Empowering grassroots organizations to act against gender-based violence: Interview with Teclah Ponde, from Voluntary Service Overseas, Zimbabwe


Group ohoto of two women and three men standing outside, wearing protective masks, and standing in front of a big and yellow photobooth where you can read “#Speak It Loud” with a woman holding a microphone
Courtesy of VSO

In Zimbabwe, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), an international development organization, has been running a three-year project called “Speak it Loud” with the support of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

The project, implemented in Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West and Manicaland provinces, has worked with grassroots women’s groups to advance gender equality, women’s empowerment and sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and eliminate sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices.

We talked with Teclah Ponde, Projects Implementation Lead at VSO.

How do you ensure that communities are fully engaged in the work to end violence against women and girls?

In Zimbabwe, harmful practices are often disguised under the quilt of religion. Through the project, psychosocial support groups comprising women from the Apostolic church community were established to enable women in the same community to share their experience without fear of judgment, build their confidence and find solutions together. In this way, 700 women were linked to SHRH services.

Men-only forums were also held to encourage men to speak out and act against gender-based violence.

VSO also held community dialogue sessions between communities, women’s grassroots organizations and local leadership to raise issues and discrepancies regarding service provision but also challenge religious and traditional harmful practices, such as early marriage.

What key achievements are you most proud of so far?

Over the course of two years, the project has strengthened the capabilities of 15 women’s rights, community-based and civil society organizations in social accountability and collective advocacy.

The creation and strengthening of a network of women’s rights organizations (the “Speak it Loud Network Manicaland”) resulted in a nationwide fundraising marathon in December 2021, as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign that gained significant attention and was used to cascade information on violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe and support the reintegration of young girl survivors of child marriage into school.

The project also improved gender-based prevention and response interventions in the three provinces. For instance, a police base was established in Musoromuchena village to allow people to report cases without having to travel far.

Additionally, two partner organizations won grants as a result of the project’s resource mobilization training.

A woman wearing an orange t-shirt is standing on stage, speaking into a microhpne. In the background, we can see a banner that reads “Activism against violence against women and girls”, and one woman and one man are sitting.
Bridget Mutsinze, Gender and Women Empowerment Advisor during a roadshow on 16 Days in Manicaland, Zimbabwe. Credit: VSO

How does your project contribute to movement building in Zimbabwe?

The project supported the formation and strengthening of women’s groups, networks and coalitions at different levels, from local to national. These groups provide a platform for women and girls to share experiences, access information and services, and advocate for their rights.

The project also facilitated links and collaboration among different stakeholders to influence positive change.

A movement of 15 civil society organizations was created to end violence against women and girls. This led to a movement-building guide that was co-created by the civil society organizations and the government ministries involved, with VSO taking the lead.

In addition, we work to build the capacity of grassroots women’s rights organizations operating within local communities. We believe it is critical that they are better equipped to contribute to the goals and sustainability of the project. Women’s organizations and groups require evidence-informed advocacy, lobbying, action-oriented research and monitoring skills to strengthen their role as agents of change.

Enhancing networking, knowledge sharing and visibility among women’s movements, of which grassroots women’s organizations are key drivers, are all essential to influence attitudes on ending gender-based violence.

How can donors better support civil society and women’s rights organizations to lead feminist movement building?

The movement-building efforts need further strengthening for long-term sustainability, which hinges on financial and human resources. Community-based organizations without alternative sources of funding and limited human resources find it difficult to go out into communities, and volunteers can tire.



UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

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