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Netty Musanhu: taking on gender-based violence in Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe has had a long history of electoral violence. Every electoral year there is a lot of violence against women. [According to the Women’s Programme of the Research & Advocacy Unit, politically motivated violence, including rape, punishes individuals, families or communities who hold different political views.]

Musasa is an organization in Zimbabwe that tackles gender-based violence. It sits on Zimbabwe’s Anti-Domestic Violence Council, set up under the Domestic Violence Act, which advises government bodies on how to implement laws to protect women effectively. It also works directly with women survivors of sexual violence by providing temporary shelter and counselling, and operates a 24-hour hotline for women.

Lydia James caught up with Netty Musanhu when she attended the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, held between 10 and 13 June in London.

Two in three Zimbabwean women and girls have experienced a form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. What is life like for women in Zimbabwe?

Netty Musanhu

I am sure you are aware of the crisis that the country has been in for the last decade. Things are getting worse – women are bearing the brunt of all that. We are seeing an increase in rape and sexual violence. We ask ourselves the question, if we are having high levels of sexual violence in times of relative peace, what does this mean?

The situation right now for women and girls is getting to alarming levels. The government has at least acknowledged that there is a problem – we’ve been working with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to launch a campaign. Everyone needs to take responsibility – faith and community leaders – to try to reduce rates of sexual violence, because if rates are so high now, what about in two, three years in the run-up to the next election? We need to do more.

The government has no money, so whether it will happen is another matter. Zimbabwe is not regarded as a ‘conflict country’, so not much money is given to it by donors.

What laws are in place to protect women?

Zimbabwe has been very good at ensuring we have the right acts and laws to protect women. The new constitution that began last year is gender positive. It is very good. But the missing link is the implementation of those laws.

The domestic violence law has not been getting enough attention or resources from the government – there is a huge gap. What we’ve been doing is advocacy to make sure laws are put in place.

But with our work we rely on donors. This is frustrating, because if donor priorities change, we have to change what we’re doing. You can’t do a six-month project and expect it to have an impact.

How did you come to be the director of Musasa?

I used to work for Action Aid International. Musasa is a charity that creates a safe space for women to be women. I felt it was an honour when they approached me to join [in 2009]. I think it has now transformed itself as an organization. You live it and breathe it, as you’re in contact with women on a daily basis.

What is the reaction of local communities to your work?

When talking to traditional leaders, faith leaders, men, older women – who are often put on the frontline – we are challenging harmful practices in the name of religion and culture.

We focus on creating safe spaces. We target whole communities – we work with men, boys, churches and chiefs to ensure that we prevent violence towards women.

What has the response been like from men?

We work a lot with leaders now and the impact of this has been that we are actually helping women through men. Men are bringing in their wives and sisters.

And men are volunteering with us in our sexual violence clubs, our peace clubs… there is a lot of interest from men. You can’t do it overnight, but there has been a positive impact.

Does the news about India’s rape cases filter back to Zimbabwe? If so, does it have any impact on how cases are dealt with?

The news comes out. Last time we (Musasa) organized a solidarity demonstration at the Indian embassy in Harare. The internet is freely available so people have come into contact with some of these cases. We use them to say to the government that if things are not done, this is what can happen.

One in three girls is raped before the age of 18 in Zimbabwe, according to UNICEF. There is lots of stigma and shame and victim-blaming. We need to break the cycle and the culture of violence.

Musasa is on Facebook.


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