The best way of “dealing with rape as a weapon of war is to find the positive cultural values that promote women and girls,” Betty Makoni, founder of Girl Child Network World Wide (GCNW) has said.
Addressing diplomats at a recent International women’s day event in the UK, Ms. Makoni said “impunity can cause more pain within families and communities.”
She suggested implementing the law on rape according to values of traditions.
Having presided over some rape cases at a traditional shrine in Zimbabwe, Ms. Makoni said “impunity could be stopped by traditional courts as well as criminal courts.”
The UK Government has created a Team of Experts to be deployed to conflict-affected countries to help fight against sexual violence in conflict.
The Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) is part of the Government’s campaign to prevent the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Ms. Makoni, who was raped when she was six years old, said since 2000, “rape is used as a weapon of war in Zimbabwe and it has devastated the lives of many women and girls.”
She said many victims of rape don’t report because of shame and lack of legal protection. “Rape causes a wound that is kept undergarments,” Ms. Makoni said.
The human rights activist sought refuge in Botswana after learning that that the government of Zimbabwe had put her on their blacklist for fighting for the rights of raped babies and toddlers.
Ms. Makoni set up a shelter in Botswana to help the victims of rape keep evidence and empower them to seek justice.
“Years before women were reportedly raped during political violence or during the liberation war for Zimbabwe but there was no way to track the evidence as rape is an uneasy subject to talk about,” she said.
Ms. Makoni revealed some of the sad cases of rape she handled. “The first woman who came to me was five months pregnant and she had been badly damaged during rape and doctors reported most of her cervical tissue showed pus and some ulcerations. A 67 old grandmother had sticks inserted into her vagina. A 40 year old woman was raped by 18 soldiers until she lost consciousness.
“I had a woman who was forced to have sex with her son in the presence of a mob who cheered and laughed. I had girls who had fallen pregnant and were the laughing stock of the villages.”
The youth militia in Zimbabwe raped the women as a way of punishing their husbands, boyfriends and brothers who were members of the opposition.
Helping rape victims in many African countries is a difficult task because there aren’t many psychologists, Ms. Makoni said.
She recalled how they used storytelling to start the healing process. “Storytelling became one tactic and we did it whilst seated around a fire. Always our stories started with tears and ended up with laughter. There is a way that always diverted us from tears to laughter. There is a great sense of humour in our culture.”
Ms. Makoni said she noticed the power of arts within their culture when they broke into song. “We started with songs of sorrow and that was our way of debriefing. We then went on to songs of transformation where we reasserted ourselves and then finally we had songs to forge ahead with courage and even laugh it off.”
The African woman, Ms. Makoni said, has always made the song her therapy. She “has made sweeping her way of debriefing. She has made the circle and sitting with legs round her a culture of contentment. I saw simplest ways to create circles of compassion. I saw re-joining of broken flesh and hearts. I saw the women slowly taking out pain.”
Ms. Makoni gave an example of a man whose wife was raped by the youth militia who were actually targeting the man himself. Instead of staying close to his wife, he not only divorced her, but even went to her family to demand for a younger sister to replace her.
No man, Ms. Makoni said, “would ever marry a woman raped in public.”
Ms. Makoni thanked William Hague, UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for creating the PSVI, saying it “is a dream come true for women.”
By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a