Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) notes with serious concern the deepening crisis in the country which is taking a heavy toll on women and girls. Since the national elections in July 2018, the country has been on an accelerated descend into the abyss as multiple crises in the political, economic and social spheres continue to unravel without end. It is women and girls who are hurting the most from these national crises which have seen a total breakdown in the social contract and all other service sectors which are crucial to the livelihoods and rights of women and girls.
The political and economic crisis has led to serious human rights abuses. In August 2018, six civilians were shot dead by alleged army officials and one of them was a woman, Silvia Maphosa. In January 2019, citizens protested against the high costs of living and soldiers and other security forces were again deployed. According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, 12 people died, 700 were injured with 87 having been treated of gunshot wounds while 1500 were arrested and detained some of them being minors.
The January 2019 crackdown was heavy on women and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum recorded 17 cases of rape of women by alleged state security forces during this period. This dire situation was corroborated by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) which noted in its report on the events of January 2019 that there was a ‘heavy crackdown characterized by indiscriminate and severe beatings.’
Since January 2019, a number of women human rights defenders, artists and journalists have also been targeted in attacks by alleged state security agents. Key examples are the women leaders who were part of seven human rights activists who were arrested and charged with treason in May 2019 for attending a peace building and human rights workshop in Maldives. These are WALPE Director, Sitabile Dewa, FEMPRIST Director, Rita Nyampinga and activist Farirai Gumbonzvanda. An artist with a local comedy outfit (BusStop TV), Samantha ‘Gonyeti’ Kureya was abducted from her home on 21 August 2019 by suspected state agents, tortured and left for dead in a sewer swamp in Harare. Recently, on 19 October 2019, a young female journalist, Ruvimbo Muchenje, with a local media company (Alpha Media Holdings) was brutally assaulted by police while going about her work in Harare central business district.
In all these situations of gross human rights abuses facing women, no investigations or actions have been done by the authorities to bring perpetrators to book. Further, there is no action towards the setting up of a body to investigate abuses by state security forces as set out in Section 210 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. There is also a pending court ruling on the issue which was taken to the Constitutional Court by Heal Zimbabwe Trust and Veritas in 2016. This body needs to be urgently and professionally set up so that rogue security agents can be brought to book and put an end to impunity.
In the social service delivery, the collapse of the health sector because of lack of funding to pay doctors and other practitioners as well as purchase basic medicines weigh heavily on women. It is women who are dying while giving birth and also have the onerous task of caring for the sick who cannot be treated in hospitals. Further, women are facing grave dangers of rape and sexual harassment while fetching water and firewood as a result of severe water and electricity shortages. The water situation in cities and towns has become dire and it is women who have to look for alternative sources of water which often means moving at night in dark suburbs as there is no electricity for street lighting due to incessant power cuts often lasting 18 hours plus.
As WALPE, we therefore call on the Government of Zimbabwe and all stakeholders to urgently push for an inclusive national dialogue to resolve the dire situation which is hurting women more. The Zimbabwean crisis bears the face of a woman and we have suffered enough its time there be genuine and inclusive dialogue to provide a soft landing for women. The national inclusive dialogue process must incorporate women in all key decision-making platforms as their voices are important for any way forward and such a process must not be an elite pact.
Source: Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE)