I was Guest Speaker at the Annual General Meeting of The North Nottinghamshire Independent Domestic Abuse Services -27 October 2010
I was really pleased and excited to be invited to speak at the AGM of the NNIDAS (North Nottinghamshire Independent Domestic Abuse Services). It is a subject close to my heart and would give me the opportunity to connect with like-minded activists.
My assistant, Pippa Simpson accompanied me on the train journey from home to Leicester. As is sometimes the case, the trains were unreliable and we experienced a very stressful journey. To my disappointment and dismay, it caused us to arrive a whole hour late!
Grace Nyasha Chikurunhe (nee Gondo), who works for NNIDAS, is a former classmate of mine at Nagle House Girls School in Marondera, Zimbabwe. She met us at Leicester train station and it was wonderful it was to see her again after 19 years! During the drive, Grace and I tried to catch up on the years since we’d last seen each other. Chatting non-stop during the hour it took to drive to our destination, we shared our stories: what I’d been doing and what she’d done! The great happiness I felt meeting up with Grace again was not a complete antidote for the concern that niggled at the back of my mind as I visualised all those good women and men waiting so eagerly for my arrival.
When we arrived I apologised profusely for our lateness, but the manager of NNIDAS greeted me so warmly and with such a great smile, she soon set my mind at ease. She offered me some tea but I graciously declined the offer, determined that I would get up onto the stage and speak without further delay. As I took to the stage, the introduction and warm welcome I received made me feel very humble. Here were people who saw me as a hero even though I had never worked with them in their own community. I didn’t want to be judged by my past achievements or challenges; I wanted to make it clear to them that what we did together on common ground was more important. I wanted to get to know them and hoped they would get to know me through our mutual experiences and work.
As always, I began by telling them the story of my grandmother, born 102 years ago, who lived during a time of the worst taboos in Zimbabwe. How she’d given birth to twins – my mother and her sister – at a time when twins were believed to bring bad luck to communities. Most twins, including those in my grandmother’s family had been killed as infants, but my grandmother fought to protect her little daughters and saved their lives.
I went on to explain how such harmful practices later affected my mother who had to leave her village and move to the city, where she later fell into the hands of the wrong man. I shared the story of domestic violence in my family and how domestic violence claims more lives than any war. Even though there are no official statistics to paint the whole picture, what we know from reading about it and seeing it at first hand makes it painfully obvious how domestic violence has taken its toll.
I told everyone that the prevention of domestic violence should start by building a strong foundation for girls. I then took them through the Girl Child Empowerment Model and explained that it was best to begin when the girls were young and help them to develop a strong sense of gender equality. Some men recognise a victim and continue to victimise them. If women and girls are not empowered, this vicious circle of violence continues. To end the status quo girls must be nurtured and taught the strategy to become leaders in their homes, schools and community.
I described the challenges I faced in Zimbabwe whilst doing this project yet despite the real dangers and obstructions, I mobilised girls and helped them to fight for their rights! I told them about my husband who came to England as an immigrant worker and gave our family a new country with a different aspect to life. I now know it takes 10 years to fully empower a girl, and from this favourable situation, I have the perfect platform to carry on with this important work. I will change my Small Girls Empowerment Village into a Global Girls Empowerment Village. I will do England proud for helping me to continue unhindered with this life-saving mission!
I spoke about the statistics which proves a woman is killed every minute through domestic violence. This was higher than anyone had realised before. Every day, there are more women and children killed or maimed within their own homes, through domestic violence, than through every war being fought in the world. There is no UN Peace Keeping Force, there is no EU or AU – there is only a defenceless woman. She is defenceless against the bullet, the knife, the punch and kick until she dies. The Wars in our homes desperately needs a Peace-keeping Force!
My thoughts unfolded into words, and as we do when speaking to an audience – my eyes focused on one elderly woman in the audience. Sadly, I was not introduced to her afterwards, so I do not know her name. She somehow reminded me of my grandmother and I was drawn to the sincerity in her eyes. She looked back at me and nodded from time to time, agreeing with everything I said. I could see she had experienced pain in her life and could empathise with me. She nodded enthusiastically as I spoke about the empowerment as a process of instilling, facilitating and providing the means for girls to clear all obstacles and help them to reach their full potential. This elderly lady made me realise anew that colour, religion, language, culture and gender based violence is a universal problem. Women in the past and present have suffered through their inability to stand firm in their own self-esteem.
I then re-joined the group and ate a rushed lunch. Unfortunately, as ever, my time was limited and I unfortunately could not spend as long with them, as I would have loved to do. I was already an hour late to join important discussions at Lancaster House, where the issue of forced returns of asylum seekers to Zimbabwe was due to take place.
Grace drove us back to the station where we hugged and said our goodbyes. She then handed me a bag of “covo” which was a wonderful surprise as we usually only get this popular green vegetable in Zimbabwe. Grace has the kindest heart and is a wonderful woman – someone the whole world needs.
On the train I had time to reflect on the amazing women I had met at NNIDAS. They are doing such great work in their communities; Working on the ground to make sure there is peace in the home, believing that without a strong basic family unit there is no nation. They have really inspired me and I hope to join them in future to organise something big which will impact on the whole nation!