Outreach in Harare

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (2010-2011), 43 per cent of women reported that they have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.  Médecins Sans Frontières Coordinator, An Vandeborne, explains how the team has adapted its outreach activities in the capital of Harare. 

“MSF has a health promotion team which carries out educational activities to increase awareness of the benefits of prompt medical care after sexual violence. Before 2012, survivors of sexual violence were obliged to report the matter to the police first before seeking any medical care, because without the report they could not get any help. Although the law has changed, about 90 per cent of survivors still come through the police.

Some survivors are not comfortable to go to the police because in most cases, the perpetrators are people they know: it could be a relative, a family member or employer. The perpetrator may be someone who is relied on by the survivor, who usually does not have an alternative support system to turn to. Survivors also don’t want to report if they see the perpetrator as their boyfriend. In Zimbabwe, rape is a crime which can attract up to a lifetime imprisonment, so some survivors will be afraid of the social consequences and will opt not to report.  

So the team informs the community members that if a person experiences sexual violence, they can go straight to the clinic to seek medical assistance without going to the police first.”

By going out into the community and spreading the word about the services available, MSF wants to encourage more victims to seek free medical and psychological care as soon as possible after their assault. In any society there are diverse entry points for raising awareness, as the activities in Mbare show.

“We conduct ongoing awareness-raising in the print and electronic media. We run community training workshops targeting village health workers, victim-friendly unit officers, community leaders and teachers in Mbare. We take advantage of commemorations like World AIDS Day, and 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, and even exhibitions like the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show.”