3 April 2019

Zimbabwe: Does the Law Fully Protect Women From GBV?

analysis

In an article in the Zimbabwe Electronic Law Journal entitled "Deterrent Sentences of Domestic Violence," Professor Feltoe explains that the primary objective of the Domestic Violence Act is to offer protection to women who are in danger. He extends this explanation by adding that women are mostly in danger of violence from their spouse and that the perpetuation of such violence may ultimately pose a threat to life.

A day at the various Magistrates Courts around the country will reveal the prevalence of reports of domestic violence within society as people trickle in throughout the day to apply either for a peace or a protection order.

Mass media has developed a pattern in the manner in which issues of gender based violence are recorded. In the midst of all the stories involving the economy or the political status quo of the day lies a report describing yet another threat to the sanctity of human life; more so, women's lives.

Oftentimes, the stories recorded in the media present more aggravated circumstances which result in severe injury or death. The culture of domestic violence has been intricately weaved into the fabric of society that people are almost desensitised to what may be perceived as "less severe" acts of domestic violence.

It continues to be important for these stories to be reported and recorded and it is more important that there be efficient and sustainable remedies to fully protect society against leading a continuously volatile existence.

As it stands, anybody who is a victim of domestic violence and sexual violence has the right to approach the police station, particularly the specialised division called the victim friend unit or VFU. Aside from being given proper counselling in a safe secluded place, the duty of the police is to investigate and arrest the accused person. This remedy exists in the Domestic Violence Act and the Criminal Code.

It was reported in the Herald published on March 30, 2019, that a police officer, whose duty was to investigate sexual abuse at a local school, allegedly molested 21 young girls. Whereas it is the duty of this officer to ensure safety for these young girls, this duty bearer is found on the opposite side of the law, not only in abuse of his office but in contravention of these girls' right to human dignity.

What that concludes is that while the law exists to cater for and protect women and girls from gender based violence, the bulk of the change must come from society itself. Women's rights are human rights and it should be understood that women have the right to have safe access to justice.

In another case, a man is being accused of murder in aggravating circumstances after shooting his wife and her brother in the head whilst they were having breakfast with the children. This same man is reported to have been arrested for kidnapping in 2016. He had kidnapped a man whom he alleged to have been having extra marital affairs with his wife.

He was convicted and sentence to a fine of $150 or three months imprisonment. He is also said to have been reported for domestic violence at Highlands police station and the reports were both withdrawn. In addition, he was already facing another charge of attempted murder before proceeding to murder his wife and brother-in-law.

As a person with an active criminal record it was necessary not only for the court to hand down a more deterrent sentence aside from a fine so as to fully respond to the fact that he was not only a threat and a hazard to society; he was also posing an imminent threat to his wife and children's lives. It must be understood therefore that the law does not exist in isolation. For justice to be seen to be done, special focus must be paid to the gravity of the situation especially where the crime threatens the sanctity of human life.

Additionally, withdrawal of cases involving domestic violence and sexual violence must be probed carefully. In the same article by Professor Feltoe; he states that there are various social factors which result in a withdrawal such as perceived economic dependence and cultural pressure on the wife to stay in the relationship.

The fact that the law exists to protect society from harm among many other reasons calls for due diligence on the part of the police, the courts and society as a whole to promote safety and condemn violence.

Another reported case relays a story involving a couple whose cycle of violence resulted in death. In the judgment handed down by Justice Mawadze, the Judge quotes the evidence of this couple's daughter and concludes that the marriage was already violent, which is a possible explanation for why a seemingly minor misunderstanding resulted in tragic consequences. In this particular case, the couple had a misunderstanding regarding whether or not to kill a goat and their failure to use healthy communication mechanism amounted to the loss of life.

These cases simply reflect a portion of the many issues plaguing society with regards to domestic violence. They stand as a reminder of the depths of violence and inhumanity that currently exists within our system. They are also a call for action which can only be achieved if Zimbabweans as a whole work together to promote human rights.

The law with regards to gender based violence already exists, the Constitution currently has a substantive bill of rights with speaks to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights and there are already structures which exist to cater to domestic violence such as the victim friendly unit and specialised courts. The gap herein lies in society's obligation to promote the same.

It is members of society from all walks of life who continue to not only endorse but commit acts of gender based violence. These same members of society occupy positions of authority wherein they have the duty to ensure that justice prevails.

The continued function of gender based violence concludes therefore that for society to be completely safe and free from violence, it is its citizens who need to take the initiative to maintain a secure society.

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