Roselyne Sachiti Features, Health and Society Editor
The first blow on the face over delays in serving lunch was just like any other, the pain similar to what she had gotten used to over the past five years.
It was the second blow, on the mouth that left blood gushing out of her lower lip and one tooth loose which prompted her to make a report to the police.
Since the complete lockdown began Mary Murape (47) of Mbare, Harare (name protected) endured episodes of violence perpetrated by Kudakwashe, her husband of 29 years.
In normal times, Murape supports her family by selling fruits from a street corner while her husband is unemployed.
Before the lockdown, her husband assaulted her countless times, with relatives intermediating and reconciling them.
When she felt embarrassed to keep telling relatives of the abuse because of the frequency, she would go to church and sing her troubles away.
But since the lockdown began on March 30, Murape who has been sharing the same space, two rooms, with her husband, claims she has been assaulted eight times by him, their two teenage children watching.
Mercy Musandu (not real name), a 16-year old girl has been staying with her mother, two siblings and father in their three rented rooms in Kuwadzana Extension.
Since the lockdown, her father has been extremely depressed as he no longer has easy access to the illicit brew known as musombodiya that he takes almost every day.
He hits them, screams at them and throws furniture around the house over petty issues, she alleges.
Mercy, her mother and two brothers say they have since left their home. They are currently staying with their aunt and will only go back after the lockdown.
While for some, the 21-day lockdown is an opportunity to catch up on lost family time, for women like Murape and many others in abusive relationships, it is a time for despair.
Girls like Mercy, too, face various forms of abuse from trusted relatives during the lockdown period as they have to isolate together.
It is not easy, but they have no choice, Covid-19 has put them at the mercy of their abusers as the country tries to control internal spread of the novel virus.
Responding to questions by The Herald, Musasa Project Director Precious Taru said between March 30 when the lockdown began and April 9, her organisation received 764 gender-based violence cases (GBV) across all its platforms.
"This is a spike in terms of GBV cases reported," she said. "In a month, Musasa normally records 500 to 600 cases. But so far we have recorded more numbers in a short space of 11 days than we normally do in a month."
Taru says a number of drivers are fuelling GBV during the lockdown.
These include issues to do with economic insecurity and poverty related stress, coping strategies that households are taking, the disproportionate burden of care, issues to do with unemployment, insecurity over salary or wage will come at the end of the month.
Taru says they are also working with several partners offering specialised services for women and girls.
These for example include the Legal Resources Foundation offering legal advice, Zimbabwe Women's Lawyers Association (ZWALA) offering legal services including representation, and the Adult Rape Clinic offering clinical services, including the clinical management of rape to survivors of sexual violence, just to name a few.
Taru says they are also providing a shuttle service for victims of GBV to access certain services.
"For example, if you have undergone rape you will need post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), we have shuttle services that can take you and make sure you access the service at a particular site," she says.
"We are offering the service to women who do not have the resources to facilitate the process. We are also working very closely with the police Victim Friendly Unit (VFU) to ensure that survivors get the security and protection they deserve."
Taru further reveals that they are also offering relocation services for survivors of GBV who need to go to a relative like an aunt or uncle.
Most importantly, Musasa has been offering safe shelters in the extreme cases where women and girls who do not have anywhere to go can get temporary accommodation while they identify optional life support systems where they can be reintegrated.
Taru encourages women and girls to report on toll free lines 08080074, WhatsApp and SMS 0775442300.
In the event that a woman does not have airtime, they can send a call me back and a counsellor will get back as soon as possible.
Shamwari yeMwanasikana Director Ekenia Chifamba said so far, her organisation has received nine cases of violence against women and girls during the lockdown.
Of note, three of the cases involve sexual abuse and one physical abuse. Sadly, two of the cases involve child marriages.
"This shows that GBV is not going to wait until the lockdown is over," said Chifamba. "A number of abuses are being faced by young girls, including sexual, physical and emotional."
In the wake of Covid-19, gender-based violence responsiveness have been worrying, since perpetrators are usually trusted close family members, like uncles, fathers, grandfathers and even teachers, says Chifamba.
"There are also cases of women confined to environments where before the lockdown domestic violence cases were on the increase," she said. "Imagine these women spending the majority of time with their husbands. A lot of issues will be coming up, making the women more vulnerable."
The same set-up as that at one-stop centres which are offered by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community and Small to Medium Enterprises Development, she suggests, could help.
"Some women and girls could be in need of PEP within the stipulated 72 hours," said Chifamba. "A GBV response centre is quite critical at this time. There are organisations like Shamwari ye Mwanasikana, Musasa and the Adult Rape Clinic whose offices are open and offering support to survivors or victims of GBV."
Since services offered over the phone are different from physical services, her hope is for the issue of GBV to be taken seriously.
Chifamba suggests awareness raising through television, radio, print media, social media or jingles that give people information on where to report cases of GBV to get help and support and not suffer in silence.
UNFPA Country Representative for Zimbabwe, Dr Esther Muia says an increase in GBV is expected as an indirect consequence of Covid-19 infection prevention measures, including restricted movements, increased demand and limited access to public services and basic commodities.
Dr Muia says self-quarantine or isolation and the limited freedom of mobility that generated from the national framework for Covid-19 response, including lockdown, will likely impact on the women's and girls' ability to access basic family resources (e.g. fetching water, accessing food), generating an increase of tensions within the household, which leads to increased risks of exposure to intimate partner violence.
"Social distancing may at times result in suspicion where there is limited information and understanding, especially as it relates to conjugal rights, resulting in depression, anxiety and reactive violence in some cases," she says.
"Sexual Exploitation and Abuse risks are also exacerbated in the current context, as limited access to resources (food, water, health supplies) due to the limited freedom of movement and high demand can easily generate negative coping mechanisms such as transactional sex."
While abuse comes in various forms, evidence from other countries and similar contexts like Zimbabwe have shown increase in emotional, psychological, as well as physical and sexual gender-based violence.
Dr Muia reveals that women and girls sharing the same space with their abusers during the 21-day lockdown will still be able to access services during that time.
"The easiest way for you to seek help while in lockdown, is to call the toll free lines," she says. "Online counsellors will provide survivors with immediate support, including some guidance on the physical services that are available and closer to them (e.g. GBV One Stop Centres, GBV Shelters, Health clinics).
"Privacy of survivors will be respected at all times while accessing the hotline support. Below are the toll free lines that survivors can call: Musasa: 08080074; ZWLA: 08080131, Adult Rape Clinic: 0775 672 770."
Being the lead UN agency for GBV, UNFPA is working closely with the Ministry of Women's Affairs Community and Small to Medium Enterprises Development and civil society organisations implementing partners (Musasa, Adult Rape Clinic, Family AIDS Counselling Trust, Family Support Trust, FACT, ZAPSO, ZICHIRE, World Vision) to ensure continuation of GBV life-saving service provision during the lockdown.
For girls and women with added vulnerability due to disability status, Dr Muia explains, UNFPA is partnering with Federation for Disabled Persons Organisation of Zimbabwe (FODPEZ) and Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust, to raise awareness on abuse and reporting mechanisms.
Dr Muia points out that as the GBV sub-cluster lead, UNFPA is also facilitating the inclusion of all GBV service providers into the Government of Zimbabwe list of critical services, to ensure that services are not disrupted.
They are also working towards equipping all supported GBV facilities (e.g. Static and Mobile OSCs, Shelters, Safe spaces) with COVID19 IPC supplies (masks, gloves, thermometers, temporary isolation tents for GBV survivors with suspicious symptoms, extra transport support - alternatives to limitedly available public transport for survivors' referrals to higher level of care).
"Measures are critical to avoid turning down of survivors and in full respect of the survivor-centred approach, while we also ensure do-no harm and mitigate risk of COVID19 exposure," said Dr Muia. "UNFPA is also scaling up the capacity of remote services, such as GBV hotlines for Remote Psychosocial support."
Dr Muia says some dedicated hotline lines will also be set up to cater for specific key populations (e.g. Sex workers).
Furthermore, online modalities for GBV staff are also being explored, in view of expected increased workload and stress levels.
With COVID-19, GBV cases are rising not just in Zimbabwe, but other countries on lockdown in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
So far, South African Police service (SAPS) received 87 000 gender based violence calls during the first week of the lockdown according to Police Minister Bheki Cele.
"This is a very serious matter, the last number we received from the report of the NATJOINTS was 87 000 people have phoned reporting gender based violence," Minister Cele said.