By Tariro Anne Chipanda
While there have been countless efforts aimed at arresting the scourge of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Zimbabwe, the vice appears to be an enduring problem threatening the moral fabric of society.
GBV is violence directed against a person because of his/her gender or violence that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately.
In a highly patriarchal society like Zimbabwe, women and girls are mostly affected by GBV and their cries have received little to no attention.
One wonders why GBV, despites various efforts to deal with it, remains a challenge in our society. The contributory factors include patriarchal socio- cultural constructions, gender inequality between men and women as well as political and economic factors.
The patriarchal nature of the Zimbabwean society is to a larger extent discriminatory and contributes to the violence perpetrated against women and girls.
This section of society is treated as lesser humans, incapable of doing what men are able to do which leaves them undermined, vulnerable and inferior.
However, this violates the Constitutional rights of women and girls. This is proven by the constitution of Zimbabwe on Equality and Non Discrimination which states that: (2) All Zimbabwean citizens are equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship and are equally subject to the duties and obligations of citizenship.
(Sec.35) In Zimbabwe women in minor age start to experience gender based violence, it may be physical violence, forced marriages, emotional violence, denial of resources or services especially availability of menstruation utensils and sexual violence.
The vulnerability of women girls in Zimbabwe has heightened because of COVID-19. The pandemic forced young women and girls to stay at home with their abusers thereby increasing their vulnerability.
According to the USAID, since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdowns in March, Zimbabwe experienced a 60 percent increase in reported cases of gender based violence. The national hotline of Musasa Project, an organisation that fights for the rights of victims of gender based violence, recorded a total of 4,616 reported cases of rape and violence during the lockdown period from March to July increased drastically. Besides Covid-19, women have been suffering from gender based violence as they lack a voice from the society and the police at large.
Although gender based violence has negative effects on women or survivors, in reality it affects the economic and social structures. According to the World Bank, gender based violence in Zimbabwe resulted in a loss about 3.7% of the country total GDP.
This because gender based violence affect women who are breadwinners to their families, it affects female workforce and affects the companies they work for.
That is if they are educated, safe and healthy, their communities and country benefit. Hence, the failure to offer adequate support over the affected victims from gender based violence causes poverty.
To tackle poverty, the protection of women and girls should be guaranteed.
The Musasa project is a helpful organisation to victims of gender based violence as they have a toll free help line to support them, they offer legal and medical assistance, and they provide temporary safe shelters and educational programs.
The project operates from cities such as Harare, Masvingo, Bulawayo and Gweru. The government in Zimbabwe they developed strategies to fight gender based violence and also child marriages as they are a threat to women and girls’ human rights. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistic Agency (ZimStats) 33.7% of girls aged below 18 are married off.
Section 80 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe outlaws customs and practices that infringe on the rights of women and this includes violence committed in the name of culture. The existing national gender policy provides protection of women from gender based violence by strengthening institutions for preventing and response.
Many victims of gender based violence especially young adolescent girls and women are exposed to health risks such as HIV and AIDS and it has a negative impact on their physical and mental health. The failure to provide post violence care have negative risks as the increase of victims with HIV and AIDS.
That is why the USAID office of HIV and AIDS provide support to girls and young women ensuring that they are safe and healthy.
This is done by the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS free, Mentored and Safe it aims to reduce high rate of HIV on young girls and women in the country.
In effort to reduce gender based violence the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) it works with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, United Nations Agencies and civil society by increasing availability and utilizing gender based violence services to survivors and also decreasing the normalising of gender based communities.
The UNFPA challenges GBV by increasing awareness of gender responsive laws and services, it provides health care, psychosocial support and legal aid to the survivors of gender based violence.
Zimbabwe is also part of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union. It is bound to follow the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and the African Union Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa to protect women rights. In as much there are organisations and constitution laws that protect women rights from gender based violence.
One can note that gender based violence and child marriages are rampant in Zimbabwe. This is because hard to reach areas and rural areas have obscured harmful practices that violate women rights.
The use of lobola is a contributor of gender based violence as it causes early marriages or child marriages that the apostolic faith take advantage of by offering false messages to appease spirits by marry younger girls with misjudged beliefs.
This causes the high rate of child marriages in Zimbabwe Hence women and girls with disabilities are the most vulnerable victims to gender based violence and harmful practices.
Gender based violence is inevitable in Zimbabwe as there are societies that are patriarchal and they are too ignorant to respect women rights. In some ways some women and young girls fear to report that they are victims of gender based violence.