Scores of women and girls said they have been raped by security forces in the last 2 weeks as Zimbabwe’s government continues a crackdown on ongoing protests.
Women in Zimbabwe wore black clothes and went without makeup to protest sexual violence by the country’s security forces during the government suppression of protesters and opposition activists Wednesday.
The protest, dubbed “Black Wednesday,” came after police officials shared over a dozen investigation reports with United Kingdom newspaper, The Guardian, suggesting that soldiers have been responsible for murders rape and armed robbery.
Scores of women and girls in Zimbabwe said they have been raped over the past two weeks by army officials who have ransacked houses in Harare. Officials were allegedly searching for protesters accused of destroying property during a three-day shutdown called by unions two weeks ago.
Campaigners, using hashtags like #OurBodiesNotWarZones, #SheSpeaksOut, #InjureOneInjureAll, #ShutDownAtrocities, and “Black Wednesday” on social media, have called on Zimbabwean authorities to take action against military personnel who have been accused of rape and sexual assault.
Police claimed that they have received “only” one report of rape. Their claims were widely condemned by women’s rights groups.
“It is difficult to trust the regime at the moment because they are not owning up to their actions,” the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (Walpe) said in a statement. Walpe is an organization dedicated to women’s empowerment which supported the campaign along with another group, Justice for Women Zimbabwe.
Walpe encouraged men to join the protest, saying, “We need the voices of men also to support women, so that women may restore their confidence in men.”
Human rights defenders say many victims of rape are choosing to recover at home instead of seeking medical treatment at public hospitals out of fear of retribution from state agents.
Grisly reports of rape and sexual assault, as well as humiliating beatings on the buttocks, thighs and breasts of women have been reported across the country during the government crackdown since the unrest, triggered by a 150% increase in fuel prices, began.
Doug Coltart, a human rights lawyer, said the police refuse to investigate rape reports and victims are living in fear.
“The continued beatings, rape and abductions by the military are totally unlawful,” Cotart said. “There have been multiple instances where women have gone to the police to report rape, saying it was committed by soldiers, and the police don’t want to be involved. A lot of women don’t feel safe going to the police. It’s a small percentage of rape victims who are reporting.”