Edward Kallon UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Zimbabwe
Today, we begin the 16 Days of Activism, an annual international campaign, that kicks off on November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.
The UN Secretary-General Mr Antonio Guterres has galvanised the UN system, member states, and other actors to put an end to violence against women once and for all.
Under the Spotlight Initiative, a global UN initiative with generous funding from European Union, the Government has elevated gender-based violence and gender equality to the political agenda through the High-Level Political Compact signed and launched by President Mnangagwa.
The High-Level Political Compact aims to end gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030, which was supported through the Spotlight Initiative.
The Spotlight Initiative in Zimbabwe worked with a wide range of partners and has to date made a significant impact towards prevention and response efforts in addressing gender-based violence and harmful practices.
Despite progress made in promoting and protecting of the rights of women, girls and children, there have been increasing reports of child and adolescent pregnancies and child marriages. When girls become pregnant or married off early, their prospects diminish, and they become more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion.
More robust efforts to protect children from such violations should be strengthened at all levels of society in line with Zimbabwe’s Constitution and laws on children’s rights.
Perpetrators should be held accountable.
In view of these circumstances, let me share some perspectives that our collective voices in Zimbabwe can make a difference on:
First, having men and boys on board as champions. Leading by example for men and boys to become agents of change for the achievement of gender equality.
As such, we have to continuously use our voice and influence to harness human solidarity to end violence against women and girls in all forms.
Second, the media amplifying the collective voices of Government, stakeholders, and the society at large to ensure women and girls receive universal sexual and reproductive health services.
In addition, we should continue to advocate for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence to receive timely and integrated medical, legal, and psychosocial services.
This can be done through advocating for the scaling up of ongoing innovative approaches such as the “one stop centre” initiative opened in some parts of the country under the joint UN-EU Spotlight initiative. Third, advocating for the urgency to end child marriages. Statistics, in this regard, show that in Zimbabwe: 33 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 while for men it is 2 percent.
We should redouble our efforts to support national and local efforts to end child marriages.
Fourth, calling for equal access to quality education and skills development. I cannot overemphasise the importance of having better education opportunities for girls especially in secondary and tertiary education.
Data also shows that the level of education and wealth has an impact on first marriage: When girls have no education, their average marriage age is 17.8 years, whereas when girls have more than a secondary education, their average age at marriage is 23.4 years.
Fifth, working towards drawing women into the economic mainstream.
The consequence of decline in women’s relative or absolute economic status has both ethical and long-term economic implications.
In the long run, the low economic status of women would translate into slow national economic growth and development.
Sixth, advocate for increased participation of women in governance and political decision making at all levels including holding elective offices on a 50-50 representation as the country gears towards the harmonised election in 2023.
Women have proven time and again to be great leaders and powerful agents of transformation. In spite of this, they face many obstacles in reaching leadership positions in Government, civil society, and the private sector.
All said and done, the bottom line is one of social justice and fair play.
Equal access to resources, dignity, and respect in the social, economic and political arena which a society must demand and its leaders must demonstrate, a culture of tolerance for diversity and difference — these are some of the fundamental values and principles that will engage and entice more women to leadership and decision-making positions.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment are key to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, as development can never be effective or sustainable as long as gender inequality, discrimination and violence continue to affect a large and productive sector of society who happen to be women and girls.
As society, we shall, no longer be bystanders to an unjust and unequal society for women and girls.
As the secretary general on his message on the International Day for the elimination of all forms of violence against women said: the theme of this year, “UNITE: Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls” — reminds us, it means standing with activists here in Zimbabwe and around the world who are calling for transformation and supporting survivors of violence. As the Government of Zimbabwe, led by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, roll-out various advocacy and public engagement, let us take a stand and raise our voices in support of women’s rights. Let’s proudly declare: We are all feminists.
Let us consign violence against women and girls to the history books.