Delphine Serumaga Correspondent
Committing to the words “elimination of violence against women and girls” is not just a moral imperative and an unspoken compact, but it is a human rights’ compact that must be upheld by all.
Elimination is a strong word because it calls for a total and complete removal or expunging of all forms of violence, because no violence is acceptable.
This is an immense task.
Paying attention to what constitutes violence in our surroundings is very important.
It must reside in our active consciousness, lest we make mistakes of normalising bad behaviour.
When we do not take action against abuse, we allow for the normalisation of abuse in society.
Remember abuse is a learnt behaviour. It started somewhere in a perpetrator’s life and now exists in a cycle.
The best and simplest example is children are like sponges. They listen and learn very well. If a child, boy or girl, lives in an abusive environment, they will inherit violence as normal behaviour and, in some cases, act it out through to their old age.
Some will accept the violation of a child as normal (usually a girl) and others will use everything from abusive language to punching, as acceptable communication to get what they want (usually a boy).
As adults, when married, one will accept the abusive language and beating they saw in childhood and the other will use violence as a “tool” to get what they want.
When women with children want to leave relationships that are dysfunctional, we all know of numerous occasions where women are encouraged to “make the relationship work”, “accept that this is marriage” and if they leave, they are encouraged to “go back and not embarrass the family”.
In this cycle, there is no one to break the cycle of violence.
These days, no one is saying anything new when stating that physical and emotional abuse is wrong, yet we find ourselves continually still having to do so.
I will accept that emotional abuse is a bit harder to identify if you are not clear how one’s communication and indirect actions can cause harm equal to physical violence, if not more harm.
Imagine body shaming someone whom you are or were intimate with?
This destroys a person’s self-esteem, which has long-term psychological effects.
Both a physical sexual attack and such an emotional attack result in one thing — negative emotional and in some cases, mental effects.
Now imagine this is happening to a friend who has confided in you.
If you fail to take action, yet you are committed to eliminating violence in society, your behaviour could be seen as complicit, or as an accomplice to a perpetrator of abuse.
Therefore, as individuals, it is not enough to commemorate 16 days of activism and International Women’s Day, or simply ensure your workplace has a policy on harassment.
We still have an obligation to act on our commitment, and we must be careful not to take on this immense commitment from the “othering” perspective.
We must recognise that violence lives all around us, which then makes us responsible to identify it and to do something about it.
This accountability of course is not just at the individual level.
It is a community effort and a national responsibility. Governments should have strategies for ending violence against women and children.
This means, there needs to be committed financial investments and specialised departments and services that are consistently resourced to work towards the goal of elimination of violence.
Development agencies, so long as they are in a country working on social and economic development, should ensure environments are free from violence against women and girls.
This allows for women and girls to thrive and reach their fullest potential in the same environment we are assisting in the development sectors.
Otherwise efforts and resources may be wasted. This year, an opportunity has arisen in Zimbabwe through the Spotlight Initiative for us to take our commitments at all levels beyond words.
The European Union has partnered with the United Nations and the Government of Zimbabwe with the largest investment ever for specifically addressing violence against women and girls and ending harmful religious and traditional practices such as child marriage.
The four-year investment is for a total of US$30 million.
The intention is to work towards the elimination of all forms of violence that affect women and girls, realising their basic human rights to health, to protection, to freedom to participate as a citizen with dignity.
In addition to improving women’s and girl’s lives, the Spotlight Initiative will increase the capacity of civil society to provide services, ensure Government’s accountability to a violence-free society, and enable civil society to advocate on behalf of society.
Days of campaigning are a time for us to gain new knowledge and publicly declare that there is a social problem that needs addressing as a priority.
But once the banners come down and the badges and T-shirts are put in the drawers, the work begins.
So if you happen to be a CEO in the private sector, a nurse, a judge, teacher, police officer, an auntie or uncle, friend, even for, what I am saying is; any person in any type of position where you interact with people, make sure that so long as you know the moral imperative around violence in society and you are committed, your job never ends.
Delphine Serumaga is the Country Representative of UN Women in Zimbabwe