In a country where women tend to be heavily dependent on men – both socially and financially – Her Zimbabwe helps women to stand up for their rights. The influence of this energetic platform for women’s views and perspectives extends far beyond Zimbabwe’s national borders. The initiative’s success means it can no longer be ignored by those in power in the country.
Her Zimbabwe’s strong fighting spirit – and its positive reception – once again became clear in late 2014. A disturbing video clip had been making the rounds on the Internet. In it, a young woman standing by a bus stop is surrounded by a group of howling men and undressed against her will. Why? She is wearing a miniskirt. Women’s rights activists are furious, and Her Zimbabwe subsequently posts a video in which they express their outrage. In the first week alone, the video is watched over 10,000 times, inspiring a debate about physical boundaries and women’s rights that continues to this day. The discussion is picked up by a variety of media channels, including the BBC. Heartened by this widespread support, the victim decides to press charges, which eventually leads to two suspects being apprehended.
Boosting women’s confidence
Successes like this help women in Zimbabwe to find the courage to stand up for themselves, as well as showing them what their rights are and how they can claim them. Moreover, the national and international exposure achieved by Her Zimbabwe makes it increasingly difficult for local authorities to simply ignore such incidents, which will hopefully at some point become a thing of the past. “All too often, women choose or are forced to hold their tongue due to cultural norms, political tensions or a lack of confidence. The very existence of Her Zimbabwe actually makes it easier for women to speak their mind and participate in our society as active and informed citizens, says Her Zimbabwe founder and director Fungai Machirori.
And it is vitally important that women take matters into their own hands. While women’s rights are recognised by Zimbabwean law, this is barely noticeable in everyday life. Many women are subjected to domestic violence, social discrimination and sexual abuse. Girls and women are frequently treated as second-rate citizens and their contributions to the debate are not taken seriously. Women are grossly underrepresented in decision-making processes, both at the local and national levels.
With Her Zimbabwe acting as a watchdog on their behalf in Zimbabwean society, women have been able to increase their influence in domestic politics. Women’s rights have been put higher on the public agenda and politicians are openly taken to account via the online platform for unfulfilled promises and contradictory statements.
A different sound
Her Zimbabwe brings news and information on a wide range of subjects. In many cases, women are simply unaware of the rights granted to them under law – in relation to property, for example, or education or divorce. Machirori: “Too many issues are never given any kind of exposure in the mainstream media, which are dominated by male perspectives. Either because they are considered taboo by these outlets or because the media are wrapped up in the issues of the day.”
More and more women are going online
Online access in Zimbabwe has surged in recent years, thanks to the growing number of people who have mobile phones. Every month, some 15,000 people visit the Her Zimbabwe website, and the platform’s Facebook page has close to 20,000 followers – most of them women. A key advantage of the Internet over traditional media channels is that it is hardly ever blocked or filtered by those in power.
Her Zimbabwe also organises trainings that teach women how to share their perspectives via a variety of online channels. Because the more women and men who come up for women’s rights, the louder their voice will be heard in Zimbabwe – both in its halls of parliament and in its private homes. Eventually, this voice will become so loud that even the most reactionary Zimbabweans will not be able to hide behind old, hidebound prejudices.