Building movements of girls and young women in Zimbabwe: Interview with Rebecca Gumbo, Project Director at the Bethany Project

The Bethany Project is a non-governmental organization working in Zimbabwe with young people living with or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) is supporting one of its projects through a grant awarded under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative.* The project, based in the Zvishavane District, aims to protect girls and young women from sexual and gender-based violence through networking and coordinated programming with relevant civil society organizations.

We spoke to Rebecca Gumbo, Project Director at the Bethany Project, about their work.

We believe that ending violence […] is possible through a community- and family-centred approach, led by girls and young women.

With the support of the UN Trust Fund under the Spotlight Initiative your organization has been working to prevent and end violence against women and girls, what have you achieved so far?

We have established 25 groups known as Pamumvuri forums since 2020, reaching over 500 girls and young women. These provide safe spaces for girls and young women to learn and share experiences, and have been a driving force behind the detection, prevention and response to cases of violence against women. The forums have helped to identify and report 12 cases of gender-based violence between 2020 and 2021. The grant will ultimately support 3,000 girls and young women directly and 3,610 people indirectly, and is enabling us to build strong movements initiated and led by girls and young women.

In addition, we are mobilizing and empowering girls and young women, through mentoring, training, dialogues and peer-to peer-support, to report and raise awareness on the sexual and gender-based violence they face, hold service providers to account and support survivors.

We are fostering community ownership of the project at every level to make sure it is sustainable. This involves building a critical mass of girls and young women who can push an agenda and use their voices to grab the attention of decision-makers.

Which strategies and activities are you implementing?

We believe that ending violence and achieving long-term change in attitudes, norms and practices is possible through a community- and family-centred approach, led by girls and young women.

Our project in Zvishavane District is building the capacity of community support systems and service providers, and increasing the voice and agency of girls and young women through training, mentoring and dialogue. The Pamumvuri forums also help to increase women’s economic empowerment and stop sexual violence through advocacy activities.

We have selected 80 Pamumvuri members, all young women, to carry out door-to-door dialogue with families, but this activity has been hampered because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

We use social media and have conducted 14 radio sessions on the local radio station, which raised awareness on sexual and gender-based violence and increased our organization’s visibility.

What is your organization’s long-term vision of change?

To promote comprehensive and sustainable community-based care and support for children and youths affected by HIV and AIDS. Our aim is to ensure that children and youths participate in identifying and defining solutions to the challenges they face. We are also building the capacities of the young people’s families and communities to support them.

Evidence from the communities in which we operate shows that girls and young women aged 10 to 24 make up more than 95% of survivors of sexual violence and are two-and-a-half times more vulnerable to new HIV infection than boys and young men of the same age. We therefore made Women’s and Girls’ Rights and Gender a priority in our 2017 to 2021 Strategic Plan.

What kind of support is needed to better support your work and movement building?

Medium- and long-term funding (three to five years) rather than annual funding is key.

For small organizations such as ours, it is essential to increase technical capacity, for example by providing vehicles to ensure we can travel and contact everyone we need to reach.

Finally, we need support for innovation rather than insisting on prescriptive models that may not take into account local, socio-cultural and economic conditions.

This interview is part of a series to highlight the UN Trust Fund grantees under the Spotlight Initiative and how these women-led and women’s rights organizations are building and nurturing the feminist movements.

*The EU/UN Spotlight Initiative was launched in 2017 to eradicate violence against women and girls, including by funding civil society organizations through the UN Trust Fund. The Alliances for Africa project contributes to Spotlight Initiative Outcome 6 by building coalitions between states and civil society actors to establish mechanisms for the effective implementation of legislation on ending violence against women and girls.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to eradicating all forms of #VAWG.