Time to Act: Men lead efforts to end SGBV in Zimbabwe

Padare Summer School 2010Padare hosted its first Gender Summer School, which included workshops and knowledge-sharing activities, in 2010. Photo credit: Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender.

The story is familiar.

In Zimbabwe, 1 in 3 women and girls are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. This abuse is usually perpetrated by someone close to the victim – a current or former boyfriend or husband, a family member, a teacher. Most survivors don’t report the crime or seek help. When state institutions, including the military, police and judiciary, are better known for perpetrating and permitting sexual violence rather than preventing and prosecuting it, why would they?

This story may be changing, however.

Building on decades of women’s activism, thousands of men in Zimbabwe are calling on other men to become women’s allies and to speak out against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in their communities. Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender is leading these efforts.

Padare is a feminist men’s organization that engages men and boys on gender issues, including SGBV. The organization sees SGBV as a manifestation of gender inequality and a social system that devalues women and girls. Its goal is to create a gender-just society in which all people have equal rights and are able to exercise those rights, which will result in a better society for men and women, girls and boys.

To accomplish this, the organization uses the historic Shona practice of the “dare” – a forum in which men come together to discuss issues of importance to their communities – as a platform to challenge men and boys to consider what it means to be a man. Having started this process of self-reflection, Padare’s facilitators then encourage men and boys to see respect for women and girls, men’s care-giving roles, and emotional vulnerability as crucial elements of masculinity.

Padare also holds community dialogues which include men, women and children, religious and traditional leaders, health workers and police, to raise awareness and build consensus on how to address gender issues on a broader scale. Additionally, the organization engages the national media, leads gender clubs in public schools, and works closely with the women’s movement. It is even an honorary member of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, a network of over 70 women’s rights organizations and activists.

By working with this range of actors, Padare has gained access to and influence among disparate communities, decision-makers and policy-makers. Indeed, having built relationships with the government, police and judiciary, Padare is able to lobby on behalf of domestic violence survivors and facilitate dialogue between citizens and state institutions. Among the organization’s greatest achievements are its contributions to the Domestic Violence Act passed in 2007 and to the gender equality provisions in the Constitution approved in 2013.

These successes are notable as Zimbabwe’s political tensions and the antagonistic relationship between citizens and security forces are well-documented. The 2008 election, for example, saw hundreds of opposition supporters attacked and dozens of women raped with impunity. While national and international laws exist to protect women’s rights, including CEDAW, UNSCR 1325 and UNSCR 1820, they are consistently ignored.

Civil society efforts to promote women’s rights and end impunity for SGBV-related crimes are, therefore, essential to create change. This is, in part, why Padare takes a two-pronged approach to promote gender-justice, working with communities to change attitudes and behaviours, and with government and state institutions to change polices and laws.

The organization also brings these parties together. For example, in its community dialogues, Padare regularly invites members of the police force’s victim-friendly unit to participate. This provides the police a non-threatening platform for public education and engagement, and allows communities to hold the police accountable for their actions and increases public confidence in state institutions.

This work is not without its challenges, however. Ongoing political tensions create an environment of uncertainty and Padare continues to face suspicion from elected leaders and state officials at all levels. The organization also faces backlash from men and women who are resistant to change and, in particular, to women’s empowerment. Much of this resistance is rooted in ideology and identity and, as gender equality is sometimes seen as a foreign concept, is influenced by ongoing political rhetoric that invokes the need for anti-colonial struggle.

Even so, Padare has chapters across the country and an ever-increasing membership, meaning that men and boys are responding to the call for new, transformative masculinities that embrace women and girls as equals.

Zimbabweans are writing their own story and, in time, gender inequality and SGBV may be written out.

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This post was written by Amber Minnings. She recently completed an MA in Globalization and International Development / Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa and conducted her graduate research on men’s efforts to end violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe. You can follow her on Twitter at @AmberMinnings.

 

 

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