Rural women and girls in Zimbabwe have castigated early marriages and domestic violence which are affecting many families in the country at a time when the world commemorates International Women’s Day.
Cases of young girls of 12 years old being forcibly married to men of over 40 years are prevalent in Zimbabwe. These marriages are either done for the old men who marry the young girls to secure free labour for their fields or for the girl’s parents to get money or cattle to use in their fields.
Meanwhile domestic violence in the form of rape, wife murdering, physical and emotional abuse are still on the rampant in the country although there have been efforts by the government of Zimbabwe, the private sector and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to enforce laws and policies that deal with perpetrators of violence. Victims of domestic violence are mostly women and girls while the bulk of the perpetrators are men. Violence against women remains a challenge and is sustained by prevailing negative socio - cultural practices, attitudes, values, norms and beliefs as well as the weak implementation of laws and policies.
Thousands of rural men and women, boys and girls took to the streets recently in March 2012 to demand a stop to early girl marriages, domestic violence and lobby for land rights for women as they commemorated International Women’s Day. These were mobilised through Rural Women Assembly (RWA) which is a coalition of rural women farmers, an AAI Zimbabwe initiative run under the Women and Land Rights Project implemented in 15 wards in seven districts of Zimbabwe. More than 3800 people comprising mainly women, men and school children participated in the commemorations. The bulk of the 3800 people were women who were about 2300 while about 500 were men and the rest were school pupils. The districts are Gwanda in Matabeleland South Province, Gweru and Shurugwi in Midlands Province, Chinhoyi in Mashonaland Central Province, Hwedza and Makoni in Manicaland Province and Bubi in Matabeleland North.
In 2012 Zimbabwe has been running with two themes connecting girls, inspiring the future and empowering rural women to end hunger and poverty which are in line with the global theme for International Women’s Day. In Chiundura Gambiza Ward 9 in Gweru District a minute of silence was observed for an 18 year old woman who was murdered in the area leaving behind a three months old baby. This is one case of a fatal domestic violence among others which are going unreported in the country.
Access and control of land by women and other related issues were highlighted during the commemorations done through street walks, drama, song and dance. While women provide the bulk of labour in agricultural fields in the country, the money realised after selling the produce and the land are controlled by mainly men. Also topical during the commemorations were issues of school drop outs which were mainly affecting girls. Many girls are reportedly dropping out of school, thereby denying them their right to education, as they marry at a tender age.
The commemorations which were facilitated by the AAI Zimbabwe Women and Land Rights team, were attended by various stakeholders at local, provincial and national levels in form of: Women farmer (the Rural Women Assembly), men, school children, government officials from the Ministry of Women Affaires, Gender and Community Development, Ministry of Local Government and Urban Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Home affairs, Ministry of Youth Development, Ministry of Education Sport and Culture, members of parliament, Chiefs and village heads, councillors, ward development committees, District Development Fund (DDF) and local non-govenmental organisations (NGOs).This was therefore a platform for rural women to lobby and advocate for issues affecting them to a wide audience.
In addition to facilitating International Women’s Day Commemorations, AAI Zimbabwe has been involved in advocacy work at national level in partnership with various players to ensure policy implementation around issues of gender based violence. AAI Zimbabwe has facilitated the formation of the RWA which is a safe space for rural women to articulate issues affecting them as one voice. AAI Zimbabwe, through its various community based partners, run advocacy programmes on gender based violence, document and disseminate information centred on women’s rights. They also carry out research on domestic violence, offer counselling, legal aid and advice to survivors of gender based violence.