Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
Zimbabwe will for the next 14 days join the rest of the world in commemorating 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence as the globe makes concerted efforts to end the problem. From November 25 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – to December 10 – Human Rights Day – the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign is a time to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
Running under the theme “Leave No One Behind: End Violence Against Women and Girls”, this year’s theme resonates well with Zimbabwe’s objective of ensuring that gender based violence is totally wiped away from our society. Several individuals, organisations and other stakeholders have over the years kept the vision alive by engaging in several activities – all meant to ensure that the vice is eradicated from society.
Activities ranging from raising awareness in communities, engaging perceived abusers, raising alarm to instructive actions that might lead to gender based violence have almost become a staple of the media year in year out.
This annual commemoration in Zimbabwe and beyond has increased community and public attention on the problem of domestic violence, resulting in the Government promulgating araft of laws that protect women and men from perpetrators of abuse. However, Zimbabwe continues to grapple with an unprecedented increase in gender based violence cases despite the ongoing campaigns.
Gender based violence has remained part of Zimbabwe’s unacceptable culture. In some cases, victims have been injured while some have died. Statistics actually point to an increase in gender based violence in communities across Zimbabwe with confirmed reports of injuries and death of some of the victims.
The Zimbabwe Health Demographic Survey of 2015 said there was an increase in cases of gender based violence in Zimbabwe with one out of three women having experienced gender based violence since the age of 15. During the same year a total of 377 288 cases of domestic violence were recorded compared to 356 963 in 2015, which was a 20 percent increase. Since the beginning of this year, media reports have shown a marked increase in reported cases of domestic violence where even high-profile individuals were implicated.
In July this year, MDC president Professor Welshman Ncube (56) found himself on the wrong side of the law and was arrested for allegedly assaulting his 33-year-old wife. Prof Ncube, a constitutional lawyer, allegedly assaulted Ms Minenhle Gumede on July 14 this year. The matter was reported to Hillside Police Station, Bulawayo, where a docket under CR42/07/17 was opened.
He was charged with physical abuse in terms of Section 3(1) (a) of the Domestic Violence Act. He is among hundreds of prominent individuals who disregard the very same legal statutes they claim to protect and expect everyone to uphold. The situation of gender based violence in Zimbabwe is untenable and calls for Government’s intervention at the highest level.
Achievement of zero tolerance to gender based violence will become a reality once the Government steps in and comes up with deterrent sentences for perpetrators of gender based violence. The Government will also need to facilitate easy access to justice for the community, especially women and children, conduct legal literacy and also expand its provision of free legal services. A number of gender based violence victims often resign themselves to their fate when they fail to access free legal services within a reasonable time frame.
As a result, individuals and communities lose faith in the legal system, arguing that the legal procedures are prone to manipulation and abuse by those with money and who are well connected. The campaign to end gender based violence is a very serious effort that cannot be relegated to one ministry and civic society, but it should be a national exercise. Instead of relegating the annual commemorations to one ministry, as is the case now, the Government can activate other ministries so that the campaigns are a collective effort whose response will cascade throughout the structures.
In the last few years, the government of South Africa has taken a proactive stance against gender based violence and has gone on nationwide campaigns to spread the message. The South African government’s official website has since put up a banner denouncing gender based violence, and runs messages daily on various campaigns taking place across the country. Already there are massive campaigns to end gender based violence in South Africa throughout the year, with its government optimistic that there would be a reduction in the cases of gender based violence within the next two years.