Young women reclaim their power and demand that courts deliver justice to survivors of rape

On 15 July 2019, 65 young women thronged Guruve Magistrates court by 0900 hrs to offer solidarity to Chipo (real name withheld for confidentiality), a 14 year old girl who has been abused by Sam (real name withheld for not interfering with court proceedings) a 24 year old man from Guruve district. The young women who had followed the case from a local Chief’s Court, resorted to non-violent action and solidarity with the survivor following allegations that the accused had dismissed the Chief’s ruling and claims that the local courts would not bring him down. According to local sources in the greater Guruve community, the young man had become a serial abuser of a particular target of vulnerable girls that are orphans and minors whom he threatened with death if they testify against him in court. The community also described Sam as a violent young man who had threatened some of the community members who meant to protect the survivors. On this fateful day, Sam was in court for the second time on the same case. He had previously been granted bail on the basis that the complainant did not attend court sessions. The en-masse court appearance by the young women was meant to send a strong signal to the court officials that community is watching them and that justice should be served for the survivors and safety of the rest of the girls in the community.

The young women filled court room 2 of Guruve magistrate in full capacity that some of the women sat outside to make sure their message was clearly heard. The case was meant to be heard at 1000 hours. Seeing the unusual number of people in the court room, the prosecutors advised that the case might not be heard in court on 15 of July if the complainant is not willing to be cross examined. This did not go down well with the young women in the court who consistently updated those seated outside. One of the young women members of the Institute for Young Women Development Catherine Gora who had followed the case from the Chief’s Court, said, “We are not going anywhere, we would like to hear if he is going to be granted bail again. There is no way we can go home and sleep peacefully when was of us has been abused. When you injure one woman you injure all of us!” The young women were determined and kept on sitting inside and outside the court until 1630 hours when the court was almost about to close business for the day. Sam was the only accused person whose trial was left. At this point, the Magistrate (name withheld for not interfering with court processes) stated that the case has accumulated public interest and the magistrate highlighted that the court procedure which involve minors require a child be interviewed privately, in a safe, confidential space and this was not available at Guruve magistrate court but at the provincial court hence sending it to a higher court in the Provincial Court. The accused’s lawyer tried by all means to defend the position of the court for his client but it was turned and referred the case to the provincial court in Bindura on 29 July 2019. Another young woman who had followed the case from the traditional court expressed her happiness and said, “our non-violent court appearance and solidarity with our girls and women is important especially considering that the prosecutors and magistrates are also human beings and are bound to err. We will not tire until justice prevails, and we will be together again in Bindura on 29 July’.

The young women have undertaken various trainings on women’s rights as well as participated in advocating for a human rights based approach in traditional courts. Some of the courts have been quite progressive and invited the young women to play para-legal roles especially on cases involving young women. It is some of those young women who picked the case from the Chief’s court, followed through the magistrate court and mobilized fellow young women to ensure that justice is delivered.

Source: Institute for Young Women Development