By Maria Murerwa and Kristi Van Sickle, LWF Young adults CSW 55 delegates

These first few days of the Commission on the Status of Women 55 have been inspiring. We have attended many wonderful side NGO events that have been eye opening, hopeful, and emphasized the great progress that has been made for empowering women worldwide, as well as how far we still need to move forward. A few points that we would like to highlight are on a documentary we saw called Tapestries of Hope, and an Innovative Strategies for supporting girls’ Education in West Africa’s side event co-sponsored by WIPSEN, TY Danjuma Foundation and LWF. The main speaker was Ms. Leymah Gbowee of the movie Pray the Devil Back to Hell and featured panelists like our very own ecumenical woman, Ms. Facia Harris of WSCF, among others.

We went to see a documentary that considered the healing of girls who had been raped in Zimbabwe. There is a myth that many men still believe that if they rape a virgin they will be cured from AIDS. The woman that created the documentary had suffered from incest as a child and made her first documentary on the sexual abuse of children in the United States. These girls had suffered from great trauma both physically and mentally as a result of their horrifying experiences; however, this documentary was a story of hope. It shared the resilience of these girls and their will to move forward as they heal.

Betty Makoni, the founder of the program has a unique healing process that the girls go through. The girls are immediately given their voices back. When the “rescue man” removes girls from their dangerous situations, the first thing they ask is what they can do to help them? This immediately gives them voices in their healing process. These girls are encouraged to speak out about their experiences, build a support network of women, girls, and male allies and are not given a time limit to stay at the village. One of the main priorities includes getting these girls back into school.

This documentary shared a story that is unfortunately not uncommon. This story was a microcosm of violence against women that is occurring all over the world. After the documentary, the Zimbabwe minister stood up and spoke up in anger about the inaccuracy of the movie as well as all of the wonderful things Zimbabwe has done for women.

This in our opinion was very sad, also not uncommon, and led us to believe that the message of the movie was completely lost. We felt as though politicians from many countries get so caught up in the image of their country to the world that they hide issues that their country is facing. This can only hurt that country’s citizens and those who are marginalized. No one was trying to claim that Zimbabwe was unique in the abuse to girls, their suffering or that they were not making huge strides in women’s rights. Rather this documentary was trying to shed some light and inform people of one very specific issue. Regardless of whether the number of rapes have dropped in Zimbabwe this remains the same – the girls that live in the rescue center were raped and even if those were the only people that suffered such acts of violence that is one girl too many.

We need to legitimize these girls, empower them, and let them know they are worthy, and valued. By hiding this issue we are hiding them. This will continue to perpetrate them rather than the perpetrator.

We were also privileged to attend a West African side event on Innovative Strategies for supporting girls’ education in West Africa by a group of activists in Liberia and Nigeria. Both groups discussed ways they have used to encourage girls to get education and ways to keep them motivated to get higher education. Like other panels that we attended, there were questions at the end of the presentation. We were honored to be introduced to the minister of gender in Liberia who was part of the audience. Unlike the minister of gender in Zimbabwe, who we felt did not want to acknowledge the fact that there is violence against women in her country, the minister of gender in Liberia was pleased by the work women are doing in her country. However, she also highlighted that even though a lot had been done, there is still a lot more work to do in her country.

We think that government officials must look beyond protecting their image to protect the interests of the people, so that issues like violence against women might be addressed and not ignored.