5 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Domestic Violence Act Under-Utilised

EVERYDAY, the world wakes up to shocking horrors of different forms of gender-based violence (GBV) perpetrated especially on women and children.

Amid spine-chilling statistics indicating that 81 children were raped in just two weeks of September this year across Zimbabwe, lives have also been lost as a result of GBV.

For example, a man from Gutu District in Masvingo is alleged to have killed his brother's wife in a crime of passion recently, a few days before the world commemorated 16 days of activism against GBV.

The man, Peter Chaminga, reportedly hacked his sister-in-law to death using an axe after she spurned his sexual advances.

Elsewhere, in Bulawayo, black empowerment activist Sonny Chasi was arrested for allegedly killing his six months pregnant wife.

There are other cases of sexual and emotional violence that went unreported not only in Zimbabwe but across the globe.

Violence against women and girls is now a serious global problem with many women perpetually living under systematic abuse, which can be physical, sexual and psychological.

There are also cases of GBV against men and boys although these are few.

As the world commemorates 16 days of activism under the theme: "From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's challenge militarism and end violence against women," GBV experts have recommended the need to challenge structures that perpetuate violence and encouraging women to fully utilise laws that protect them from all forms of GBV.

Enacted in 2007, the Domestic Violence Act is one such progressive law that advances women's fight against GBV in Zimbabwe.

But despite the existence of such laws, GBV continues on an alarming scale in Zimbabwe, sustained by silence on the part of its victims.

The continued under-reporting of these cases perpetuates the culture of violence especially marital rape were most women are unable to talk about it because it is regarded as taboo.

The Domestic Violence Act, in its preamble says the Act is intended to "make provision for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing".

Lawyer and gender activist, Rumbidzai Dube, said there was need for victims of GBV to speak out and seek justice in order to reduce the incidences. She says GBV should be condemned in the home and in society at large since it is a violation of human rights.

"Women are not utilising the laws that have been made available to protect them while on the other hand they do not report these issues, mainly because of how our society is structured. When a man commits acts of violence against his family, the likelihood that he is the breadwinner is high and because the wife is economically dependent on her husband, she is pushed by circumstances and will not report the case to the police or to anyone," Dube said.

"No amount of provocation at any point should necessitate any form of violence," she added.

Reported cases of domestic violence in the country have steadily increased since 2008 from 1 940 cases to 10 351 cases last year with projections showing that in 2012 the statistics may surpass 2011 figures since 3 141 cases were reported during the first quarter of this year.

According to 2010-2011 Zimbabwe Demogr-aphic Health Survey, 30 percent of women have experienced physical violence at some point since the age of 15. Of these women, eight percent experienced physical violence within the past 12 months.

Author and women's rights activist, Tsitsi Dangarembga, also encouraged women to allow the laws of the country to assist them in seeking the justice they deserve.

"In cases where the legal structures are proceeding with a case, I do believe the law is serving its purposes. The problem is that the women concerned, who drop their domestic violence cases, are not allowing the law to serve them for a number of reasons. This indicates to me that inequality in other areas needs to be maximised before women are in a position to allow the laws on domestic violence to serve them," Dangarembga said.

Although the establishment of victim-friendly units in police stations for reporting of abuse has assisted in addressing GBV, five years down the line, they are no longer properly functional and because of the negative perception around the justice system in the country most women do not trust the police and the courts for fear of stigmatisation.

Bulawayo lawyer, Sharon Bwanya, said the way the law is designed is such that it is not only the victim of domestic violence who can make a report or make an application for a protection order.

"A protection order can actually be sought by a neighbour, employer or friend of the victim, with or without the victim's consent. In that regard, the law has done very well to take away the burden of pressing charges and seeing a case through from an unwilling victim to those who have such victim's best interests at heart," said Bwanya.

"The Domestic Violence Act is not meant to protect wives against physical abuse from their husbands only -- it is an extensive law that applies to ex-girlfriends/boyfriends, step children, adopted children or biological children of the abuser, those co-habiting, and any other person (male or female) living in the same house with the abuser whether or not they are related to the abuser. The scope of the abuse stretches to verbal abuse, psychological abuse, harassment, stalking among other forms of abuse. Generally, the Act is to be applauded and it is up to the abused and/or those aware of the abuse to take advantage of the provisions of such law," she added.

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