Female lawmakers met in Harare on Thursday to strategize on how they can advance gender issues in parliament and to take a stand to end rape and sexual abuse of women and girls as well as advocating for stiffer sentences against perpetrators as part of the build-up to the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
Legislators at the meeting agreed to speak with one voice to expose the ills of sexual harassment and rape of women and children. Today’s workshop is part of programs lined up in the build-up to the 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence starting on November 25.
Guest of honour Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Oppah Muchinguri told delegates that sexual violence against women and children and gender-based violence in general has reached alarming levels in the country despite various efforts by government and other stakeholders to curb the menace.
British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Deborah Bronnert, said communities should not look down on victims of sexual abuse, adding the shame and punishment should target perpetrators of the abhorrent crimes.
She said there is need to change the narrative around sexual violence to enable survivors to speak out without fear and shame, adding stigmatization and victimization of victims should come to an end.
Speaking at the same occasion, The Women’s Trust director Memory Kachambwa called on women to stop complaining about situations in life, saying they need to get up and take care of their destiny.
At the same time, Musasa Project’s Director Netty Musanhu said women in Zimbabwe are looking up to the elected female lawmakers to fight for them in parliament by tabling motions and enacting legislation that will deal with sexual abuse and related issues.
The meeting agreed that issues around rape and sexual harassment of women and children require collaborated efforts across the political divide, including traditional leaders, men, religious leaders, civic society and government.
Legislators and civic organisations present at the workshop agreed that stiffer sentences should be imposed by the courts to deter would be perpetrators. They called for the proper implementation of what they said are otherwise good laws on the country’s statute books to try and curb the growing menace of rape and sexual abuse.
Civic organisations say sexual abuse and domestic violence against women is also an economic issue.
The Women’s Parliamentary Caucus workshop was organised by The Women’s Trust in collaboration with Musasa Project. It was funded by the British Embassy and attended by women lawmakers from all political parties represented in parliament and representatives of the women’s movement.
The 16 days of activism against gender violence is an international campaign that starts November 25 and ends December 10 with hopes to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international level.
In Harare alone, police say more than 650 cases of rape were reported over the last ten months, with almost half of the cases being perpetrated against children.
For perspective reporter Tatenda Gumbo spoke to gender activist and chair of Padare, a mens forum on gender, Jonah Gokova, and director of the Women and AIDS Support Network, Mary Sandasi.
Sandasi said there is need to align punishments to the level of seriousness of the crime of rape and sexual abuse.