Justice For 4th Street Girl

As a Human Rights Activist focusing on Girls and Young Women’s Issues with my organization TaLI, the video in December 2014 of a Girl who had been stripped naked by a group men at one of Harare’s biggest Public Transport Terminals enraged me to take immediate action.

Stripping was for allegedly wearing a short dress. The not so clear video that had been taken by a phone camera had gone viral on social media in Zimbabwe. It was a high degree of public humiliation of women, lawlessness and violence.

I used my position as a Board Member of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) to influence available women to organize a Press Conference. People came to support and others put resources like Board rooms for the Press Conference. Media came from television, radio, the press, and bloggers.

My speech called for and demanded protection of women. The campaign became a hit, followed by multiple radio presentations of myself and other activists in the country on different platforms.

CAMPAIGN OBJECTIVES

1. To advocate and secure the freedom of movement rights of women and girls in public spaces.
2. To ensure justice for survivors of public violence and restore their human dignity.
3. To ensure order and security of public transport terminals.
4.To ensure the merit and hearing of cases of abuse and violence, especially those recorded on mobile gadgets or videos, especially considering the technological age where we were very clear that the case was a Novic Case and it determined the treatment of such cases in the future.
5. To make sure that the law worked for women and girls and that they would have confidence in the justice system so that they would not allow perpetuation of violence against themselves.

HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED

The Strategic Noise that we made through the Press Conference and sustained noise through radio and press, calling on girls to come forward and open a police docket so that it would go through the courts for perpetrators’ trials, would ensure men learn not to violate women's rights and freedom in public spaces.

The sustained media presence on the case gave the confidence to the survivor to come forward and she did.

Working with the Public Prosecutors and a non-corrupt magistrate ensured that the merits of the phone camera recorded video assisted in sentencing perpetrators.

Calling on the Police and other service providers like the Council, and implicating them in the story as they failed to provide protection for women, made the police more involved in calling the victim forward, ensuring the arrest of perpetrators who were subsequently tried and sentenced.

CAMPAIGN INNOVATIONS

The use of a Press Conference for such an issue was innovative. It made every corner of the media aware, so the case became the centre of attention for the whole country.

The ability to realize some weak links in the case like the Police and the Council’s responsibilities in ensuring safe spaces for girls and women ensured that they took part in providing justice for the girl. The sustained media presence on radio, press, social networks such as Facebook and other places ensured justice.

The ability to organise and involve other women's organisations to speak out from different places ensured the noise. The ensured privacy between myself as the lead and provider of counseling and support for victim and the police made it a success.

CAMPAIGN IMPACT

1. The girl came forward, opened a docket and the case went through the courts, the perpetrators where caught and sentenced, they are currently in prison.
2. The case went public on television, radio, press and on social media, sending a strong message of non tolerance of abuse against women/ young girls, under any circumstances.
3. Cases recorded mobile gadgets could be taken as good evidence to sentence for abuse against girls and women.
4. The case presented an opportunity to engage with members of the police force especially the bosses, to influence their public campaign messaging.

Soon after the case occurred the police went on a campaign again on public transport terminals, where they sought to educate the public about violence. They used wrong messaging that insinuated that women needed to dress properly to avoid abuse. We held them to account and they admitted to wrong messaging and invited us to work with them in future campaigns.
5. More partnerships emerged.

CHALLENGES FACED

1. The case came to light when most organizations had gone on December holidays. This meant convincing people to drop holidays to come and be part of the processes.
2. A few media practitioners found a chance to take a swipe at the political issues like the fights between members, especially women of the leading ZANU PF party, which posed a big threat to the campaign.
3. Backlash from fellow women who either think that indeed girls and young women ought to be taught the hard way to dress ‘properly’.
4. Competition amongst women’s organizations, especially when such a campaign becomes a success, there are in fights that occur.

LESSONS LEARNT

1. It pays to follow through cases, especially those that are of critical importance, which often have a tipping opportunity to influence the laws.
2. Change can actually be brought by one individual who can decide to stand for what they believe and then mobilise others to make it happen.
3. There can be a backlash from parts of society, from the fellow women you expect support from, from the community, especially some men who may also be perpetrators themselves.
However, there are also alliances with other men who are like minded.
4. It takes brave people to explore an issue that otherwise may be deemed best left alone.

She was aware as she came to report that she could get a backlash from the community or relatives. Strengthening support of victims/ survivors is critical in undertaking such work.
5. Survivors are also interested in making a statement for other women, as seen by this lady. When she came through, she knew she was doing it for others.