GBV in Sadc continues despite laws

Virginia Muwanigwa Gender Protocol

Gender education and training to service providers such as the police, the judiciary, health and social workers was included with community sensitisation programmes regarding available services and resources for survivors including people with special needs.

This is the sixth in a series of articles analysing regional progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“Gender based violence is known to be widespread in the Southern African Development Community (sadc) region and presents a major obstacle to attaining gender equality and equity. Gender Based Violence (GBV) covers domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, human trafficking and sexual and emotional abuse . . .” notes sadc on its website.

The same site says GBV means all acts perpetuated against women, men, boys and girls on the basis of their sex which causes or could cause them physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or economic harm, including the threat to take such acts in private or public life.

GBV in 1998, catalysed sadc member-states to adopt the Addendum on Violence Against Women a year after adopting the sadc Declaration on Gender and Development, precursor to the Protocol.

The protocol in Article 20 committed sadc state parties, by 2015, to enact and enforce legislation prohibiting all forms of GBV and ensure that perpetrators of gender based violence, including domestic violence, rape, femicide, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation and all other forms of gender based violence are tried by a court of competent jurisdiction.

The sadc Gender Protocol Barometer 2014 produced by the sadc by Gender Protocol Alliance states that 13 countries had adopted GBV laws in that year. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania were still to adopt GBV legislation.

Agreement was that the laws on gender based violence would provide for the comprehensive testing, treatment and care of survivors of sexual offences, which would include: emergency contraception; ready access to post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) at all health facilities to reduce the risk of contracting HIV; and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Nine countries had enacted laws to offer comprehensive treatment to GBV survivors. This was an increase of three countries in 2013 following inclusion of Mauritius, Swaziland and Zambia. Of the 15 sadc countries Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Mauritius, Zambia and Swaziland would need to adopt these laws this year if they are to meet the target.

sadc countries also pledged to review and reform their criminal laws and procedures applicable to cases of sexual offences and gender based violence.

This eliminates gender bias and ensures justice and fairness are accorded to survivors of gender based violence in a manner that ensures dignity, protection and respect.

In 2014, 11 countries had laws to address sexual assault but this was not the case in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Seychelles.

Mechanisms for the social and psychological rehabilitation of perpetrators of gender based violence were to also be in place by 2015.

Enactment and adoption of specific legislative provisions to prevent human trafficking and provide holistic services to survivors, with the aim of re-integrating them into society was another target.

Yet another was to put in place mechanisms by which all relevant law enforcement authorities and institutions may eradicate national, regional and international human trafficking networks.

Improved data collection and reporting on the types and modes of trafficking to ensure effective programming and monitoring was adopted as another strategy.

This would see the establishment of bilateral and multilateral agreements to run joint actions against human trafficking within origin, transit and destination countries.

Law enforcement officials would be targeted for capacity building, awareness raising and sensitisation campaigns on human trafficking.

With the global call to stem human trafficking in all its forms, four of the 15 sadc member states were still to adopt relevant laws in 2014. These include Angola, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia.

Against evidence that responses to GBV unwittingly cause secondary trauma, especially for women, countries sought to ensure that cases would be dealt with in a gender sensitive manner.

This would include the establishment of special counselling services, legal and police units to provide dedicated and sensitive services to survivors of gender based violence.

Signatories to the Protocol recognised the implications and mutual reinforcement of social, economic cultural and political practices on GBV.

This accounts for the pledge to take measures including legislation, where appropriate, to discourage traditional norms which legitimise and exacerbate the persistence of GBV.

This would be consolidated by introducing and supporting gender sensitisation and public awareness programmes aimed at behaviour change.

Sexual harassment is defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as ‘any verbal or physical act with a sexual nature, performed in recruitment or in the workplace by a boss, manager, employee, client or customer . . . that is unwelcomed by the person receiving it and has caused the person to feel violated and insulted . . .’ By 2015, sadc member states committed to enacting legislative provisions, and adopt and implement policies, strategies and programmes which define and prohibit sexual harassment in all spheres.

Legal protection against sexual harassment existed by 2014 in 13 of the 15 sadc countries with the exception of Angola and Swaziland. However, it should be noted that the existence of laws does not necessarily translate to zero incidence of this mainly hidden sceptre. Notable however, is the fact that there was a jump from eight countries in 2013.

Comprehensive responses to GBV require support services for survivors. States Parties acknowledged their mandate to provide accessible information on services available to survivors. Accessible, effective and responsive police, prosecutorial, health, social welfare and other services to redress cases of gender based violence were to be made available while in addition to legal aid.

2014 saw 14 countries in principle commit to provide accessible, affordable and specialised services including legal aid, to survivors.

Again, what is accessible and affordable is relative to context and individuals and reports show that reality on the ground may present a difference picture. Madagascar is still to provide a comprehensive GBV strategy to give effect to the law.

Perhaps signifying responsiveness to calls to adopt rehabilitative rather than punitive strategies, the Protocol envisaged provision of effective rehabilitation and re-integration programmes for perpetrators.

Gender education and training to service providers such as the police, the judiciary, health and social workers was included with community sensitisation programmes regarding available services and resources for survivors including people with special needs.

Finally, the protocol urged States’ Parties to adopt integrated approaches, including institutional, cross sector structures, with the aim of halving GBV by 2015.

GBV has perhaps seen the most gains in terms of laws and frameworks. The challenge remains that of ensuring its eradication at all levels.

Virginia Muwanigwa is a gender activist and Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe which is the focal point to the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance. She is also the Director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC).

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