In Zimbabwe, fighting to end violence against women and girls has become a way of life not only for the police and the courts of law but also for the men in communities such as those found in Seke and Chitungwiza, led by Shamwari Yemwanasikana.
While there has been much focus on violence within homes, the erratic water shortages in and around the Chitungwiza area has given birth to a new scourge, violence at boreholes.
Young girls and women are mainly at risk of facing one form of violence at public water collection points on a daily basis.
The violence which is being necessitated by the ever-powerful borehole marshals has become too rampant to the extent that girls are now fearing for their lives and the psychological trauma that follows.
“Most of the time there are power struggles at the boreholes and too often, men overpower young girls because naturally, they are stronger than these girls and women.
“It’s usually survival of the fittest, so in trying to access water, girls go to men to get the water but this results in them being abused but the same men,” echoes one man who is taking a stand against SGBV in public water collection points in Chitungwiza, with support from SYS and its implementing partners.
One witness says she became scared to go to the borehole due to the abuse she witnessed when one of the ladies rejected love advances from the borehole marshals.
Upon refusal, the woman became the subject of scorn, ridicule and verbal and physical abuse at the hands of the powerful borehole marshal.
”There is a borehole marshal who once asked out a desperate woman who couldn’t have it, they ended up exchanging words and the men resorted to beating the woman,” the witness said.
The issue was reported to the police and the perpetrator was brought to book.
Another witness who ended up falling victim said in trying to help an old lady, she was pushed and shoved while everyone looked on.
“I’m 19, our borehole is close to a place called Jambanja. Borehole Marshals bring a lot of challenges, especially for women and girls. These guys are always a maniac to our society I had gone to fetch some water and I was very close to the front
“Then came an old lady who wanted to fetch water and I allowed her in, then a borehole marshal approached me asking why I had done this.
“I told him it was my right to allow the old lady but the marshals could not have it. One of them slapped me on the cheek while the other one pushed me while fondling my breasts.
“Everyone laughed at me instead of helping me out. It was disheartening. The same marshals also asked out my friend for them to allow her to get access to water, she refused and was subsequently banned from fetching water from the borehole,” she said.
To date, there are more than 2.1 billion people lacking access to safely managed drinking water, and 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation services.
Chronic lack of access to water has been worsened by climate change, environmental degradation which has not spared Zimbabwe.
For most poor women, a source of clean and affordable domestic water and safe, private sanitation facilities that can be reliably accessed are key elements of sustainable development.
The government and civil society groups must not only focus on SDG 6 on safe water and sanitation but multiple other linked SDGs like SDGs 1 and 8 because investments in water and sanitation can free up women’s time and facilitate their access to a wider range of employment opportunities, potentially contributing to the achievement of decent work and poverty eradication
SDG 3 also needs to be prioritized since safe water, sanitation and hygiene is an essential ingredient for progress on reducing maternal and child mortality and deaths from WASH-related diseases, and preventing non-communicable diseases and mental health conditions by reducing the need to walk long distances carrying heavy loads of water
Consequently, SDG 4 is of importance as reducing the time spent on water collection and improving school sanitation is also important for achieving quality education and effective learning outcomes among girls
Additionally, SDG 11 is critical given that WASH is an essential part of inclusive urbanization and slum upgrading and women’s participation in the design and implementation of WASH services and infrastructure is key.
Encouragingly, men are taking a stand against abuse at water collection points. Some have become advocates for ending the abuse of women by borehole marshals while others are calling for knowledge empowerment so that they know what to do when they encounter such cases.
Some men are calling for the rotation of the borehole marshals so that their authority does not become authoritarian.
“Borehole committees must rotate to avoid manipulation of power where one marshal feels so important after years in power. They end up being demigods which gives them the power to abuse women and girls,” said one of the men working with SYS to end violence at these places.
“We want to be imparted with knowledge on our rights, men’s rights in particular because in some cases, we might end being abused by the very same women who will take advantage of our vulnerability
“We need to know what to do If we encounter such cases. People need to know that they can report to the police, organizations like Shamwari Yemwanasikana which are there for the protection of our rights,” he stated.