With reality mashing in, the heavens seem to know I am dreading this day. After weeks of preparation and three years of solid campaigning, solidarity and empowerment activities on increasing the safety, mobility and access to justice and gender responsive public services for women and girls, our last activity of the project is to celebrate the project volunteers. The objective of the award ceremony held on the 28th of September 2017 was to recognize and award the She Can project volunteers and their Reflection Action Groups on the strides they have taken in ensuring safety of women and girls in Chitungwiza during the She Can project phase which was implemented by ActionAid and partners Students and Youth Working on Reproductive Health and Rights (SAYWHAT) and Zimbabwe Women’s Lawyers Association (ZWLA) from November 2014 to October 2017.
Reflection Action is an ActionAid participatory methodology where participants work together to analyze their situation, identify rights violations and bring about change after working with relevant stakeholders. The Reflection Action Groups hence analyze their context in a cumulative way, making connections between local, national and international levels making use of the participatory tools they were trained to use. The She Can project, did not only focus on fighting Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), but intertwined with advocating for the provision of Gender Responsive Public Services. This meant more engagements with service providers and policy makers at local and national level. There were close to 227 streetlights rehabilitated in Chitungwiza during the project life cycle due to the advocacy initiatives of the project volunteers. The project saw the reinstatement of some public toilets and a water tank placed at one of the public toilets which did not have water supply, “indeed Chitungwiza will never be the same again,” as the Acting Country Director for ActionAid Zimbabwe Adele Manuel rightfully put it. Commuter omnibus “kombi” dialogues were also carried out which gave an opportunity for the project volunteers to raise awareness and interface with touts, commuter omnibus drivers and conductors in making public transportation safe for women and girls.
Today we celebrate the dedication and hard work put in by community volunteers and their Reflection Action Groups into seeing through issues of women’s safety and access to justice being brought to the fore. With the event room, full and just looking around and seeing the women, girls, men and boys, the duty bearers (District Administrator for Chitungwiza, Ministry of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development, police (Victims Friendly Unit) and local government) all gathered for a common goal, it is hard to imagine the rocky start we experienced at the inception of the project.
Listening to the remarks by Florence Dhlamini, the District Administrator for Chitungwiza, one would note the high level of stakeholder engagement done during the project. The way she carefully articulated the project’s goals and achievements made it clear that the responsiveness of duty bearers was also key in the achievement of project objectives. She also took the opportunity to encourage the project community volunteers to continue with the great work of making cities safe for women and girls free from violence and sexual harassment.
The testimonies from the women and girls reflected their enriched knowledge about their rights and showed that they have garnered confidence in standing up for those rights, with one volunteer, Anna Mahaka (21) saying: “There is reduced violence against women in public places such as at Zengeza shops in Chitungwiza, a place where there were notorious touts known of harassing women as they boarded the Kombies. This follows the public education campaigns we did at the shopping centre. As a young woman, I now know where I can get youth friendly sexual reproductive health services at health centres. Prior to the She Can Project, many youths were finding it difficult to be assisted at public health institutions in Chitungwiza.”
Tarisai Chikukwa (34) another volunteer from Chitungwiza added: “Access to water has improved in our area following our engagement with the local municipality. Water is now available in tapes at home for three to four days a week. I used to fetch water at boreholes where there were long queues at night, exposing myself to sexual abuse. There were now water barons that were selling water for US 20 cents a bucket. I needed more than US$1 a day for domestic use which I could not afford.”
Moreover, the project’s provision of a platform for women and girls to interface with duty bearers made them realize that they did not live in a vacuum. For issues on service provision to be addressed, sometimes that interface was important. The volunteers further summed it up by asking the duty bearers to incessantly have their doors open despite the project coming to an end.
Ernest Chimboza the guest of honor from the Ministry of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development further rubberstamped their commitment as a Ministry to see the programme continue beyond its life cycle. Although women and girls were at first hesitant of the future, their commitment to safe cities for women and girls has mirrored how they will continuously take ownership of the project, as the project comes to an end. Furthermore, the women and girls vowed to continue with their Reflection Action Groups.
Yes, a lot can happen in three years, but I am grateful that through the ups and downs the partners, stakeholders, the volunteers and the community at large did not lose sight of the goal. Women and girls have been greatly empowerment through the sensitization and awareness raising on laws and policies as it relates to Gender Based Violence (GBV), the multi-sectoral management of sexual abuse in Zimbabwe, women and girls are now aware and confident of where to report cases of sexual abuse. In addition, advocating for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, the hospital and local clinics are now offering more youth friendly services.
I believe the project will be sustained as such great strides have been achieved to include the recognition of project volunteers by the local government to participate in monthly local council committee meetings. In turn making sure that the issues they have identified in their Reflection Action Groups on service provision are addressed. As sad as it is to have the project come to an end, the confidence and the strong unity of purpose the community, women, girls, men and boys and the duty bearers now exhibit is a sign to ActionAid and partners -that it is now time to wean off….
The She Can Project is a multi-country project working with both rights holders and duty bearers in Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Kenya and Myanmar and is part of a broader Safe Cities Campaign for women and girls. The overall goal is to reduce women’s fear and experience of sexual violence in cities and urban spaces. As such the coming to an end of the She Can project does not mean the bark stops here as ActionAid Zimbabwe and the communities continue to implement the bigger Safe Cities Programme.
It is hence time for each and every one of us to speak out against sexual abuse, harassment and violence against women and girls! We need to continue engaging the government, local authorities, local service providers to act to provide safe cities for women and girls!