Zimbabwe: Gender-Based Violence Cases Increase Under Lockdown

28 September 2021

Since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, organisations dealing with gender-based violence (GBV) have seen an increase in reported cases.

GBV cases that include psychological, physical, sexual and economic violence continue to increase.

Beyond the spike in reporting, non-governmental organisations say they have witnessed an increase in the severity of violence.

Under-reporting of GBV was already a significant issue in Zimbabwe due to harmful social norms and stigma.

Recently, police expressed concern over increasing cases of domestic violence, which in some instances end up in death.

Civic society organisations together with the Government are working on campaigns to end GBV and raise awareness in communities in all provinces.

In response to this, Women Action Group (WAG), last week assessed the impact of GBV in Guruve.

Here, several women are victims of the GBV, with some sustaining injuries and disability.

Others now face mental health challenges and some are now living with chronic diseases such high blood pressure as a result of the violence. Using road shows as a way to attract audiences and provide useful information and encourage people to refrain from GBV, WAG has also been educating communities about the Termination of Pregnancy Act as most of the people do not know about it.

According to the Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1977, it is illegal to abort unless it has been sanctioned by Government authorities, among them the courts, which have to confirm that conception was unlawful.

This might be in the case of sexual violence, incest or other health circumstances that make it impossible for one to give birth.

The road shows wereheld at business centres in Guruve, some of which are the major hotspots of GBV.

The campaigns highlighted the challenges of unsafe abortions that continue to contribute to mortality in Zimbabwe.

The problem is not affecting the rural communities only, even cases of unsafe abortions are also rife in urban areas.

Many organisations are making an effort to uplift the girl child, so there is a need to come up with strategies that address the challenges young women and girls face, including vulnerabilities to forced early marriages and teenage pregnancies.

At last week's meeting, organisations gathered and joined hands in raising community awareness on GBV and Termination of Pregnancy Act. The women were educated on what steps they should take if they fall pregnant as a result of rape.

However, societal beliefs on preservation and sanctity of life remain some of the major reasons why some women fail to terminate pregnancies that come as a result of rape.

The Herald interviewed several victims of GBV from Guruve who narrated their painful stories.

Ms Lianda Tembo was divorced in 2017 after facing serious violence from her husband. She is now suffering from high blood pressure that was caused by the depression that she went through.

"My husband used to beat me up every day, blaming me for giving birth to children of the same sex. I ended up suffering from this chronic disease because I went through difficult times," she said.

Another woman, Ms Yeukai Chirava said she was happily married, but could not bear children. She said everything was okay until pressure on her husband by his relatives changed him completely and he became violent.

She met the same fate in her second marriage and divorced again. She is now a sex worker.

"I had no choice but to leave the first husband and find another one. The second marriage failed again, then I resorted to sex work, a job that came out of desperation."

She added: "There was nothing to do because l tried all my best, but my life was so hard to such an extent that I saw it necessary to become a sex work where no one will control my life."

Ms Pretty Machivenyika from Ward 22 is living with disabilities. She was divorced by her husband eight years ago and during her marriage she was beaten on a daily basis.

Ms Machivenyika failed to accept the situation and became mentally ill.

"I became mentally ill because of the way l was living with my husband. He was so abusive, my parents took me for treatment."

Ms Shorai Sukulau said she almost died last year after her husband and his sister struck her with an axe.

"My husband was very cruel to me. I was the one who was taking care of the children, he used his money to buy beer and nothing else. I went to seek assistance from his sister who later joined hands with him to beat me up, saying l was supposed to keep quiet," she said.

Another woman, Mrs Margaret Eliah, said she was subjected to violence from her husband who used to insult her using vulgar words in the presence of their children.

"My husband is abusive, if he gets drunk, he utters obscene language and this is affecting my life seriously. How can he do that in front of our children?" she asked.

Women Action Group director, Ms Ednah Masiiwa, said culture was still a barrier as it was used to suppress women's rights.

She said there is a need to continue raising awareness so that everyone understands the issue of GBV, as well as the Termination of Pregnancy Act.

"We are there to educate people to seek proper services of terminating the pregnancy from health institutions where it will be terminated legally in case of rape.

"We are going to do these campaigns in all provinces to ensure that everyone has access to the information," she said.

Gender-based violence is a serious concern in Zimbabwe as it is in the rest of the world.

At least 1 in every 3 women (15 - 49) have experienced physical violence (35 percent) while 1 in every 5 women (17 percent) have experienced sexual violence. In most cases, perpetrators are the intimate partners.

GBV is a well-documented human rights violation, a public health challenge, and a barrier to civic, social, political, and economic participation.

It undermines the safety, dignity, and overall health status, social and economic well-being of the individuals who experience it.

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