Building feminist movements to end violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe
“Our appreciation of feminist movement-building is based on recognizing the power of the collective.” – Sandra Zenda, Programs Coordinator at the Institute for Young Women’s Development
In Zimbabwe, about a third of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and around a quarter have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
The Institute for Young Women’s Development (IYWD), a movement of young women from rural and mining communities in Zimbabwe, is tackling this endemic violence by empowering women through community organizing and movement-building.
To support this work, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, is funding a project that IYWD began implementing in Manicaland and Mashonaland in early 2020 in partnership with Just Associates of Southern Africa (JASS SNA).
‘What Women Want’
The project – What Women Want: Building grassroots women’s collective power against gender-based violence in Zimbabwe – uses feminist movement-building techniques to influence social norms and practices relating to violence against women.
As part of this strategy, the project has created “Feminist Movement Building schools”, a Training of Trainers programme, to provide women with greater leadership skills and deepen their understanding of what fuels violence. These schools, grounded in non-judgement, inclusion and intersectionality principles, have increased the agency of women activists and empowered them to better advocate against violence and gender inequality. Sandra Zenda, IYWD Programs Coordinator, said:
“This strategy has proved successful to ensure the inclusion and full participation of, and solidarity with female human rights defenders, self-identified female sex workers, and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.”
In early 2021, women who had attended the new schools launched the community-led Whistleblower campaign in Mashonaland Central province. This fostered alliances between women activists, local leaders and the police’s Victim Friendly Units, which led to improved reporting and handling of cases of violence against women and girls.
In Bindura district alone, the campaign increased by almost a third the number of reported cases of gender-based violence.
The activists also developed virtual engagement platforms through which women can engage with local decision-makers every Friday to discuss violence against women and girls and help create solutions and protection mechanisms.
In addition, IYWD and JASS SNA have built cross-movement and cross-sector alliances. They have already forged alliances with 45 civil society organizations, allowing them to access more resources and collectively advocate against laws threatening civic spaces.
The project is also working closely with decision-makers, who are often the gatekeepers of patriarchal beliefs and systems, to encourage their support for action to prevent violence against women and girls. Sandra Zenda explained:
“We engage [with them] directly […] by making them allies in the co-creation of solutions towards service delivery issues affecting young women activists.”
IYWD-led empowerment activities that connect women, local leaders and policy-makers to jointly end violence against women not only transform community members into agents of change, but also help nurture the local feminist movements.