7 December 2012

Zimbabwe: End Gender-Based Violence Now


I have noted with interest how the nation has embraced the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence that Zimbabwe is commemorating until December 10. The event that is

usually held during this time of the year has not gone unnoticed judging by the hype.

Just last week on Friday night while attending the graduation ceremony of my six-year-old daughter, at her nursery school in Greendale, Harare speakers would digress from their prepared speech to highlight the importance of these days.

It was clear that the importance of supporting initiatives to reduce gender-based violence had been well understood and people were keen on contributing towards the implementation and the success of the whole programme.

Even within the different communities that I interact with, the buzzword on gender-based violence seems to have reached many people, though with different interpretations.

Recently, I could not help, but eavesdrop on two men, where one of them proudly said he could not afford to continue beating up his wife during this period, where gender-based violence campaigns had reached nauseating stages, lest he might be arrested.

He complained that the gender-based awareness campaigns had reached feverish pitch and at one time dominated a board meeting at his workplace.

"Pamari apa, ndipo paachaona kuti zizi harisi huku. Handina cent randiri kumupa, achadya gender, (She will certainly feel the pinch, because I am not going to give her any money. She will have to make do with that rhetoric on gender)," he boasted to his friend.

Sadly enough these different interpretations of gender-based violence have not worked in anyone's favour, particularly women, who have had to put up with economic and emotional violence from all angles.

Although the hype that has been created in the last few weeks on gender-based violence has seen the reduction of forms of physical violence, other forms of abuse such emotional and economic have continued to rise.

It would not be surprising to note that within these 16 days where the nation is commemorating the reduction of gender-based violence, they could have been a pendulum swing, where reported cases of physical violence could have gone down, while economic and emotional ones have actually spiralled.

This is largely so because gender-based violence is not being defined in its broad terms, but is only perceived to mean the world slinging, brawls, fights and other forms of sexual abuses between a man and a woman, while emotional and economical violations are relegated to the periphery.

Yet the definition of gender-based violence is by any means clear on what it is and cannot continue to be used interchangeably with "sexual or physical violence."

It is broader than that and clearly states that "gender-based violence" is an act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, economical or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life," according to the UN.

Even studies done at household and country level have actually revealed that money-related problems have been on the forefront of domestic violence in the homes, resulting in maiming and loss of lives.

Financial and material exchange are also regarded as motivating force underlying sexual relationships, which are well-recognised dynamics in the HIV pandemic, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

A woman or man for that matter can actually receive a thorough beating for failing to remit money for household use or for abusing funds meant for family upkeep. It is for that reason, that there has been an increase in spousal cases being handled at the civil courts and the majority of them are primarily triggered by financial problems within the family set up.

With more women now earning much more than their husbands, that development has further exacerbated cases of gender-based violence cases that are primarily driven by the financial discourses in marriages.

In a country where money is hard to come by and the roles of women are rapidly changing through gender initiatives that typically alienate men, it is hardly surprising that violence against women has increased or vice-versa.

As one research participant in Bulawayo remarked, "men are the head of the homes, men are still in charge, men hold the reigns", which ultimately becomes difficult when women earn more.

Rather than allow their marriages to be moulded along Christian and cultural virtues, women appear to have greater access to the workplace and now want to deal with the law, instead of seeking recourse within the said institutions.

That development has instead worsened the woes between men and women, resulting in increased cases of gender-based violence. While cultural leaders argue that they do not support violence against women, but in reality the violence is ignored and it is still perceived as the norm and part of the cultural way of handling disputes.

However, I believe all hope is not lost in reducing cases of gender-based violence, which are triggered by many factors, chief among them cases of infidelity, lack of respect for the status quo and financial woes.

I always say no case of gender-based violence is better than the other and there is no justification for perpetrating that heinous act that has resulted in loss of lives.

Lets work towards a violent free society.

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