Tendai Rupapa in NEW YORK
FIRST Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa held a heart-to-heart insightful discussion with Commissioner Cecile Noel from the New York City Mayor’s Office to end domestic and gender-based violence on the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), where they shared notes on how to tame the scourge which is ripping families and communities apart globally.
The Mayor’s Office to End GBV, extended an invitation to the First Lady and met at their Manhattan Family Justice Centre where they shared notes and discussed on how they could partner her.
Commissioner Noel commended Dr Mnangagwa for her tremendous work in fighting GBV in all its forms in Zimbabwe adding that her door was open for partnership with her.
The New York City Mayor’s Office to end domestic and Gender-Based Violence, develops policies and programmes, provides training and prevention education, conducts research and evaluations, performs community outreach and operates the New York City Justice Centres.
It also collaborates with city agencies and community stakeholders to ensure access to inclusive services for survivors of domestic and Gender-Based Violence.
Comm Noel emphasised the need for regular engagements with the First Lady to foster knowledge transfer on possible solutions to address GBV.
The Commissioner gave an overview of the work done by her office which largely dovetails with what Dr Mnangagwa does in Zimbabwe to foster unity in communities.
The First Lady advocates peace across the nation and has a toll-free line 575- national GBV call centre operated from her office to ensure families lead healthy lives.
The organisation said it was committed to finding the best way possible to address domestic and gender-based violence among families, individuals and primarily women.
“We deal with sexual violence, we deal with stalking, we deal with human trafficking and we also deal with female genital mutilation which we consider to be an aspect of gender-based violence as well.
“So our office really looks at the whole spectrum and we do family violence as well. We look at domestic and gender-based violence in its totality and we really manage that. This space which is our family justice centre is one way that we have modelled on how we can help survivors, individuals who are experiencing this to get services all in one location,” she said.
The services offered by the office, the commissioner said, include advocacy and case management including legal services, immigration services and special immigration remedies.
The office, Comm Noel said, also offers mental health services for the children and economic empowerment.
“We help women to be able to develop skills. Many of them have never worked before to be able to take care of the families and children if they are surviving from the abuser. We do a lot of prevention programming and firmly believe that the only way that we can really be able to stem this is to have young people understand that there are other ways to engage in healthy relationships.
“There are other ways that you can show affection that is not by controlling and is not about violence.
“There are other ways that you can be in relationships and be good friends and all that doesn’t involve violence, cohesion and we are doing that in public schools,” she said.
Her office, Commissioner Noel added, had programmes that were teaching children in schools.
“We do that at high school level. We do that at the middle school. Middle school would be about 10-12 years. High school will be about 14 to 18. We are helping both boys and girls because it’s not one way. They both need education about how to engage in healthier and more productive relationships. This is one way where we think that in the end we are going to address this issue,” she said emphatically.
Comm Noel said there was need to help young people manage relationships better.
“We recently started looking at younger kids, the kindergarten that is like five through nine and 10, but there we are just talking about how to be a good person.
“If there are ways that we can work with you, we are always willing to partner with you and support the work you are doing,” she said.
Dr Mnangagwa congratulated Comm Noel for the work that her organisation was doing and highlighted what she was doing back home.
“Briefly what I am doing in my country is we are also looking at ways of ending GBV. I have setup a national GBV centre-575 in my office where I sometimes personally receive calls that come from provinces that is from men, women and children.
“The percentages that I see now, 30 percent is of men and 70 percent are women. The call centre is linked to the police, victim friendly unit, hospitals who then provide support services to the victims.
“In addition to that, I have engaged the men. I am holding male engagement conferences where I talk to them to see where it is coming from, how we can work together. And because it had never happened in my country, they have received it well,” she said.
In terms of engaging schoolchildren, the First Lady said, she had started with university level.
Comm Noel said dependency of any kind made it difficult for people to seek help as they feared this would dry their means for survival.
She also said some marginalised communities, including men did not feel comfortable in coming forward and reporting cases of abuse.
“There are men who are going to shelter and they will tell you that it’s really hard to make that decision to run into shelter, especially when there are children at home,” she said.
Amai Mnangagwa indicated that it was the same case in Zimbabwe where men were reluctant to come out in the open and report abuse.
She said because of the male engagements she is conducting countrywide encouraging men not to abuse their spouses and urging them to open up, they were slowly reporting abuse due to the knowledge they acquired.
“I have engaged traditional leaders, village heads and their spouses in rural areas as well as church organisations to openly talk about GBV and this is helping to remove stigma and encouraging men, women and youths to speak out and seek help,” she said.
The First Lady sought advice on how best to engage young children and Comm Noel responded that they do so through the family justice centres.
“When children see violence or not, children know what is going on. Parents often try to hide things but they see things, they try to hide the pressure and understand the discomfort that is in the home.
“Children are also impacted by this. I know we focus on the individual, but it affects the entire family, including the children. What we try to do here, what we try to do in shelter is to recognise that children are often also experiencing their own level of trauma and their own level of anxiety and all other issues that stem from being in a household where this is happening.”
The First Lady weighed in saying: “I have been having these meetings with university level people and they are grown-ups. Some of them are married and they are asking me about courtship.
“When somebody says that I love you, what is it that you look at? Meaning that they did not have this from the beginning and when they are married, the divorce cases are just too high. So they are asking what do we do, and I just met somebody two three weeks ago and we are married and now we have problems at home.
“Now it shows me that I have to start with the choices that they make for friendship. It will guide them on who to take and who not to because right now we are dealing with this problem,” she said.
Divorce cases, the First Lady noted, contributed to the numbers of children living on the streets and end up abusing drugs.
She pointed out drug abuse as one of the main causes of domestic violence.
“The drug abuse menace is one of the reasons why GBV cases are on the rise. As Angel of Hope Foundation we will soon establish our own rehabilitation centres hence the need for partnerships. We are witnessing high rate of divorce cases, mental health issues and suicide cases as a result of drug abuse and addiction,” she said.
Dr Mnangagwa said there was need for international cooperation to empower women and prevent GBV.
“I want to thank you Commissioner that you are doing your work with motherly love because you have a lot on your hands. You are looking at everyone, individuals, schoolchildren, families, men, women, girls and boys.
“This just needs the deep heart that you have. I am also happy today that we spoke as woman to woman,” she said.
The family justice centres, Comm Noel said, last year had 43 000 client visits across New York.
“On average we have police departments responding to domestic violence incidents, one every two minutes. Every two minutes a police officer in New York City is responding to a domestic violence incident. There are over 700 domestic violence incidents a month,” Comm Noel said.
The proposed partnership will benefit Zimbabwe through knowledge transfer and training on how to manage domestic violence cases.
This comes at a time when the First Lady is leading from the front, the efforts to end domestic violence through her male engagement sessions and programmes like Nhanga/Gota/Ixhiba and Nharirire Yemusha.