Thursday, 20 December 2012

Crossing the Line to Stop Violence

Zambian Women’s Rights Activist Provides Window of Hope for Victims of Gender Based Violence!

Mwanga Simwanda, 28, is a dedicated women’s rights activist and a survivor of physical abuse.

Mwanga who is currently living and working in Zambia’s capital city Lusaka, is not only a survivor of gender based violence, but a window of hope for victims of gender based violence.

Having suffered physical abuse that had been inflicted upon her by her spouse for 3 years, Mwanga brings hope to other women who experience gender based violence through a Gender Based Violence Clinic or corner called ‘The Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner’.

 Mwanga set up the Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner at Kamwala Health Center located within Kamwala Township in Lusaka this year (2012).

Mwanga who is currently on separation from her husband, while awaiting divorce proceedings, was motivated to set up the Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner after her traumatic experience of spousal abuse.

Mwanga says her husband used to beat her on several occasions over minor disagreements.

“The frequent beatings cost me my job as I was not able to concentrate on my work with all the stress from the marriage”, says Mwanga.

“The beatings became worse when he started seeing another woman”, narrates Mwanga.

On one occasion Mwanga’s husband beat her while she was seven months pregnant and she almost lost the baby. Fortunately she was able to deliver a live baby after being rushed to a health facility.

After that experience, Mwanga decided to leave her matrimonial home. She realized that her husband’s continued assaults endangered not only her life but that of her two children as well.

After leaving her husband, Mwanga’s mother took her and her two children in. Making ends meet was difficult as her husband refused to support her or the children and she had already resigned from her job.

Mwanga’s husband had often told her that he could only support their children if Mwanga and the children moved back in with him, which she refused to do.

“This is what most women fear, moving from being financially comfortable to having nothing. It is a difficult decision and it takes a lot courage and determination not to go back to the abusive situation” says Mwanga.

Eventually, Mwanga found a job at the Ministry of Health at Kamwala Health Center. While at the Health Center she saw several women who had been beaten seeking medical attention. It is at this point that Mwanga took the initiative of setting up the Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner.

The Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner which has been operating for over three months now offers referral services to victims of Gender based violence, and has handled several cases of violence against women and girls.

Using her own experience of physical abuse to connect with the women, Mwanga refers complicated cases to non-governmental organizations including Young Women’s Christian Association, Women and law in Southern Africa- WILSA, Youth Vision Zambia as well as the Zambia Victim Support Unit.

“My idea was to open the GBV corner was also born after I gained political consciousness of how such as issues are depoliticized. Also, after participating in several power analysis and self-awareness exercises I came to the realization that staying in an abusive relationship was detrimental to my wellbeing and self-development and now I am able to help other women who are going through a similar experience.”

I have been motivated by my participation in several feminist spaces facilitated by Generation Alive, Youth Vision Zambia & Just Associates- JASS and the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa- OSISA.

There are many other young women like Mwanga who have experienced or are experiencing violence within their relationships/marriages, but very few have been able to leave abusive marriages due to various social economic factors including poverty, and cultural norms.

While some women in Zambia think leaving an abusive relationship/marriage is unthinkable, young women activists in Zambia like Mwanga are crossing the cultural barriers that promote a culture of silence around spousal abuse and other forms of gender based violence.

Mwanga’s story is unique in that she found the strength to leave an abusive marriage and found a way to give hope and inspire others that are experiencing gender based violence.

By Wala Nulungwe- Generation Alive Member.

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