Church on women empowerment drive in the fight against Gender Based Violence

By Br. Alfonce Kugwa

The Diocese of Masvingo through its humanitarian and developmental arm, Caritas, is on an empowerment drive to eliminate Gender Based Violence (GBV) in communities starting with Bikita District. The initiative which is meant to empower women with knowledge and self-help projects involves different Church bodies operating in the district’s wards 12 and 22. The thrust of the diocese is to bring an end to the scourge of GBV in families and communities through SASA Faith in Action, a project whose aim is to encourage peace and tranquillity.

Hardlife Takawira, Caritas Masvingo Field Officer.

SASA is an acronym which stands for Start, Awareness, Support and Action. The Start phase is when the project is introduced to families and communities so that they are aware of the problem of GBV. The Awareness phase means mobilising the public against the scourge. Through the Support phase, the people are capable of identifying cases of GBV and they are ready to take Action through community support systems and line ministries available in the area.

Church bodies involved in the programme include the Catholic Church, Zion Christian Church (ZCC), Reformed Church in Zimbabwe (RCZ), and Full Gospel.

Speaking to Catholic Church News, Caritas Field Officer working in Bikita, Hardlife Takawira said the project empowers women to participate in decision making at household and community level through economic strengthening initiatives.

“This means training women in internal savings and lending which is a success story in Bikita and Masvingo. The project is also meant to develop individual skills on how to run income generating activities such as soap making, small livestock production, market gardening and tailoring,” stated Takawira.

Takawira highlighted that Caritas realised that women need to be empowered economically as they are the stronghold of their families. This, he said, reduces the rate of conflicts and ultimately GBV as women do not have to over depend on their husbands. He said the idea is to increase the leadership of women at all levels and to facilitate ownership of property by women so that they cooperate in the running of their families.

In his first message of the new year in 2020, Pope Francis denounced the use and abuse of women in modern society, and called for an end to the exploitation of the female body. The pope also defended women’s rights to migrate in search of a better future for their children and condemned those who only thought about economic growth rather than the well-being of others.

Masvingo Caritas Coordinator, Martha Zvarevashe said fighting GBV was a cross cutting issue for the organisation and the local Church as it was a package of all Caritas programmes. She said the rate of GBV ballooned as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown which affected sources of income for most people and buttressed that women needed capacitation both psychologically and economically. She further stressed that the internal savings and lending initiative was an empowerment tool for women.

Martha Zvarevashe, Caritas Masvingo Coordinator.

Zvarevashe said they use the SASA faith methodology through churches so as not to leave anyone behind.

“We feel that when churches embrace the message of fighting GBV, the same message will cascade to all communities and families because most people belong to one denomination or another,” Zvarevashe said.

The programme involves dialogue sessions for couples, religious leaders, duty bearers, SASA Faith teams and the local leadership such as village heads and chiefs. The involvement of all stakeholders was meant to nip the problem of GBV in the bud as community authorities would be aware of the bane and stand to deal with perpetrators of the crime.  

She stressed: “We feel it is important to engage all stakeholders including community leaders so as to empower all structures in dealing with the plague. More and more people now know about their rights through the SASA Faith. They also know pathways to follow in addressing issues to do with GBV.”

Zvarevashe added that the family is the centre of the Church and that if the family is not stable, the Church also suffers, hence the need to address GBV at all levels so as to stabilise the Church. The programme is receiving a positive response in Bikita with more and more people expressing an interest to participate in the activities. As a result, Caritas is contemplating taking the project across Masvingo Province by public demand.

Fr. Walter Nyatsanza, Ex-Officio Director Caritas Masvingo

The Ex-Officio Director for Caritas Masvingo, Fr. Walter Nyatsanza stated that the role of women has been treated as secondary and this has disadvantaged them. He said there has been a culture of treating women as second class citizens thereby exposing to all kinds of manipulation.

“This programme is meant to empower women so that they are strengthened individually or as a group. The programme addresses local leaders, women and men to that they find solutions to problem of GBV and to assist our culture to transform,” Stated Fr. Nyatsanza.

Fr. Nyatsanza noted that the Gospel uplifts the dignity of every person no matter one’s gender and that the SASA Faith programme aimed at teaching people that conflicts are resolved through dialogue and not violence.

He commended on the participation of men whom he said attribute GBV to cultural beliefs and traits. According to Fr. Nyatsanza, there has been significant decrease in cases of GBV in areas where the project is being implemented.

“It is more important to involve women, men, village heads, councillors and ministers of religion as they all need to be educated on the subject matter. Once everyone embraces the message, we would have won the war against GBV,” he said.

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