Amnesty report shows Zimbabwean women activists face increasing repression

By Violet Gonda
25 July 2007

Amnesty International has released a report on Zimbabwe, focusing on the political repression faced by women activists. The report entitled Between a rock and a hard place – women human rights defenders at risk, looks at factors that have driven women to go into human rights activism, like the socio and economic conditions in Zimbabwe, and the challenges these women are facing as a result of being activists. Scores of women are also struggling to provide for their families after being evicted from their homes during Operation Murambatsvina in 2005

Amnesty interviewed scores of women of all ages throughout Zimbabwe and found that rights defenders are suffering increasing repression and torture for opposing the regime. Many had been arbitrarily arrested and detained for engaging in peaceful protest marches or meetings in the last two years.

Members of the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have been at the forefront of the protests. Many of the activists have been arrested with their babies and subjected to beatings and torture while in police custody. Activists from opposition parties, civic groups and labour movement are not spared either.

Sekai Holland, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Secretary for Research and Policy, after she was tortured by Zimbabwe Republic Police officers
at Machipisa police station, Harare, Zimbabwe on 11 March 2007.

Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty researcher in the Africa programme said: “What the report is also showing is the human cost of government policies in Zimbabwe. That this is not about just passing repressive laws. This is about seriously affecting the lives of the ordinary women, the life of the ordinary man and child in Zimbabwe. It’s high time the international community acts in solidarity with the victims of human rights violations rather than the perpetrators.”

Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International said: "The Zimbabwean government needs to address the underlying economic and social problems that are motivating women to protest - rather than attacking them and criminalising their legitimate activities in defence of human rights."

Amnesty noted that intimidation; harassment and retribution exercise are still continuing against opponents. Many women human rights defenders are not allowed to buy much needed maize from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) simply because they belong to human rights organizations or speak out against discrimination. According to the report Clara, a 60-year-old widow in Masvingo province and a member of the Women's Coalition, has since 2003 not been allowed to buy grain from the GMB. She was accused of being an MDC supporter after speaking out against the partisan distribution of food aid in her village.

Khan said: "At their next summit meeting in Zambia in August 2007, SADC leaders should insist that President Mugabe immediately stop the intimidation, ill-treatment, torture and harassment of critics of government policies."