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Women carrying bags on Harere street ITL September News

Tackling violence against women and girls

In Their Lifetime (ITL) projects instigate change and help unlock the potential of communities, ultimately helping people lift themselves out of poverty. At the beginning of this year we saw the launch of a new project in Zimbabwe, designed to change a culture of violence against women by working with faith leaders.

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Violence in Zimbabwe

One in three women in Zimbabwe experience sexual violence before the age of 18 (according to a survey of 18-24-year-olds by the Zimbabwe National Baseline Survey).

This statistic alone is shocking, but the impact of this goes beyond the immediate effect on the individual victims. This is part of a broader culture in which women are treated as second class citizens. 

Changing the culture to one that enables women and men to contribute equally to society, provides a critical building block from which countries can move beyond poverty.

In August 2017, ITL supporter Rose Hudson-Wilkin visited the project in Zimbabwe. You can hear about Rose’s experience in this 20 minute podcast.

Zimbabawe GBV statistics
James Hutchinson
How do you set about changing a culture?

What is required is a cultural agent – a group of people who can influence and change cultural norms from the inside out. And so, in a country where 80% of the population regularly attend church, equipping faith leaders to champion the equal value of women represents an untapped opportunity to do just that.

Rather than standing up against gender-based violence (GBV), until now, churches have been perceived as reinforcing negative stereotypes of women and their role in society. 

The challenge is to begin to change, often deep-seated, attitudes regarding the value of men and women.

Bible passages are central to our engagement with faith leaders – highlighting the intrinsic and equal worth ascribed to all people in scripture. This is reflected in the materials that form the basis of conversations with faith leaders.

ITL Zimabwe project approach
James Hutchinson
Healing of the mind

It’s also critical to understand and address the underlying, contributing factors behind gender-based violence.

Christian Aid’s local partner agency Padare, which has specialised in engaging men on the subject for more than 10 years, says what is required is a ‘healing of the mind’.

They say that many perpetrators of violence have expressed a sense of a loss of masculinity – believed to be caused, at least in part, by the economic conditions and 95% unemployment levels. 

Shifting opinions

The success of the project will be judged at the end of its three years, but in the first six months, there have been some encouraging initial signs that attitudes can be shifted.

Part of the battle is breaking the silence of communities, who often turn a blind eye to gender-based-violence.

In Buhera province, where Padare had been speaking with faith leaders, members of one of the communities have been reporting cases of sexual abuse to the police. This seemingly simple act was hugely significant as it was the first time members of the community had spoken out. 

Women receiving training through the ZCC
James Hutchinson

Women from one of the churches within the ZCC receive training in leadership.

What we're doing

Through its work with faith leaders, the project strives to create environments where women are valued, in churches and in the wider community. At the same time it’s equipping women to take more of an active role in both spheres.

More than 100 women participated in leadership training and are learning skills in communication, planning, organising, conflict resolution and financial management.

These women are members of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), an ecumenical organisation which represents 25 denominations within Zimbabwe.

This project is targeting the ZCC and specifically the various structures which make up its leadership. As the project progresses, these activities will increase in scale. Over 900,000 people attend ZCC churches, so if leaders can be equipped at the top, then the potential of transforming culture is significant.