Ten years of the power of love for WOZA and Zimbabwe

Update, 15 Feb. On 14 February, 181 WOZA members were arrested at a peaceful Valentine's Day demonstration in Bulawayo. The WOZA members were calling on police to respond to complaints about police beatings and brutality. The day before a further 8 WOZA members were arrested at a peaceful demonstration in the capital Harare. Find out more.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) first Valentine’s Day demonstration. This is the day WOZA members celebrate their founding principle, ‘the power of love can conquer the love of power’. They show this love by singing and handing out roses to passers-by. See the energy and spirit of their 2011 demonstration.

WOZA - an Ndebele word meaning ‘come forward’ - was formed in 2003. It was the brainchild of two individuals who believed in a brighter future for Zimbabwe. It was created to encourage women, from all walks of life, to stand up for their rights and freedoms, and provide a united voice for them to speak out on issues affecting their day-to-day lives.

One of WOZA’s founders, Jenni Williams, visited us last year and told our student activists’ conference 'never think that you as an individual, you as a group, you as Amnesty International, cannot make a difference'. WOZA is living proof of this statement. It is now a vibrant movement with over 80,000 members -including men who could join from 2006 - and is growing all the time.

Over ten years WOZA has conducted hundreds of peaceful demonstrations, but this has not been without its costs. Amnesty has documented numerous occasions when WOZA members have been harassed, arrested and severely beaten while taking part in these demonstrations. Members often find themselves in filthy, flee infested prison cells and those who are pregnant or with a baby have not been spared.

Jenni Williams herself has been arrested 47 times, as she peacefully stands up for what she believes in. And yet despite these abuses, WOZA members continue to take to the streets in a show of unbelievable resilience and bravery.

Jenni has called Amnesty WOZA’s 'big sister', because of the role you all play in supporting their members and the courage and protection this brings them.

For WOZA to reach its tenth anniversary today, really is a reason to celebrate and I think I can speak for everyone at Amnesty by wishing WOZA a very happy birthday! We’re not the only ones thinking of them – watch this great video from students at the University of Birmingham.

This week Amnesty supporters will be showing support for WOZA at a solidarity rally outside the Embassy of Zimbabwe in London. If you’re in the area, pop down.

When I last met Jenni Williams in November, she told me her fears for the year ahead, and that many human rights groups in Zimbabwe, including WOZA, might be targeted in the run up to this year’s election. See more of her at the top of the blog.

Zimbabwe is due to go to the polls in 2013. The last election in 2008 was marred by extreme violence with over 200 killed and thousands more injured and displaced. Many of those targeted were human rights defenders and civil society activists. Amnesty will be campaigning this year to avoid a repeat of those horrific scenes of 2008. Right now is a critical time to put pressure Zimbabwe and its neighbours to ensure the bloodshed is not repeated.

You can show your support for WOZA and other human rights groups across the country by asking Zimbabwe’s neighbours to intervene to make sure this time, Zimbabwe’s election is free from violence and fear. Please take action today.

PS: As well as celebrating WOZA’s tenth anniversary today both WOZA and Amnesty are supporting One Billion Rising, calling for an end to violence again women. See how you can get involved at http://onebillionrising.org/

 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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