When 31-year old Fred Mwansa decided to rape a helpless old woman in the village of Chakopo in Zambia’s Mpika District, he expected to get away with it. That was probably because he had never heard about the women of the WEAVE project and the work they were doing in the area. WEAVE, which stands for Women Empowered against Violence Everywhere, is a USAID-funded project conceived and implemented in Zambia by Nascent Solutions, a US non-profit. On February 20, 2012, Fred Mwansa assaulted and raped Theresa Bwalya (pictured in blue top) an 80-year old bedridden victim of a stroke that had left her partially paralyzed.
The villagers were scandalized when they learnt about this, but in the male-dominated culture of the area, the debate in the community was about the kind of amicable settlement between two families, not more severe punishment for the culprit. Distance to the legal authorities; men’s traditional supremacy in the area and the tendency among the men to downplay the severity of rape all turned the incident into a mundane family dispute. When WEAVE staff learnt about the incident, they were not only outraged, they swung into immediate action.
Working with Chief Inspect Mvula of the Zambia Police-Victim Support Unit, and with encouragement from their headquarters in Virginia, the project transported the victim to the Mpika District Hospital, some 50 Km away. Then they sued Mwansa in the district court and, considering Ms. Bwalya’s age and health status, they petitioned the court to hear the case in Chakopo.
The court agreed and set a trial date of April 11, right there in Chakopo. “We provided transportation for the court and the prosecution team to Chakopo,” says Catherine Mbokoma, Country Coordinator for Nascent Solutions Zambia and head of the WEAVE project. “Bringing the court to the community was not only for the purposes of legal proceedings but also acting to sensitize the community that distance is not a barrier to the dispensation of justice.”
The accused, Fred Mwansa was found guilty of committing rape on a defenceless old woman, and the case was committed to the high court for sentence. Fred was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour at Kasama High court on 16 At the end of it all, Nascent Solutions CEO, Dr. Beatrice Wamey, observed that by patiently weaving a web of commitment, community involvement, innovation and modest resources, the WEAVE project finally obtained justice for a victim of terrible abuse by bring her abuser to justice. “WEAVE’s action was a teaching moment for all of us. It showed that justice for everyone is possible; it showed that with proper sensitization, gender equity is possible, and that with the right incentives, services such as the courts can be made more accessible to all citizens,” she said.
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