The Herald (Harare)

30 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Stop Violence Against All, Not Women Alone

"Rova . . . rova . . . rova! Ukasandirova urimbwa," a newly-married woman shouted while in the nude in the dead of the night. All this while her equally young husband, a known weightlifter, who was half-dressed, was pumping fists into her bulge.

So forceful were the fists that the young woman, who was three months pregnant, contorted her face each time a blow landed on her body, but this did not stop her from hurling insults at her husband.

Revai's high-pitched voice and subsequent screams prompted neighbours to rush to the young couple's lodgings to investigate. Gossipers, well-meaning elders and young children -- who had been awakened by the noise -- made up the crowd that gathered at the pair's cottage.

One elderly woman threw a blanket over Revai while her husband restrained Oscar, who was seething with anger. In no time, the fight was over, leaving scores of people who had gathered without a clue of what the fight was all about.

However, piqued by his wife's delay in following him home after quelling the fight, the elderly man who had remarkably ended the young couple's brawl, was on his wife's case. He beat the living daylights out of his spouse for taking a keen interest in solving a trivial case involving two immature people who were supposed to "first learn how best to live together peacefully before doing so".

Here was a typical case of two fights in one night, which gave by-standers a lot to talk about on the morrow. But the case is not isolated.

Gender-based violence is commonplace in the communities in which we live. It has almost become normal to see a woman running semi-nude across the street with her husband in hot pursuit. Even in rural areas such cases are common. In fact, in rural areas, the father beats the mother, mother beats the boys, boys beat the girls, girls beat the dogs, dogs chase the cats then the mice eat the groundnuts and the cycle starts all over again.

So entrenched has gender-based violence become in our communities that the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-based violence could not have come at any better time. Only last Friday, Zimbabwe woke up to news that a Centenary man was battling for his life after being set ablaze by his wife who had cornered him at a "small house's" residence.

The vernacular Kwayedza newspaper published a graphic picture of the victim who was, however, responding to treatment. As if that was not enough, H-Metro was to carry a report of a Seke polygamist who reportedly fatally struck one of his wives to death with an axe while the other one was said to be battling for her life.

In yesterday's issue, this paper carried a story of a Marlborough man who fatally assaulted his wife following a row over infidelity.

Reasons behind these gory acts are not fodder for this installment though the incidents confirm the existence of domestic violence in the communities in which we live.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute co-ordinated by the Centre for Women's Global Leadership in 1991.

Participants chose the dates November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women and December 10, International Human Rights Day to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasise that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World Aids Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

The 16 days campaign has been used as an organising strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by:

Raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels.

Strengthening local work around violence against women.

Establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women.

Providing a forum in which organisers can develop and share new and effective strategies.

Demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world organising against violence against women.

Creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women

Over 4 100 organisations in approximately 172 countries have reportedly participated in the 16 Days Campaign since 1991. All these efforts, though well-meaning and cleverly laid out, may fail to achieve the intended results if no measures are taken to weed out violence in all its manifestations.

A man whose known tool is the hammer always sees every obstacle as a nail, hence this global problem with violence. A single bracelet does not jingle. It takes two to tango.

The 16-days campaign, though underpinned by various activities involving men and women, is largely handicapped by its portrayal of women as victims.

Violence against men is usually viewed as a non-issue.

Most men suffer physical abuse in silence because they are afraid that no one will believe them or take them seriously. Those who try to get help are mocked and ridiculed. No one would even think of telling a battered woman that getting beaten by her husband wasn't a big deal, but people often don't think twice about saying that to a battered man.

Many men are too embarrassed to admit that they are being abused.

"Unofunga ndingasase kuti mbama dziri kunaya kumba uko vanhu vakasaseka? People will laugh at me or start accusing me of being under a petticoat government," Mr Solomon Chimenge of Glen Norah said.

He said a "real man" is expected to be able to control his wife. But just as abused women are told when they suffer physical violence, abuse is never the victim's fault. This is no less true just because the victim happens to be male. According to a recent study, about two in five of all victims of domestic violence are men, contradicting the widespread impression that it is almost always women who are left battered and bruised.

Men assaulted by their partners are often ignored by police, see their attacker go free and have far fewer refuges to flee to than women, says a study by the men's rights campaign group Parity. The group's analysis of statistics on domestic violence shows the number of men attacked by wives or girlfriends is much higher than thought. Its report, "Domestic Violence: The Male Perspective," states: "Domestic violence is often seen as a female victim/male perpetrator problem, but the evidence demonstrates that this is a false picture."

Data from Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey show that men made up about 40 percent of domestic violence victims each year between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the last year for which figures are available. In 2006-07 men made up 43,4 percent of all those who had suffered partner abuse in the previous year, which rose to 45,5 percent in 2007-08, but fell to 37,7 percent in 2008-09. Similar or slightly larger numbers of men were subjected to severe force in an incident with their partner, according to the same documents. The figure stood at 48,6 percent in 2006-07, 48,3 percent the next year and 37,5 percent in 2008-09, Home Office statistics show.

The 2008-09 bulletin states: "More than one in four women (28 percent) and around one in six men (16 percent) had experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. These figures are equivalent to an estimated 4,5 million female victims of domestic abuse and 2,6 million male victims."

In addition, "Six percent of women and four percent of men reported having experienced domestic abuse in the past year, equivalent to an estimated one million female victims of domestic abuse and 600 000 male victims".

Campaigners claim that men are often treated as "second-class victims" and that many police forces and councils do not take them seriously.

"Male victims are almost invisible to the authorities such as the police, who rarely can be prevailed upon to take the man's side," said John Mays of Parity.

"Their plight is largely overlooked by the media, in official reports and in government policy, for example in the provision of refuge places -- 7 500 for females in England and Wales but only 60 for men."

The official figures underestimate the true number of male victims, Mays said. Culturally it's difficult for men to bring these incidents to the attention of the authorities.

Men cannot admit that women abuse them because it is seen as unmanly and weak. The case of female rapists that dazzled the country is clear indication that indeed women can be up to no good. Biblically, the story of Joseph and his encounter with Portiphar's wife shows just how women with cash and positions of authority can affect men. Here in Zimbabwe where men make up the bulk of the working population, any violence perpetrated on this group by their bosses affects their working lives and the development of the national cake.

The 16-day campaign will be a serious anti-climax if guidance and counselling lessons at church, work and schools ignore the need to nip gender-based violence in the bud and here giving males and females 50-50 percent chances of being both victims and perpetrators.

Male representative groups like Padare may appear to have failed their constituents greatly if they remain silent and at least fail to launch at least a campaign for the protection of men's rights. The ongoing global campaign can be without lessons for the whole nation if it appears, as is the case now, hell-bent on meting out various punishments for male perpetrators while ignoring women.

While some women hire henchmen to attack their estranged spouses, this writer is yet to see a man who hires people to beat up his wife on his behalf.

Gender-based violence is an evil we must all fight for the good of the nation and to make the world a better place. To achieve better results, however, there is need to recognise that men too are victims.

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