By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
23 May 2014
A day after a well supported civil society protest in Harare, held in solidarity with the kidnapped Nigerian school girls, civic groups in Zimbabwe have been urged to also protest pressing local issues.
The march was held on Thursday and saw about four hundred people gather in the capital with banners and placards calling for the return of the 297 Nigerian girls kidnapped by the militant terrorist group Boko Haram.
The march in Harare was organised by leading Zim civil society groups, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building (ZWNP) and the Katswe Sistahood, in solidarity with the international #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
Grace Chirenje, the Director of the ZWNP, said the protest also provided the Zim groups a chance to raise concerns and protest ongoing issues affecting Zimbabwe’s women and children.
“This helped us raise issues about gender based violence. There is debate in parliament and call for stiffer penalties for rape. For us, this was a chance to talk about Zimbabwe, the situation for example in Chingwizi where flood victims have been relocated, and how women and children are coping there. These are some of the issues we raised,” Chirenje said.
Some observers meanwhile have expressed anger that it has taken an event in Nigeria to mobilise action from Zimbabwe’s civil society groups, when the nation’s women and children are facing abuse every day.
Last week, Women’s Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri revealed that some 5,000 young girls are raped every year, a figure that could only be scratching the surface of the real problem with so many cases not being reported.
At the same time, child marriages are still a prevalent custom in the country, and according to UNICEF Zimbabwe, one in every three women aged between 20 and 49 were married before her 18th birthday. Around five percent of women aged between 15 to 49 were married before their 15th birthday.
UNICEF Zimbabwe said that child marriages happen on a regular basis yet society has tended to turn a blind eye for cultural or religious reasons. The group called this social acceptance “unacceptable” because these “marriages” are a serious form of sexual violence against girls.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say nothing has been happening in Zimbabwe. The context in Zimbabwe is different. The country seems to be a naturally demobilised population who are not confrontational, and although there is a lot of work at grassroots level, it has not been as public as the Bring Back Our Girls campaign,” Chirenje said.
She added: “What is going on now is that it looks like gender based violence has become really topical. So I think it’s good that we had a campaign because it helps scale up the efforts that are ongoing.”