Zambian judge and Commissioner of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya Gertrude Chawatama has called for increased efforts to educate and sensitise law officers on Gender Based Violence issues to strengthen prevention and response efforts in the SADC region.
Justice Chawatama made the call on 4 March at an event organised by Women and Law in South Africa (WLSA) and Avon Global Centre for Women and Justice at Cornell Law school to share and discuss the findings of their recently released report entitled, "They are Destroying our futures : Sexual violence against Girls in Zambia's Schools. The discussion was one of the many events being hosted by Non-Governmental Organisations to run parallel to the ongoing Commission of Women (CSW 57) from 4 to 15 March under the theme: "Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls."
In her presentation, Justice Chawatama underscored the need to train law officers on r existing domestic, regional and international laws as it helps in fighting GBV effectively. She said, "As a judge it is very important to be aware of the laws that are obtaining not only the international laws but also the domestic and regional laws."
The Zambian Judge also shared her experiences in Zambia and Kenya which have made her believe that there is need for governments to pass an Act on vulnerable witnesses on GBV cases. She said the act will assist law officers on gaining a better understanding of GBV issues and how they relate with victims.
WLSA Director and the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance cluster leader on Constitutional and Legal Rights, Matrine Chuulu also called for the need for governments to expand measures aimed at making the process of reporting GBV cases less cumbersome. Currently in Zambia no sexually based cases can be reported without a medical report filled in by a doctor a government. However this makes it difficult for girls and women leaving in remote areas without hospital to report defilement and rape cases.
According to the report many girls in Zambia are raped, sexually abused, harassed, and assaulted by teachers and classmates. They are also subjected to sexual harassment and attack while travelling to and from school. Fifty-seven students 54 % of those interviewed said that they had personally experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment by a teacher, student, or men they encountered while travelling to or from school.
In total 88 students 84 % of students interviewed reported that they had personally experienced such abuse or knew of classmates who had experienced it "Girls who experience incidents of sexual abuse in school rarely report them, fearing stigma, blame, retaliation, or unresponsiveness on the part of school authorities.
These fears are well justified ,school and civil officials often fail to respond effectively to sexual harassment and violence in schools, and girls who do report are frequently unable to obtain redress. Yet these patterns of conduct cause serious physical and emotional injuries to young girls, discourage them from continuing their education, reinforce discriminatory patterns in the family and society", reads a section from the report.
Zambia in late 2012 became the fifth SADC country to roll out the GBV Indicators project to measure extent, response, support and prevention of GBV in the country. Gender Links worked closely with the Ministry of Gender and Child Development to roll out the project.
Researcher data was collected in four districts Mazabuka, Mansa, Kitwe and Kasama. As in the other four countries-Botswana, Mauritius, four provinces of South Africa and Zimbabwe the research uses a variety of tools to obtain comprehensive information.
These include a prevalence and attitudes household survey, analysis of administrative data gathered from the criminal justice system (police, courts, health services and government run shelters); qualitative research of men's experiences of partner violence and first-hand accounts of women's and men's experiences or 'I' stories; media monitoring and political discourse analysis.
Lucia Makamure is an alliance officer at Gender Links. This article is part of GL's special coverage of CSW 57.