security-for one man who came with his wife ,he felt the intimidation and mocking that they raped his wife has resulted in more trauma. The fact that the youth militia still haunt the women and threaten them needs temporary relocation to be done.
3.Transit cum safe house-There is need for temporary shelter where the women can heal as was the case in Botswana .For women who still feel extreme fear there is a shelter for them in Botswana to heal and start again .There has been such a space since the violence started .The women must be assisted to be the leaders they were
4Counseling and training in trauma-given the fact that the women have been so strong one gets a feeling that if good counseling and rape trauma trainers come aboard they will leave them with skills and knowledge to better help themselves. The women also feel they can be trained to help other women and girls preserve evidence
5. Provision of basic needs like blankets, water, food and medication is key but in the long run there is need to find out what self help projects can do to help themselves. There are some women who want to purse education and they must be assisted to do so
6.Medical follow up on HIV and AIDS and other reproductive related illnesses is key

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