My own war: Hondo yangu
Chido is a 33 year old single mother who is unemployed and a known commercial sex worker. She has two children one of which is a product of a sexual assault. After Chido separated with her husband in 2000 all she left with was a child and nothing else on her. She went to live with her mother who was also a single parent and already taking care of three of her siblings. They worked together operating a vegetable stall. They lived from hand to mouth but it was ok for Chido because they survived. In 2006 Chido was sexually assaulted by a local police officer. Efforts to get the case addressed proved futile and Chido ended up with another child who needed to be fed.This extra addition to the family made Chido’s mother to ask her to leave and stay on her own with the two children.Chido moved into a plastic shack with other homeless people where she thought she would resume her vegetable business. This was not so as she had no capital and then the city council police were now arresting vegetable vendors who did not have a vendor licence.Her life in the shacks was very hard and it led to more sexual harassment and exploitation. This led her to join the long line of commercial sex workers. Until 2011 when she met with ReSa officers who offered her a capital for better livelihoods, Chido had resorted her life to prostitution.
Chido’s story is one of the very many faced by women especially single mothers in the poor urban suburbs of Zimbabwe. Being a single mother is a shame culturally and this has forced many single mothers to get married in order to avoid community’s hurtful sentiments and judgments of them. According to Chido men sexually abuse them because they say ”there is nothing new on what l am doing to you. You have been through this before. “Sometimes they tell them that they are trash and do not need to be treated any better. Even as a commercial sex worker the violence is even worse as some of the clients sometimes refuse to pay but instead beat them up. This has turned Chido from soft spoken woman to vocal, rough and fearless woman.
What ReSa is doing to stop VAW.
VAW is very common in Zimbabwe and so is the phenomenon of single motherhood. ReSa is working with 12 commercial sex workers and 25 single mothers in Sakubva to disseminate information on VAW.The 37 women have each been trained on protection and rights issues. They have also been trained in community approaches and how to talk to different people in the community. Their duty is to sensitize both men and women on the dangers of VAW.They distribute pamphlets, condoms and family planning tablets to women during their sensitization. Each woman is assigned to 50 families whom she has to talk to and visit in one month.
What are they equipped with?
These 37 community mobilisers have each been given a phone that is also paid for by ReSa. They use this to call the police, ReSa offices or the other mobilisers on issues of VAW.They also use it to send messages to ReSa offices updating them of how many cases they have come across, how many families they have spoken to and if there are any other challenges they face in the field work. Every month they also meet with their ReSa facilitator for a 1 hour meeting to give updates.
Success so far:
Its been two months now and community members have accepted having these women talking to them about VAW.At first they were not accepted and nobody listened to them but after 4 weeks people softened and started to talk to them. In October alone 23 cases of rape on girls under 18 were reported,6 cases for women over 18 and 7 cases of domestic violence. So far in November the cases have gone down and ReSa is now dealing with cases of girls who opened up about their sexual abuse cases. ReSa has referred these cases to other organizations who deal with sexual abuse cases in order that some of the girls be taken to safe houses. As for the 37 women, one of them said “This is the time in my life where l feel that l am gainfully employed and l am not ashamed of what l do. ”Chido also added by saying ” Now when l take a bath and wear nice clothes, it is not because l want to attract a man but because l feel good in the dress. With ReSa l now have a job and so l do no need to sell my body in order to get money. Nobody deserves any form of violence. People should just learn to respect each other.” Another girl Melody said that “saving other women is a service that we should give. We have been through this and we would not want any women to go through it again. For me this is my war, ihondo yangu”.
(Real names of these ladies have been changed for their own protection.)