Zimbabwe: Devise Strategies to Curb Lockdown Domestic Violence

15 April 2020
editorial

The 21-day lockdown has not been without problems judging by thousands of people who have been arrested for breaching its provisions in the first 14 days.

Equally worrying are social challenges, which have triggered a surge in domestic violence cases within the same period.

The stay-at-home directive issued by President Mnangagwa to prevent the spread of coronavirus has witnessed a worrying increase in domestic violence cases.

Couples are reportedly failing to live in peace with each passing day.

While for some, the 21-day lockdown presented an opportunity for them to catch up on lost family time, elsewhere it has been met with trepidation, worry and brutality.

Emotional and physical fights among married people have become a daily routine.

The presence of children and other respectable people has failed to act as a restraint, amid fears these groups may start viewing domestic violence as the new norm.

According to the Musasa Project, the surge in domestic violence cases in the last two weeks alone gives an insight into the magnitude of gender-based violence countrywide.

Between March 30 and April 9, the organisation received 764 gender-based violence (GBV) reports across all platforms.

This is a disturbing spike in terms of the number of cases normally reported to the organisation which average between 500 and 600 cases every month.

It is unfortunate that movement restrictions put in place by the Government to stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives have spawned the increase in reported cases of domestic violence.

One wonders what really has gone wrong with our moral compass and the need to respect each other. In just 11 days, the statistics in relation to reported cases are a cause for concern.

The lockdown, a novel experience for most families across Zimbabwe means that for the first time and probably the longest period -- both men and women in violent relationships are stuck at home and exposed to their abusers, which normally was never the case.

This makes it difficult for the victims to be around their abusers for a long time without any form of violence breaking out.

The reported figures, which might just be a microscopic view of what is nationwide -- clearly show just how intense, psychological and physical mistreatment can get when some couples are brought together for long periods within reduced space.

Because of the limited mobility which now requires one to have documentation on the nature of business before one is allowed to travel, a lot of victims are confined to their homes, with limited support networks, making it difficult for victims to get help or escape.

The days and weeks ahead will be difficult for victims of domestic violence.

This situation calls for urgent intervention to save those trapped in the horrific cycle of violence during the remaining days of the lockdown.

Tackling this scourge that for long has pervaded our society will be no easy task; we need all hands on the deck to reduce GBV to ensure the nation has undivided attention on the effects of coronavirus.

To stem the tide, we are urging authorities to be vigilant and increase community awareness programmes to ensure that victims can easily report their abusers during this challenging period.

Since restrictions imposed for Covid-19 are likely to make it harder for victims to report abuse, hotlines should be readily available and accessible to ensure that abuse is reported as and when it occurs, with help being rendered within a short period of time.

The Government and other stakeholders such as Musasa Project and Padare/Ekundhleni should amplify awareness campaigns on domestic violence, highlighting this risk, giving detailed information on how victims can access services.

We often say abusers do not emerge overnight, but are often a result of socialisation particularly for the men, where beating a woman is regarded as a form of discipline.

Society needs to move away from that mindset by encouraging children to observe peace at a tender age, while experts can be roped in as counsellors.

Studies suggest that violent behaviour is often caused by an interaction of situational and individual factors.

Resultantly, abusers learn violent behaviour from their family, people in their community and other cultural influences as they grow up.

Although most churches have not been meeting, churches leaders should continue to play an advisory and watchdog role by regularly calling up on their members, particularly those in tumultuous unions.

It remains the duty of community leaders like Members of Parliament, chiefs, headmen and councillors to monitor and report cases of gender-based violence within their jurisdiction.

The lockdown is only a temporary measure, and it should not tear the moral fabric of who we are as a nation and a society bound by certain values and norms.

Some of the efforts require no less than critiquing the nuclear household and the traditional family form.

Recent statistics from Musasa Project should produce a societal reckoning with a clear presumption that the nuclear household is a place of safety to be preserved, and should not be allowed to falter under societal ills like domestic violence.

Communities should advocate for the legitimacy of homes and situations that are built on love, trust, empathy and oneness.

In a world full of natural disasters and unprecedented global calamities such as Covid-19, families may be forced to shelter in one place again- and that will only be possible if they are built on ties that bind.

The ties that bind can only be achieved once the nation condemns domestic violence in all its manifestations.

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