From 16 Days of Activism to 366 Days of Activism

Origin of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign

The 16 days of activism is a culmination of the 1991 first meeting of the Women’s Global Leadership Institute which draw participants from all over the world and from a variety of professional fields including lawyers, teachers, journalists, researchers and health care workers. During the WGLI, participants discussed different aspects of gender-based violence and human rights, learning from one another’s experiences and consequently developing strategies to increase international awareness of the systemic nature of violence against women and to expose this violence as a violation of women’s human rights. As one strategy to build awareness about gender-based violence and facilitate networking among women leaders working in this area, the WGLI participants established the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign. They chose November 25th (International Day against Violence against Women) and December 10th (International Human Rights Day) because of the symbolical link between these dates. In Zimbabwe, the campaign was launched in 1992

Legislative measures in Zimbabwe

Legislation to deal with the abuse of women includes the Domestic Violence Act, the Maintenance Act and the Sexual Offences Act. Furthermore, Section 80 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe has provisions for the protection of the rights of women and for the protection of their dignity and worth as equal human beings in the society while Section 80(3) specifically prohibits the practice of laws, customs, traditions and cultures that violate women’s rights and compromise their safety and security. Section 56 provides for the right to equal protection from the law and women’s right to be protected from discriminated on the basis of gender. Section 52(a) provides that every person is entitled to freedom from all forms of violence from both private and public sources. Section 17 mandates the state to take positive measures to rectify gender imbalances and discrimination arising from previous practices. Zimbabwe is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, which, although it does not directly address violence mandates the state to protect women from harmful cultural practices. Additionally, the police are granted authority to arrest any person suspected of domestic violence without a warrant, take into consideration the safety of the victim or complainant. They also have authority to arrest a person suspected of committing or threatening to commit an act of domestic violence.Unfortunately, this legislation has not shielded women from a pervasive culture of fear, shame, guilt and ignorance surrounding victims of abuse. Abuse in this context can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological or economic and it can also involve intimidation, harassment, stalking and malicious damage to property, forcible entry into a complainant’s residence, depriving or hindering the complainant access to reasonable use of facilities associated with the complainant’s place of residence and unreasonable disposal of household possessions or material goods in which the complainant has a vested interest. As such there is underreporting of cases of abuse of women and this is compounded by a patriarchal culture that appears to normalise the subjugation of women. According to a Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2013 complied by the US State Department, 48% of Zimbabwean women believe that it is justified for a husband to beat his wife. In some scenarios, female victims are chastised for reporting their partners to the police for domestic violence by their families. Such attitudes have perpetrated a culture of silence around women’s abuse issues. Such historical, socioculture imbalances deter women from reporting abuse to the authorities and this obstructs the women’s access to justice Last year, Member of Parliament, Susan Matsunga, came out in the open about her experiences with domestic violence. In an interview with a local newspaper, she bared all about the years she suffered abuse. Owing to a culture that stigmatizes against women and bullies them for speaking truth to power, she was forced to remain quiet for all those years. Hopefully, her voice will incite more women to speak up against this social ill. Her experience reveals a sad truth: Gender based violence ubiquitous and permeates all socio-political and economic divisions. Anyone can be affected. Therefore, tackling the problem requires a collective effort between women and men and gender based violence should not be regarded exclusively as a ‘women’s issue’. Our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters deserve a better future. Join the movement and speak out against gender-based violence today. Be heard! Share your story, photos and videos of the part you are playing in eradicating this pandemic on our Facebook page. Send us a message if you need legal advice at Ours is 365 days of activism we fight gender based violence every day of the year.

By Priccilar Vengesai
Founding Member