The Herald (Harare)

11 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Society Must Kick Out Gender-Based Violence

editorial

Yesterday marked the end of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Zimbabwe joined the world in observing these critical days set aside from November 25 to December 10 to denounce all forms of violence, especially against women and children.

Domestic violence remains a global problem and Zimbabwe has not been spared.

In Zimbabwe, many people have been experiencing various forms of domestic violence with issues kept a closely guarded secret because of societal values and beliefs that oppress women and children.

In many instances, women have endured 365 days of abuse by husbands while some men have been abused by their spouses.

As a result of set societal standards, victims rarely report to police as those who take that step are usually mocked and labelled weaklings.

Domestic violence, has many forms, including physical aggression (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects). Other threats include sexual and emotional abuse, controlling or domineering, intimidation as well as stalking.

Despite many awareness programmes, new challenges keep surfacing. In Zimbabwe, consumption and abuse of alcohol present additional challenges in eliminating domestic violence. The high unemployment rate has also led to an increase in domestic violence cases.

Inadequate training and manpower of both police, social workers, magistrates and the unavailability of adequate stationery has been a plug in the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

Other major causes of domestic violence include infidelity by partners and or engaging in extra marital affairs. The failure by breadwinners to sustain their duties and the failure by some spouses to contribute in the running of the family has also resulted in domestic violence.

Undue interference by in-laws or other family members, drug or alcohol abuse have also caused domestic violence. Technology has contributed in fuelling domestic violence through cellphones and e-mails.

Economic dependency on men, shortages of both human and material resources, are some of the many challenges they meet. Economic dependency on men has resulted in withdrawals of charges especially in cases where the accused is the breadwinner. The list is endless.

The lack of counselling skills by most police personnel, staff turnover, lack of ideal office accommodation, payment of medical bills by victims and the withdrawal of cases is another challenge faced in the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

Government and stakeholders have been working to put an end to domestic violence, but perpetrators seem to have new tricks.

Zimbabwe last year launched the Four Ps campaign at the beginning of the 16 Days during commemorations held in Bulawayo. The Four Ps include prevention, protection, partnerships and programming.

The Anti-Domestic Violence Council was launched in 2009 to spearhead the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

It comprises representatives from the judiciary, religious sectors, women and men's pressure groups and children's rights activists among others and receives support from the United Nations Population Fund.

Sadly, chiefs who can provide wisdom when it comes to the issue of customary rites and practices, are not represented three years after the council was formed.

But despite the launch of the Four Ps women still suffer as they have been overwhelmed by serious challenges that include having to withdraw cases since there are no adequate safety nets for them to fall on when they are abused.

There are few safe houses where the abused women can stay during court proceedings and they have to go back to the abuser. Because of how our society has been moulded, other family members are often not willing to take in an abused relative as they fear the blame might end on them, should the marriage break down.

As such, most distance themselves and try to solve the issue from outside while the abused woman endures daily battering.

The implementation of the Act has been littered with challenges making it difficult for anyone to say it has been a success story. Litigants have opted for protection orders instead of having abusers prosecuted.

Zimbabwe has done a lot in terms of awareness, perception, definition and documentation of domestic violence and yet thousands of women and men continue to protect their abusive partners citing customary considerations.

Is it now time to take stock of the gains of hundreds of campaigns that have taken place in the country. Domestic violence should be condemned 365 days a year.

We therefore call upon all Zimbabweans not to stand aside and look, but take part in the fight against gender-based violence.

It is only when we all stand up for what is right and against what is wrong that we can move forward as a nation and eradicate all forms of gender violence in our communities.

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