Roselyn Sachiti Features, Health & Society Editor
From the first point of socialisation after birth, men are taught to believe in their masculinity, in physical superiority over women and indeed to look down upon women in terms of general mental and physical strength and therein lies our first problem.
“Behave like a man, don’t be weak like a woman…” “Men don’t cry…” “Don’t gossip like a woman…” are common state-ments in day to day life and it is indeed this kind of mentality that has not helped in nipping in the bud, gender based violence.
Almost every man, including hypochondriacs believe they are more physically fit than any woman. The mindset is telling.
Of course, there are also some extremely violent women, albeit being few, but they are mainly forced by circumstances. Not that I want to defend them.
On Monday Zimbabwe will join the world to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Running under the theme “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!”, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimi-nation of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day.
Now a prominent feature on the calendars of countries, the initiative was started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991.
Today, the 16 Days continue to be commemorated by individuals and organizations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
In Zimbabwe women and men of all ages have participated in, been a victim of or came across some form of GBV. These in-clude physical, sexual, psychological, neglect, emotional and financial.
This year’s theme is spot on.
It tackles the important issue of rape, a form of sexual abuse affecting thousands of women each year. Some married women suffer more, as they endure marital rape and suffer in silence as satisfying their husbands is an expected duty, especially where lobola has been paid.
Sad is, some women are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV included as in most marriages, use of condoms is limited and even non-existent.
However, some have successfully reported their cases to the police allowing the law to take its course.
While many countries in East and Southern Africa have criminalised GBV and have outlawed child marriage and female genital mutilation, the number of girls married before the age of 18 has recorded slow but steady decline. One in three girls is still being married by the age of 18, and one in six young women aged 20 to 24 years continues to experience sexual and gender based vio-lence.
Sadly, most sexual violence cases also involve an intimate partner or relative and many women do not report.
According to UN Women, rape is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power, and control that continue to create a so-cial environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalized.
As such, UN women says, the exact numbers of rape and sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to confirm. This, they say, is because of frequent latitude and impunity for perpetrators, stigma towards survivors, and their subsequent silence.
Rape statistics by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstats) Quarterly Digest of Statistics for the fourth quarter of 2018 show an upsetting upward trend.
In 2016, 8,069 women were raped. In 2015 a total of 7,752 cases of rape were reported. Then in the year 2014 cases to the tune of 7,000 were also reported.
The year 2013 had 5 717 cases with 5 412 cases in 2012.
Another 5 446 cases in 2011 then 4 450 in 2010.
Last week ZGC chairperson Margaret Sangarwe brought out how dire the situation is. She revealed that 22 women are raped dai-ly in Zimbabwe.
She further said one woman is abused every 75 minutes and an average of 646 women are being sexually-abused monthly. Fur-thermore, one in three girls is raped or sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18.
These statistics while shocking are a wakeup call for society, to start acting on causes of sexual violence in the form of rape.
Speaking at a sexual and gender based violence crimes meeting in Harare on Thursday, Police Deputy Commissioner (Crime) Elliot Mind Ngirandi bemoaned how sexual and gender based violence is arguably the most topical issue of this century yet most cases go unreported.
“Yet sadly its media main stream and rhetorical buttress has not achieved much in guaranteeing the safety of victims. Both na-tional and global statistics on sexual and gender based violence are very sobering and remain an irrefutable indictment on our humanity and empathy.
“We all know for a fact that, the bulk of such cases go unreported and victims continue to suffer in silence,” he revealed.
He outlined how an effective fight against gender based sexual violence mainly affecting women and children requires an all stakeholder approach enlisting the support of the civic society, church organisations, community and traditional leadership.
“It is against this background that the organisation entered into a partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) to fight this monstrous crime.
“As an organisation, we are highly indebted to these two United Nations agencies for the sustained support and in particular the Spotlight Initiative, which has added impetus to the fight against sexual violence crimes.”
He lamented, the continued upsurge in cases of sexual gender based violence, particularly those committed against children are a clanging wakeup call and prod for all us to do more.
“Annual statistics for the year 2018 indicate that at least 68 percent of sexual abuse cases were perpetrated against children,” he bemoaned.
What is more worrying, he added, is the majority of these cases were committed within homes by mostly neighbours and close relatives.
“If the fight against sexual crimes perpetrated against women and children is going to be fruitful, then we must start from home. Admittedly, if a woman or a child can not feel safe at home then they are vulnerable everywhere else,” he added.
As he put it, the police have inexcusable mandate to spearhead robust awareness campaigns and strengthen community policing and engagement initiatives.
“These crimes occur within society and society knows all the perpetrators. It follows then that, when we enjoy seamless and cor-dial relations with our publics, we will gather more information.”
How GBV affects children
Legal expert at Justice for Children Trust Mrs Petronella Nyamapfeni said from a child rights perspective bickering between par-ents over custody coupled by the harsh economic situation has become a serious from of violence.
She pointed out that custody battles have left children emotionally and psychologically violated.
“The person staying with a child may not have enough money as prices of basic commodities keep changing. Even a mother who could afford to support their child alone in the past can no longer do so now. This has an impact on children as they need to eat,” said Mrs Nyamapfeni.
She also explained that when in court during custody battles, children are not comfortable to choose a parent they wish to stay with when asked to.
“This is not in the best interest of the child. From an emotional point of view, kids are affected psychologically.”
According to Mrs Nyamapfeni, because of economic challenges, money is not enough resulting in an increase of domestic vio-lence incidents. Parents fight as children watch and this has a negative impact on their well- being.
Child to child sexual relationships
The most worrying emerging issue, Mrs Nyamapfeni added, is that children are engaging in child to child relationships and in the process having sex. These children are usually between 12 and 15 years old.
She says when families discover that a girl is pregnant, she usually says she has been raped. As a result, the minor boy is taken to court. In most cases, the once at court, the girl does not cooperate saying she loves her boyfriend.
Mrs Nyamapfeni suggested the urgent need to embark on raising awareness on the various forms of GBV. She also said while laws are there, the application has become a real issue.
She further proposed the need for one piece of legislation that speaks to all the issues relating to GBV to avoid contradictions and conflicts. As it stands, the Domestic Violence Act, sections of the Criminal Codification law, Civil law and criminal courts all trying to end GBV. It is like the laws are scattered everywhere.
GBV, a bad virus
UNFPA Country Representative for Zimbabwe Dr Esther Muia said gender based violence is the silent elephant in the room.
UNFPA is the lead agency on addressing gender based violence within the UN system globally and in Zimbabwe.
Dr Muia looks at GBV as some bad virus that’s actually eating into the gains that have been made in development.
“Gender based violence is not just physical, it’s mental, social, psychological. So when we talk about gender violence it’s not just physical, we should consider the other aspects.
“Of course, the physical is the worst because it does harm and can take up someone’s life. However, remember the social gender based violence, and the psychological can drive one to the edge that they end up with depression, anxiety,” explained Dr Muia.
She revealed that some victims of GBV may end up committing suicide and degenerative neurological disease because of that.
According to Dr Muia, there are certain predisposing factors that make women especially more vulnerable to gender based vio-lence.
“One is in the normal setting like we are. However, during humanitarian emergency situations like when we had Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani in March, women were displaced from their normal environment. Up to now as we speak there are a number of people still living in camps in Chimanimani,” said Dr Muia.
She further explained: “The conditions under which they live, the social environment they are operating in — take for example the tent is there, the toilets are there, at night you are going to toilet — if it’s not well lit what stops you from being raped?”
She expressed worry over parents leaving their children in the tents during the day to go and vend, and look for how to put some food for them so that they eat.
Such kids, she pointed out, are vulnerable because there are prowlers around that take advantage of that.
“There is also the element of sexual exploitation and abuse that links gender based violence. In such situations you find food for sex. Sometimes we were being told by women that they were not being given the rations because some men were saying you have to sleep with me first.
“Again, in these instances UNFPA works with other UN agencies to ensure we are able to address and respond to the needs. That’s a humanitarian setting,” Dr Muia revealed.
She expounded that in a normal setting in development in general, like now, sometimes the social fabric erodes because of the economic problems that people are facing.
“People are going away to look for jobs, a lot of Zimbabweans have moved to South Africa, Australia, the UK and don’t carry the whole family. They leave a lot of them behind, so we are taking about the social fabric getting disintegrated.”
Vuzu parties and sexual violence
Dr Muia said a recent trip to Bulawayo shocked her when she heard about Vuzu parties.
“Then you look and listen to the girls saying that’s the best thing that has happened to them. But, what if somebody comes and touches your shoulder, how many people can you have sex with in one night?
“For me that is gender based violence of the highest degree. A lot of these kids are left in child headed families, or they have grandmothers or aunties looking after them, who half the time don’t know what’s happening,” she said.
As a result of the social fabric weakening there are no safety nets in society quite often. If a woman is abused sometimes even in a relationship or maybe in marriage most have nowhere to run to.
“Unlike before when you could run to your mother, grandmother or auntie, that doesn’t exist anymore.
“As UNFPA we realised the need for shelters in the communities where people can be kept for a while to get over the acute epi-sode and then assisted by social welfare to be able to be reintegrated back into society.
“It doesn’t mean they are going back into the society where they were being abused. It may be good to go back live with par-ents or a grandmother, or aunt because we don’t want anyone dead.”
Dr Muia added that it is more important for women to be alive, to be able to look after children and raise them.
“So we talk about safety shelters in the community, but then often these women are abused if you are raped whether by some-body you know or somebody you don’t know, we know what the outcomes of rape can be. One is unintended unplanned preg-nancy, STIs including HIV and the mental and psychological trauma. You need services that can respond to these.”
In Zimbabwe, the Adult Rape Clinic has since inception in 2009 provided treatment to survivors of GBV treatment, counsel-ling services and referral services to police and legal services for survivors of rape. It was set up at a time when there were very limited services available for survivors of rape.
Laws and Policies
A paper by Pamela Machakanja, Deliah Jeranyama and Eunice Bere titled “The Constitutional and Legal Frameworks for the Protection of Women against Violence in Zimbabwe” published by the Zimbabwe Legal Information Institute (ZLII) states how Section 17 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution is dedicated to gender.
Section 17 urges the state to promote the full participation of women in all spheres on the basis of equality with men. It further addresses access to resources, elimination of gender based discrimination in policy, law and practice, the protection of women and girls from domestic violence, as well as protection of girls from marriage.
“Section 80 focuses on the rights of women and highlights the provision for equal opportunities, in political, social and eco-nomic activities…The section also provides that all customs, traditions and cultural practices that infringe the rights of women are void. Women have been vulnerable to all sorts of harmful traditional practices such as early child marriages, forced marriages and genital mutilation,” Machakanja et al, further state in their paper.
They also quote Section 85 of the Constitution which buttresses the enforcement of fundamental human rights and freedoms by the courts, and granting of appropriate relief and compensation where one’s rights have been infringed.
The Domestic Violence Act [Chapter 5:16] makes provision for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence.
Under the Act, domestic violence is defined widely.
It touches on abuse derived from any cultural or customary rites or practices that discriminate against or degrade women, such as forced virginity testing, female genital mutilation, pledging of women and girls for purposes of appeasing spirits, abduction, child marriages, forced marriages, forced wife inheritance and other such practices, says Machakanja et al.
Zimbabwe is signatory to the international human rights frameworks for women’s rights. Zimbabwe ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1991 which is considered as the women’s bill of rights.
“Under this Convention states have the obligation to review their legal systems in order to end discrimination and to establish institutions that protect women. As part of the obligations, CEDAW allows for the monitoring of compliance and receives com-plaints from the signatory states,” they state.
However, according to Machakanja et al, Zimbabwe is not yet a party to the CEDAW’s Optional Protocol of 2000 which al-lows the CEDAW Committee to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups from member states.
Beijing Declaration and SADC Protocol
Zimbabwe is also a signatory to the Beijing Declaration of 1995, the Protocol to the African Charter on Women’s Rights of 2003 and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development of 2008.
The SADC Protocol aims to provide for the empowerment of women, to eliminate discrimination and achieve gender equality by encouraging and harmonising the development and implementation of gender responsive legislation, policies and pro-grammes and projects.
Since 1980, apart from entrenching gender rights as constitutional rights, government of and the courts adopted various crimi-nal law measures to protect and advance the rights of women and protect them against discrimination and gender-based violence.
In Zimbabwe, the Victim Friendly Unit was established in 1996 primarily to proactively and reactively police crimes of sexual nature committed against women and children in a manner sensitive to the victim. The Unit aims to be supportive of victims and to make the environment conducive, private and friendly.
Zimbabwe Gender Commission Act of [Chapter 10:31] paved way for the establishment of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission to perform specified functions, including the investigation of and making of recommendations on the removal of barriers to the attainment of full gender equality; and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing.
On September 3, 2015, the Commissioners were sworn into office by the late former President Mugabe. The Commissioners for the first five year term were: Mrs Margaret Mukahanana – Sangarwe (Chairperson); Dr Paul Kadzima (Vice Chairperson); Mrs Naome Chimbetete; Mrs Tsungirirai Hungwe-Chimbunde; Mr Obert Matshalaga; Mrs Sibongile Mauye; Mr Peter Mawonera (Chief Chikwizo); Mr Victor Nkiwane; and Dr Nyepudzai Mercy Nyangulu.
The specific mandate of the Commission is derived from Section 246 of the Constitution. The provisions are listed as follows:
- to monitor issues concerning gender equality and to ensure gender equality as provided for in the Constitution;
- to investigate possible violations of rights relating to gender equality;
- to receive and consider complaints from the public and to take such action in regard to the complaints as it considers appropri-ate;
- to conduct research into issues relating to gender and social justice and to recommend changes to laws and practices which lead to discrimination based on gender;
- to advise public and private institutions on steps to be taken to ensure gender equality;
- to recommend affirmative action programmes to achieve gender equality;
- to recommend prosecution for criminal violations of rights relating to gender;
- to secure appropriate redress where rights relating to gender have been violated; and
- to do everything necessary to promote gender equality.
In 2019, the Spotlight Initiative, a global UN joint programme supported by the European Union to tackle gender based vio-lence was launched in Zimbabwe on 26 June 2019.
The Initiative, a four year joint programme (2019-2022) aimed at changing the manner of doing business to effectively trans-form the situations and vulnerabilities of women and girls in Zimbabwe has six inter-connected and mutually reinforcing pillars, aimed at holistically addressing violence against women and girls on: laws and policies; institutions strengthening; prevention and social norms; services; data; and women’s rights movement.
The programme focus on prevention, protection of survivors, participation of communities and the provision of services to sur-vivors, as well as increased reporting of cases of violence against women and girls.
Furthermore, government already has in place mechanisms and multi-sectoral structures, starting from the national level down to the ward level that address GBV.
The country is also in the process of reviewing many laws to align them to the 2013 Constitution, which include the labour laws and introducing legislation aimed at ending child and forced marriages.
GBV is not unique to Zimbabwe, other countries in the SADC region face the same problem.
SADC countries, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa are among nations with the highest cases of rape in the world, according to a report by an American online forum known as ABC Newspoint.
According to the report, South Africa has the highest numbers of rape cases, with about 40 percent of the females being raped in their whole life.
According to ABC Newspoint, approximately one of nine rapes are reported. Hence, the actual number of rape cases is much higher than expected.
With about 132.4 rape cases per 100,000 inhabitants, crime in South Africa involves women, men, and children. Four percent of men are sexually assaulted, 41 percent are children with 15 percent of them are under the age of 11.
Upsetting is that 50 percent of South Africa’s children are being abused before they reach 18.
According to the report, South Africa is followed by Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
“Crime rates, including violent and nonviolent crimes, increased in Swaziland in the past few years and the most reported cases are residential burglary and non-residential petit theft,” the report added.
The other three countries are said to have between 87.2 and 132.4 rape cases per 100,000 citizens.
As the world commemorates 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, it is important to take stock of the suc-cesses and failures and improve on them.