I became an American citizen on a rainy Friday a few weeks ago. When I entered the room where the ceremony was held, I was handed a little paper American flag so that I and about 50 other new Americans could wave it as a recorded message from President Obama welcomed us to the country. Then, a very serious-looking man from the government said: "Now make sure you register to vote and exercise your new rights!"
That's what thousands of women did in Zimbabwe in March of 2008. They went out and voted. That's all they did. Unfortunately, state-sanctioned groups engaged in a brutal campaign of terror and violence, and women from all over Zimbabwe were beaten and raped for exercising their rights, or simply just for being perceived as opponents of Robert Mugabe and his political party, the ZANU-PF.
Four of these women have courageously spoken out about what happened to them in Hear Us, a video we co-produced with our Zimbabwean partners at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU). These four women's stories are illustrative of thousands of similar stories throughout Zimbabwe.
The men who committed these crimes are walking around freely, unpunished, often in the same villages where the women live. One of these women is Memory, a young woman who volunteered at the polls for the opposition party and was abducted, beaten and raped by a roving militia. She escaped and reported the crimes but was told that the police did not investigate "political cases." Here's an excerpt of her story taken from Hear Us (you can watch the full version here):
The threat of political violence and human rights violations are ongoing in Zimbabwe. But Hear Us and its message calling for justice and accountability is gaining momentum. These four women's stories are for the first time being heard and seen as the video is being screened in Zimbabwe and in South Africa.
Hear Us asks the Zimbabwean government and African leaders who signed onto the Global Political Agreement (which created today's power-sharing government in Zimbabwe) to ensure that there is justice for the survivors of these human rights abuses.
In New York City, we'll be going back to the polls in the coming months to elect local government officials. I will be able to exercise my right to vote, as urged by President Obama, without fear of physical or mental repercussions because of my choice. The women of Zimbabwe should also be able to exercise their rights with the same freedom from fear and expectation that their vote will make a difference.
By supporting women like Memory, you ensure that her story is not forgotten and you help strengthen her call for justice. A click of your mouse can go a long way.
Thank you to the thousands of people that supported the Hear Us, Stand With Us campaign. Your messages and the petitions that many of you signed were delivered last week in South Africa to key members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which held its summit in Kinshasa from September 2-8. WITNESS and RAU also met with groups like IDASA and the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe and gave interviews to the media about the issue of violence against women in Zimbabwe. For a full update, watch this short video recorded by Kuda from RAU and this thank you message from Bukeni, our Africa Program Coordinator.
Stay tuned for further developments on this important campaign on the Hub and please, if you have the right to vote, please exercise it!