WITNESS and RAU Work to Combat Politically-Motivated Sexual Violence in Zimbabwe

July 2013 | In 2008, politically-motivated sexual violence erupted throughout Zimbabwe as a result of highly contested national elections. Between May and July 2008 alone, local organizations estimate that state-sanctioned groups abducted, raped, tortured, and beat over 2,000 women and girls due to their political affiliations. Local police ignored these women’s pleas for protection, justice and accountability, and national leaders were  equally unresponsive. Hear Us: Women Affected by Political Violence in Zimbabwe Speak Out, a video co-produced by Zimbabwe’s Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) and WITNESS, featured four of these women who have came forward to demand justice from the Zimbabwean government and a regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC).


Although Zimbabwe signed the SADC Gender and Development Protocol, the government did not respect its commitments. The video was screened to key South African officials, just before they headed to the Summit in Kinshasa (at the time, South Africa was the chair of SADC). RAU’s open letter was published in key newspapers and the major online news website in the DRC, and aired on two TV channels in Johannesburg accompanied by live interviews with Memory (survivor featured in the video) and RAU staff member Kuda Chitsake. The video was also screened before two thematic committees of the Zimbabwe Senate. In addition, RAU staff took the video on the road, putting on screenings in villages throughout the Zimbabwean countryside. All of these efforts helped raise awareness surrounding politically-motivated sexual violence.

During the next national elections, held in 2013, activists braced themselves for a resurgence of violence. Thankfully it never came. RAU credits this lack of violence to greater awareness of what occurred in 2008 and potential perpetrators fearing prosecution. You can read more about WITNESS’ work with RAU in this post.