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Women & girls safety in public spaces – a community volunteer voice

Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 12:12

ActionAid Zimbabwe is spearheading the Safe Cities Campaign Programme together with the Safe Cities Campaign Network of Zimbabwe (SCCNZ) which comprises various organizations. The campaign is aimed at making women and girls aware that the violence they experience in public spaces is a violation of human rights and change the attitude of boys and men to treat women and girls with dignity and protect women and girls from violence in public spaces.  Students and Youth Working on Reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT) and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) are the implementing partners of a She Can project which is part of the broader Safe Cities Campaign. They are working with 58 and 48 volunteers respectively most of whom are women in spearheading the Safe Cities Campaign in Chitungwiza.

The following is a story of change, verbatim from Claudia Matiza (32) one of the volunteers.  Claudia is one of the volunteers awarded by SAYWHAT recently in March 2017 for her outstanding work in her community. She received a 30 litre container labelled “ Safe Public Spaces=Safe Chi-Town 4 women & girls,” an honour she rightly deserves:

Together we can

As you walk along the streets of Zengeza 3, Ward 12 in Chitungwiza, high heal shoes were not advisable for the ladies who are fashion conscious because of the bad state of the roads in my community. For those drivers whose vehicles had worn out tyres, a spare wheel was an obvious must or else one risked leaving all the tyres in the road after bumping into potholes. To the residents, life had become unbearable. Extreme caution was required for anyone who dared step out of the gate and walking without checking where they were treading.  The roads were in a very bad state.

My Ward had a challenge of potholes or lets call them “”POTHOLES” in capital letters to show the severity of the issue. They were now called “Mazigomba Muroad” meaning “large holes in the road”. The social media frenzy in Zimbabwe call them “Dish holes”.  Oh it was a very painful challenge. To make matters worse, it was something that could not be fixed overnight. It was something that needed dedication, patience and perseverance.

As a volunteer, I viewed the issue of potholes on a different angle that is the way it was affecting the community especially young women like myself. Even though others took the matter for granted or made fun out of it, as you know these days people make jokes out of potholes, I told myself, I am a trained volunteer under the Safe Cities Campaign supported by SAYWHAT, why can’t I make a change for my community and at the same time helping in making a safe community for women and girls.

People may ask: “How do potholes particularly affect women and girls? Residents were now taking potholes as dust bins and dumping sites where they could dump used pampers sanitary pads, old clothes and any other household waste which ended up causing a health hazard for the community. As some of the potholes were in front of residential areas, the persons who ended up cleaning the mess were women and girls.  For real this was unhealthy.

One wonders why residents were dumping inside the potholes? Municipal refuse trucks were avoiding the streets with potholes and were not collecting refuse from affected residential areas. Sometimes if they came to collect the garbage, the vehicles would spill the waste in front of residential gates because the trucks were not stable as they were moving due to a rough surface caused by the potholes. Women and girls again were forced to clean the rubbish again.

The potholes were causing accidents as drivers were at some stages losing control of their vehicles due to the potholes. I took pictures of the potholes with my phone and I approached my Councillor Mr.  Musonza to show him the pictures. To my surprise he was so worried about it. It was difficult for him to convince the council workers to urgently come and fix the problem in my area as there is a shortage of council workers. He said it would take a while for them to respond to his request.

I asked the Councillor if it was possible to engage young men from my Ward who are unemployed to help with the repair of the road. We call these young men, “boys dzepa bridge”, Shona slang which means the “young men from the bridge”. They are usually found basking the sun at bridges due to unemployment.  On mentioning the idea of the “boys”, he did not hesitate to call for an urgent meeting with community members to address the problem as well as to agree to use the “boys”.  I gave him a round of applause on this one, because it made my work easy.

I did not know that gathering the “boys” was not an easy task as I thought earlier on. I spent four days trying to gather them and explaining to them what the Safe Cities Campaign is all about. I ended up doing door to door visits as I tried to convince them. I would spend all day visiting them from 9 am to 5pm. Some of the people I met along the way were elderly people who understood me better than the boys. This gave me a lesson. I had to be patient and dedicated. This fight was not for myself but for the community. It was a painful pothole fight. I finally managed to gather 19 “boys” and one young woman who we called a “girl” within the community, to make a total of 20 youths. I told them about my voluntary work in the community and the issue of potholes and linking this to the Safe Cities Campaign. They initially understood it as something that had a political inclination at first. After repeated explanations, I thank God they understood. I also took the opportunity to do a short dialogue session with the youths on gender based violence (GBV) in public spaces and in the home and what youths can do to end it and the youth sexual reproductive health rights.  

With support from the local Councillor who was there with me, the “boys” and “girl” agreed to work on the pothole filling project. The Councillor brought gravel and tools of the job. The “boys” and “girl” requested if they could be paid little cash as token of thanks. They also indicated that they were unemployed and that they would appreciate the tokens.  Thanks to Dorcas Zamuchiya and Rumbi Mabuto my superiors from SAYWHAT for agreeing to this request. The SAYWHAT teams emphasised that they would give the youths the tokens once the job was done.

The “boys” and “girl” worked very hard and the outcome was great. Right now the roads are now in a good state and they are also clean. Thanks to the “boys” and “girl” as they did a wonderful job. The community is now happy and they are saying they now feel safe. To my Councillor Mr. Musonza, I salute you for your dedication. You did not think twice to fulfil your duties. To SAYWHAT, thank you for giving me the opportunity to make a change in my community. God Bless you!.  #safecitiesbecause