Source: SW Radio Africa
Hundreds of members of pressure group Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets on Monday for a peaceful protest to Parliament, as part of a global campaign against gender violence.

The 16 Days Campaign was launched last week and is taking place across the world under the theme 'From peace in the home to peace in the world: Let's challenge militarism and end violence against women'.

On Monday, the WOZA members gathered near the parliamentary buildings and marched through the streets, singing songs and handing out pamphlets about gender violence. Despite being closely monitored by police and followed by a known member of Robert Mugabe's presidential guard, the WOZA march was not disrupted.

Once at parliament, different WOZA members gave speeches about gender specific violence, including the fact that recently, in just 11 days, 124 women had been raped. They also mentioned the fact that sexual harassment is experienced by up to 70 % of women, while women aged between 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war, and malaria.

WOZA leader Jenni Williams told SW Radio Africa on Monday that this year's global theme is particularly fitting for Zimbabwe, where "there is deep violence in the home and in public spaces."

"There is so much concern about the increase in militarisation across the country, with more youth militias and people being harassed. In some parts of the country, whole villages are being forced to attend rallies and made to toyi-toyi for hours and they are too afraid to say no," Williams said.

Williams also explained that WOZA was not invited to the official Campaign launch, which had been organised by the Women's Affairs Ministry last week.

"Ministry officials ordered the police not to allow WOZA to participate and in fact used the word that we were 'barred'. Instead of even being invited, we were barred. So when we received the news we were outraged, but we have proceeded with our events anyway," Williams said.

Williams meanwhile was last week awarded with the French National Order of Merit, in recognition of her relentless advocacy for democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe. The decision to give the award was made by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on the recommendation of the French Embassy in Zimbabwe.

Williams said in her acceptance speech that it was not too late for Zimbabwe's political leadership to return to the promises of the liberation war.

"Enough blood has been spilt in a violent war for these ideals. WOZA members fight tirelessly, but this time non-violently so that we can see, feel and enjoy those promises," she said.

She also accepted the award in recognition of the thousands of community activists who championed for change in the country.

"This award will also help to lift the profile of these champions and protect them from abuse and torture and may even save their lives," she said.

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