Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
The traditional 16 Days of Activism is almost coming to an end, with many events having been lined up to hammer the message home on the need to eradicate society of gender-based violence.
The civic society has been engaged in a number of activities aimed at creating awareness on gender-based violence and its effects on socio-economic wellbeing.
Although it is now exactly 10 years, since Zimbabwe and its regional counterparts have been commemorating this event, the situation on the ground actually shows that the problem of gender based violence is far from over,
Despite incessant campaigns, different messages in programming, all aimed at addressing the problem, gender-based violence continues unabated. Far from over, the dilemma of gender-based violence has become a multifaceted problem which now requires concerted effort from every Zimbabwean.
In fact statistics have actually doubled from the time that the awareness campaign started, which could be as a result of the low level of awareness in communities.
A prevalence cum attitude survey for Zimbabwe that was carried out by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Musasa Project in conjunction with Gender Links through the Violence Against Women experiences, showed that Zimbabwe is far from reducing gender-based violence.
The study revealed that 69 percent of women experienced gender-based violence at some point in their lives, while 41 percent of men admitted to perpetrating intimate violence on their partners in their lifetime.
So as the nation partakes on all events organised to commemorate 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, it painstakingly true that as a nation we have actually failed to reign in on gender based violence.
This is despite of regional and international commitments the country’s leadership has made in ending violence, with the recent one being in 2008, where Zimbabwe was among the Southern African Development Community member states to sign a gender development commitment to end gender-based violence by 2015.
With a glut of legislative pieces that have been crafted and assented into law in the last five years, these have not been matched with the same zeal from multitudes of Zimbabweans to end gender based violence.
Individuals fronting the war against gender based violence have made personal sacrifices; endless lobbying and penned different messages but their efforts have been futile.
They feel deflated when they review the national statistics on gender based violence, which have been increasing unabated for the last five years.
What is now needed is to change the narrative of regarding gender based violence as a women’s issue.
It is probably because of the tendency to view gender as synonymous with femininity and the issue of gender-based violence as a women’s problem that men have been left off the hook when they should be active in the campaign.
Messages on gender based violence come up strongly supporting women and are usually aimed at helping women change their circumstances when men should also be active participants.
But reality on the ground show that it is no longer a fact that women are the only group disproportionately affected by gender based violence, but now affects a large percentage of men, as attested by the media reports.
Men will need to change the lethargic attitude they display whenever issues on gender based violence are brought to the fore for discussion and become the game changers to ensure a violent free society.
After all, they continue to be the custodians of leadership.
In a patriarchal society of ours, where men are head of families, institutions and rule and lead their subjects, by the virtue of the power invested in them as cultural and religious leaders, men cannot deliberately turn a blind eye to such an important issue and still claim to be protectors of such a community, bleeding under serious effects of psychological and physical abuse.
With the cultural justification of spousal beating as a form of discipline, men need to come aboard such programmes and promote positive masculinity, which encourages them to be loving, caring fathers and partners who are supportive of gender equality, women’s empowerment and protection.
Once that has been achieved, the nation is rest assured that the fight against gender based violence would not continue to be a women’s battle but a national initiative premised on men’s understanding and appreciation of causal factors of violence across our communities, and how that can be eradicated.
In making her maiden speech at the HerForShe campaign last year, UN goodwill ambassador actress Emma Watson clearly pointed out that men’s involvement was critical in ending gender based violence.
“We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are when they are free, things will change for the women as a natural consequence,” read part of her speech.
Save for the bashing of men that is happening behind closed doors, there have been increasing and disturbing cases of teenage boys who are being abused by ferocious women, and these cases have received far less publicity and sparked little outrage.
These attitudes stem from traditional gender norms which treat “victimhood” and gender based violence especially at a woman’s hands as unmanly.
With growing concerns of gender-based violence on both sexes, the narrative should change and involve men, who are critical stakeholders in ending gender-based violence.