MARTHA (26) (not real name) has seen it all. Having customarily married her boyfriend who had forced himself on her resulting in an unplanned pregnancy a few months before writing 'O' Level examinations, she reminisces every chapter of her married life painting a chilling picture.
The year was 2001 and Martha still wet behind the ears, had to learn how to run a home and please her husband. She would be beaten up for failing to budget money and for burning sadza (since she loved eating a golden crispy crust from the bottom of the pot).
He would beat her up for petty things one of them being that she spent too much time bathing, applied too much cream on her face and for wearing her church clothes on a Tuesday.
"He would tell me that I was wasting soap and would inspect the tablet. I was once beaten up for bathing until the words Jade inscribed on the tablet had faded.
"He wanted to know why I wore my church clothes on Tuesday and who I wore them for since he was at work. I was always reminded that he was the breadwinner and would do what he wanted," she said.
Martha had fallen on the marriage bed just too early and had to contend with the weekly beatings, which she learnt to accept and would sometimes joke about the Jade incident with her friends.
Eleven years down the line, Martha still remains her husband's punching bag, has no job and is a mother of three.
She describes herself as a "tiny bee"-- trapped in a spider web and failing to unravel it -- while her husband the "giant spider" waits to devour on her whenever he pleases.
"I have reported him to the police several times and withdrew the cases before going to court. My relatives would tell me that reporting my husband was bad and would advise me to go back to him.
"I would seek help from my friends who told me to go and visit organisations that offer safe houses for women," she said.
Martha never made the intended trip to one of the organisations, as she was more worried of her children's welfare. They were all still in primary school in the high density suburb of Budiriro and all their relatives refused to take them into their temporary custody.
"Even if I went there and stayed during the court proceedings, I still needed somewhere to stay when all was done. I do not work and cannot afford to pay rent. My children needed clothing, food and school fees, I had to stay and I am still there," said Martha, as tears trickled from her little round beady red eyes forming a small thin stream on her charcoal black cheeks.
She said she had no option but return home and stay with her abusive husband.
Martha one of the many women who have the option to use safe houses meant to protect them from abusive partners, but never fall on that safety net as they "chicken out" before getting help.
Like Martha, many of the women opt out because of societal pressures.
To make matters worse, even when women get a free lawyer, go through the court process, win their cases against the abusive husbands, most of them end up going back.
As Zimbabwe joins the world to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, which kicked off on Sunday, it is time to remember the suffering that women like Martha go through daily.
Minister of Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Dr Olivia Muchena, says her ministry has made concerted efforts in addressing gender-based violence.
She said the National Gender Based Violence Strategy (2012-2015), which was launched, last Saturday provides stakeholders with a framework that outlines areas where greater effort should be placed in order to address GBV challenges in a more coordinated approach.
Dr Muchena said the 4 Ps campaign launched last year to raise awareness on the Domestic Violence Act had resulted in the increase in the number of survivors seeking recourse through the legal and health services.
The 4Ps are Prevention, Protection, Participation, and Programmes.
"The increasing number of domestic violence is a wake-up call for every citizen of this country to do something in our communities about this crime. We need to start from our homes by upholding the principle of family unity and dignity as well as strengthening of traditional mediation systems as we seek the zero tolerance of GBV through Prevention, Protection, Participation, and Programmes and end Gender based violence," said Dr Muchena in her speech at the Gender Based Violence Service Provider's Fair in Harare.
Through this campaign, Dr Muchena said, they have created demand for services hence the holding of the fair last week.
She added that they plan to cascade this kind of community outreach to all the country's 10 provinces to ensure that people are aware of what services to access when faced with problems of abuse.
She pointed out that a multi-sectoral and interagency approach is required to effectively avoid and respond to GBV.
"Community services, protection, health, security and legal sectors must work together to ensure that a comprehensive approach is implemented and that GBV prevention and response is integrated," she added.
She called for the provision of decent temporary shelters for survivors of domestic violence and also launched the Standard Operating Procedures for Safe Shelters in Zimbabwe. The shelters were developed with the assistance of Musasa Project to provide guidance on the operations of shelters in Zimbabwe.
"It is expected that all shelters or safe houses being run by civil society organisations, the Government, or the community will adopt and implement these standards with the fullest commitment as it will help ensure temporary refuge for women fleeing abusive situations," she added.
She also said her ministry is committed to the inclusion of men and boys in addressing GBV.
"We acknowledge that men can also be victimized because of their gender. Gender Based Violence occurs within the families and communities. It is perpetrated by both men and women. While GBV is usually targeted at women and girls, boys and men are also often survivors of GBV," she said.
Dr Muchena noted that economic empowerment of women is integral to any sustainable approach to eradicating violence against women.
She pledged that her ministry would continue to advocate for economic empowerment of women as this gives them a choice and voice besides being smart economists.
UN Women director Michelle Brechelet, said, it is time for leaders to fulfill promises made to women if domestic violence is to end.
Ms Brechelet urged all Heads of State and Government to end the scourge of violence that affects every society by participating in an exciting global initiative to showcase national commitments to end violence against women and girls.
"The first step has been taken: the silence has been broken. Today at least 125 countries outlaw domestic violence and there is a large body of legislation on violence against women and girls.
"There is international agreement on the way forward as articulated in the Beijing Platform for Action," said Ms Brechelet.
One hundred and eighty seven countries, Zimbabwe included, have ratified the UN Convention to end all forms of discrimination against women.
Added Ms Bachelet: "We all must do better to protect women and prevent this pervasive human rights violation. Governments and leaders must lead by example. Now is the time for governments to translate international promises into concrete national action
"We hope to see new and improved laws and national action plans that provide for safe houses, free hotline services and free health and legal aid to survivors.
"We count on educational programmes that teach human rights, equality and mutual respect, and inspire young people to take leadership on ending violence against women and girls. We need increasing numbers of women in politics, law enforcement, and peacekeeping forces. We need equal economic opportunities and decent jobs for women."
Next March, leaders from governments and civil society will come together at the UN Commission on the Status of Women to agree on action to prevent and respond effectively to violence against women.
UN Women Zimbabwe Country Representative, Mrs Hoddan Addou said launching the Gender Based Violence Strategy covering the period 2012-2015 and the Standard Operating Procedures for Safe Shelters signify the government's unwavering commitment towards ending gender based violence in Zimbabwe demonstrate the strong partnership between government, civil society, UN agencies and development partners.
She commended Zimbabwe for setting the policy framework for gender based violence prevention and response which includes the Domestic Violence Act.
"The 2010/11 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey results showed a slight decline in women who reported experiencing spousal violence from 31 percent to 29 percent.
"Also, Zimbabwe has a good track record in ratifying key international and regional instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women and the Sadc Protocol on gender and development," she said.
She, however, bemoaned that gender-based violence is still a challenge, as one in four women according to the ZDHS reported that they had experienced sexual violence and in nine out of 10 of the cases the perpetrator is the woman's current or former husband, partner or boyfriend; and one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence since the age 15. According to a recent study by the Swedish International Development Agency the aggregate cost of GBV in Zimbabwe in 2009, was estimated at US$2 billion.
"This includes cost to survivors for medical fees, transport, and fees for legal and other support services provided by the government and non-governmental organisations, as well as costs related to the high absentee rates of girls and women in education, in the labour market and in productive economic activities as result of gender based violence," added Mrs Addou.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said millions of women and girls around the world are assaulted, beaten, raped, mutilated or even murdered in what constitutes appalling violations of their human rights.
He bemoaned that as many as a quarter of pregnant women are affected and perpetrators often go unpunished.
"Women and girls are afraid to speak out because of culture of impunity. We must fight the sense of fear and shame that punishes victims who have already endured crime and face stigma. It is the perpetrators that should feel disgraced not their victims," he added.
He said the UNITE to End Violence Against Women Campaign is engaging governments, international organisations, civil society groups, the media and ordinary citizens.
He revealed that the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women which was launched this month plans to disburse US$8 million to local initiatives in 18 countries.
As Martha receives each punch, and struggles to get out of the unravelable web, let it be one more reason to condemn all forms of domestic violence.