HomeOpinionHurting women and girls hurts us all

Hurting women and girls hurts us all

DURING my nearly four years in this beautiful country, I have met so many incredible Zimbabweans working to solve inequality and injustice in all its forms. Our embassy marks the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) by celebrating those people working on a priority issue for the Dutch government: Gender equality.

Violence against women is an issue of gender inequality and human rights; all forms of violence are violations of human rights, as well as a serious threat to women’s health and lives. The Netherlands prioritises the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls. If we do not address the root causes of violence, our efforts in eliminating it will be significantly less effective. Therefore, we must achieve gender equality in order to eliminate violence.

From November 25 to December 10, the world marks the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV. GBV is the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a person based on their sex, and it overwhelmingly applies to violence against women and girls.

The campaign colour is orange — a symbol of hope for the next two weeks as thousands of campaigns worldwide seek to “Orange the World” and push back against this widespread discrimination.

While most international campaigns run over a single day, this long period reflects the awful reality that one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence.

The emotional cost to the survivors, families and communities is impossible to measure, but the very real economic cost is estimated to be 3,7% of global gross domestic product — or twice the amount spent on education globally.

When women are abused and treated as inferior, communities and countries lose out on the wisdom, creativity, energy, and support of more than half of the population.

The Dutch Embassy uses the 16 Days to celebrate 16 “gender champions”, making Zimbabwe a safer and more equal place for girls and women. These inspiring people are nominated by the Zimbabwean public and the finalists chosen by a panel of five Zimbabwean judges. In 2020 more than 1 500 people nominated 140 champions making tough work for the panel.

From November 25 we will be sharing their stories through our social media channels. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to be inspired by their courageous efforts.

Our 16 champions, who work in different ways around Zimbabwe to promote equality between men and women, will also receive US$5 000 each, to advance their projects.

This year, as we add another 16 to the list, our network of gender champions grows to 48 people. Through our Human Rights Fund, we also work with many other Zimbabwean organisations providing shelter, legal, medical, and psychosocial support to survivors of gender-based violence.

I am particularly happy that two one-stop centres and safe houses being built by Musasa in Masvingo and Mutare are nearing completion. These are places where women facing violence or abuse can get medical, legal, and psychosocial support, or even find shelter when in danger. The Dutch Embassy is also funding operations at centres in Mwenezi, Gokwe, Chikomba and Marange, and funded construction of a shelter in Bubi.

Zimbabwe has seen a 70% increase in violence against women and girls since the Covid-19 lockdown began, making these services more crucial than ever.

During the 16 Days of Activism, let us all look around and find ways, big and small, to improve the opportunities and quality of life for all girls and women near us. Every action and every voice counts. Join in online using the hashtag #OrangeTheWorld.

van Hellemond is the Netherlands Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

Find the Netherlands Embassy on Twitter (@NLinZimbabwe) and Facebook (@DutchEmbassyZimbabwe)

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