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Harare, Zimbabwe, 12 October, 2022 – Twenty four year-old Angela (not her real name) from Umzingwane had been married for 4 years to her abusive husband. He would beat her up almost every day and prevented her from working to earn a living.

“I was taught growing up that being beaten by your man is a show of affection…I became fixated on this monster as a result. Every time he beat me, he would apologise and buy me gifts,’ Angela explains.

The turning point for Angela came when she learnt about the Safe Spaces for Women and Girls (SSWG) initiative and attended one session.

A community based “Safe Space” is a protection and empowerment space created for women and girls to feel physically and emotionally safe. The term ‘safe,’ in this context, refers to the absence of trauma, excessive stress, violence (or fear of violence), or abuse. It is a space accessed by women and girls, being the intended beneficiaries, to feel comfortable and enjoy the freedom to express themselves without the fear of judgment or harm.

Key aspects of the space include providing a platform for women and girls to socialise and re-build their social networks; receive psychosocial support, support with building of life skills and income generation skills; and receive information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV, and GBV prevention, services and the referral pathway.

Safe spaces are managed by trained community based Safe Space mentors. Safe Space mentors use material that is in line with the UNFPA global guidance on Women and Girls Safe Space (WGSS) set up and management, adapted to the local Zimbabwe context.

At the Safe Space, Angela interacted with other women and girls and had open discussions about a number of topics and issues in life, including Gender Based Violence (GBV). The Safe Space mentor had an individual session with Angela that opened her eyes to the abuse she had been experiencing all these years.

“The visit to the safe space brought about a huge transformation in my life. The welcome on its own was therapeutic,” says Angela. “I was among those who received a referral to the Mobile One Stop Centre, where I was provided with therapy, counselling and legal assistance. I was granted a maintenance and protection order after I applied to the court, and I decided to end my relationship with my husband.”

It is through such interventions under the Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls and Harmful Practices that women like Angela are slowly but surely breaking the cycle of abuse in their lives. With funding from the European Union, the Spotlight Initiative seeks to address the problem of GBV in Zimbabwe. As part of these efforts the United Nations Population Fund is working with partners World Vision and Musasa to reach women and girls with life-saving and life-changing GBV services in Epworth, Hopley and Umzimgwane districts.

Angela is part of a group of 13 women running a broiler chicken livelihood project that was initiated from the safe space. The money raised from the chicken sales will contribute to the women’s economic empowerment.

"I can now help my younger siblings with education and take care of myself at the same time,” says Angela. "As an empowered survivor myself I encourage any women or girls in difficult circumstances to come to the Safe Space. It is a stress free environment and this is where I found myself again.”

By Bertha Shoko with additional reporting from Musasa