...and every story can create change.
Over the past year, WITNESS has partnered around the world with human rights defenders to tell the stories, on video, of human rights abuses. We've worked on the disappearances of women and girls in Mexico, the discrimination of women in Yemen, and the stories of political violence against women in Zimbabwe. Victims of human rights abuses tell their stories on video and those stories are used to create change.
Many of these stories are told by brave women who were raped, beaten, or discriminated against. Some of the stories are told by survivors, on behalf of the women who disappeared or were murdered. Many of the human rights defenders who are fighting to have these stories heard are women.
Committing these stories to video is the beginning of change. Using these videos - together with other advocacy tools- to hold those in power responsible and to demand justice is the next step towards change and justice.
On September 23, CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviewed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe before he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Christiane asked him why certain MPs and officials who belong to the MDC party - the political party that is now in the "power-sharing" government with Mugabe's own Zanu-PF party - are being harrassed and arrested. Mugabe referred to justice and the law:
"Some of them had committed crimes before the Global Political Agreement, crimes such as rape and kidnapping. You couldn't -- you couldn't let people who have committed such crimes get away with it..."
Most people believe that President Mugabe's allegations against his political opponents are fabricated, but there is one point I agree on with him: you cannot let people who commit crimes such as rape and kidnapping get away with it. Why then, I wonder, is it that state-sanctioned gangs who rape and kidnap Zimbabwean women get away with it? What happens to the President's insistence on the application of "law and justice" if it concerns a young Zimbabwean woman in Harare named Memory, a victim of the violent crimes of these gangs? Why are these men and boys still walking around with impunity?
Memory has told her story on video. She has done so with the help of Kuda Chitsike, a Zimbabwean human rights activist and program officer with WITNESS partner RAU. These two women are creating change - even amidst the current violent political climate in Zimbabwe and the impending threat of more violence. Their stories will inspire others to tell their stories and demand justice.
On November 11, at WITNESS' 5th Annual Focus for Change Benefit and Gala, we will celebrate the use of video to end violence against women. Christiane will host the evening and meet Memory and Kuda, who will share their story of change.
Christiane - a woman whose storytelling has brought urgent issues from remote villages to the attention of millions of people. Memory - a woman whose personal story of violence can now never be buried or forgotten and is illustrative of the plight of many women in Zimbabwe. Kuda - a woman who, with the help of these stories, is demanding justice and working to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes be held accountable.
Despite the grave nature of the human rights violations committed and the enormous challenges that the current political climate in Zimbabwe presents, I feel inspired by the amazing women who tell their stories. I am encouraged by the brave insistence of the human rights defenders who demand justice. I am encouraged by the successes of our Video for Change partnerships. But the thing that encourages me the most is the fact that these women, together with thousands of other women around the world, are bonded by a desire for change.