GENDER-BASED Violence (GBV) is a serious and widespread problem that affects millions of women and girls around the world.
In Zimbabwe, GBV is often fuelled by poverty, inequality and cultural norms that disempower women and girls.
Manicaland is not left out, as it recorded the third highest statistics of child marriages and GBV in the country, according to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey Report.
The report also stated that 43.1 percent of women in Manicaland have experienced physical violence since they were 15 years of age.
To address this issue, several organisations have established safe shelters in Manicaland. One such facility that has helped transform lives is the Mutasa District Safe Shelter which was funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and implemented by Family Aids Caring Trust (FACT) Zimbabwe.
At the shelter, survivors of GBV can access psychosocial support, legal aid, health care and livelihood opportunities.
The shelter, not only provides a safe space for women and girls to heal from trauma, but also empowers them to rebuild their lives and become agents of change in their communities.
Through various skills training, income-generating activities and advocacy initiatives, the shelter beneficiaries have gained confidence, self-reliance and leadership skills that enable them to challenge GBV and promote gender equality.
The safe shelter has, thus transformed lives of many women and girls in Mutasa District who have managed to overcome their past experiences and become role models for others.
To help sustain GBV survivors, Government has been spearheading their economic empowerment which has proved to be key in preventing GBV, according to Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister, Senator Monica Mutsvangwa in a recent interview.
She said the economic empowerment of women is integral to any sustainable approach to eradicating the menace.
“Government and its partners are seeing to that women are empowered and receive skills that can sustain their livelihoods at one-stop centres and safe shelters. We do not want a woman who comes for help to go back home empty-handed in terms of skills learnt. What is happening at Mutasa Safe Shelter is one good example. Survivors are being taught tailoring, poultry and petroleum jelly manufacturing skills, among many others. This is because we want an empowered woman who will empower her children, and at the end of the day, the whole nation is empowered,” she said.
Minister Mutsvangwa said her ministry will continue to advocate for women’s economic empowerment through existing facilities such as the Women’s Development Fund which has been availing collateral free loans to women.
“Economic empowerment of women through policies, strategies of financial inclusion and practical and tangible programmes that promote their participation in national development gives women a choice and voice,” she said.
The shelter was established by FACT Zimbabwe under the Spotlight Initiative.
The initiative has seen various interventions targeting economic empowerment of women.
Through the initiative, a total of 2 500 women benefited from the empowerment initiatives.
The programmes include business management, financial literacy, skills training as well as provision of starter packs for income generating activities.
“The initiative also saw various districts in the province receiving different equipment which will help in empowering our survivors. Chipinge District received solar driers, a maputi making machine, a freezit making machine and two grinding mills. A safe market is also under construction at Jopa Turnoff in Chipinge with a capacity of accommodating 45 women to ensure that they trade in a safe space with their young children,” she said.
As FACT Zimbabwe and UNFPA handed over the shelter to Government last Sunday, The Manica Post caught up with one GBV survivor, Ms Manyara Muzamhindo (not real name) who is currently receiving help at the shelter.
The 26-year-old mother of four believes she is no longer a victim, but a survivor who is determined to have a better life.
As she sat in front of a sewing machine at the shelter, she said she felt a sense of freedom she has never felt before.
“At the shelter, I was taught to provide for myself and my four children. I was empowered with skills that my husband denied me for years. I have always wanted to be an independent married woman, but that dream was shattered by him. I can now design and make clothes and other garments that I sell to earn living,” she said.
Ms Manyara ran away from home after her husband almost killed her last month and she has been receiving medical, legal and psychosocial help ever since.
Her husband does not know her whereabouts. She does not want him to know, lest he storms the house and drags her back home.
With each stitch, she gained confidence.
“I know that I can create something beautiful out of nothing from what I have been taught here. I am no longer defined by my past, and I am creating a new future for myself and my children,” she said, before narrating her story.
Ms Manyara was married off to a man twice her age while she was still a minor.
Her childhood was snatched away from her, and she was forced to live a life she never wanted.
Years passed and she became a survivor of child marriage, but her struggles did not end there.
She was a victim of GBV at the hands of her husband on many occasions.
She was beaten, abused and left to suffer in silence for years.
“That was until last month when I decided that enough was enough after my husband almost killed me over the noise our children were making when he wanted to sleep. I found the courage to leave him and seek refuge at the shelter. It was at the shelter where I found hope as I learnt how to design and make clothes and other items. I also found support and kindness from others at the shelter. This skill has helped me to earn money and support my children,” she said.
In an interview, Mutasa District Shelter relief matron, Mrs Ivy Chinyanga said since the inception of the shelter in 2016, they have assisted 2 069 survivors.
The five-roomed shelter can house at most 17 people at a go.
“We have been self-sustaining. The staff members are volunteers and we do this for free because of our love for fellow women. The empowerment projects done here benefit our women. Usually when they leave the home, we give them 15 chicks and feed so that they start their own projects back home. We would have capacitated them with other skills like tailoring or financial literacy,” she said.
Mrs Chinyanga said they do not set timeframes for the survivors’ stay at the shelter.
“Most opt to go back to their parents, and we escort them because we work with what the survivor wants. We offer services to economic, physical, sexual and psychological survivors through counselling and referrals to hospitals, the police and our legal desks,” she said.
Mrs Chinyanga said the shelter has greatly benefited GBV survivors in the community as it provides them with a safe and supportive environment where they can heal from their trauma.
She expressed gratitude to Government and development partners who have supported the shelter’s operations, and urged them to continue their generosity and solidarity.
FACT Zimbabwe’s programmes director, Ms Jennifer Tavengerwei said they worked hand in glove with Government to site a relevant and central area to place the shelter.
“One of the most important things is that the shelter is consistent to our theme of saying no to GBV. At the shelter, we expose our survivors to a number of programmes that they can engage in so that they are empowered. We believe that when they are empowered, GBV cases will be reduced in their homes because the women will be able to financially support themselves and their families. Our most recent additions to the empowerment programmes at the shelter is perfume and soap making. They can undertake such projects so that they become empowered and less vulnerable,” she said.
Ms Tavengerwei said working together with UNFPA and FACT Zimbabwe, they have managed to establish four shelters in Muzarabani, Mutasa, Hurungwe and Makonde.