I had just come back from work when I heard screams coming from my neighbours’ house; Before I knew it, I heard sounds of thunder-like claps being showered on the petite woman. As usual whenever there is an incident in a high density suburb it does not take time for people to gather to observe for curiosity, entertainment and of course data collection for ‘sharing purposes’.
The full-grown man, a father and husband shouted “wanga urikupi unofunga kuti ndakapusa inini! Wandisiya mumba uchiti ukudzoka,wanga uchirikupi?! Nhasi ukuenda kumba kwenyu!” (Where were you? You think I am a fool, you said you would be back! Today you will go back to your home! ) as he began to slap her again. Their landlord seemed to be both uninterested and mute as she watched the man slap the petite woman. The men in the gathering crowd said that the petite lady ought to be disciplined, that only men were allowed to be out till late in the night. As the people dispersed, I could still hear some quarrelling in the background as I tried to peep through the Dura wall.
Gender Based Violence Normalised?
After the incident I could not help but wonder why no one had dared to restrain the full-grown man from beating the petite woman. Why didn’t anyone call the police? Instead everyone, we, I had observed and retired to our households. I pondered on why this violence had been ‘normalized’, about why people rather cheered on while a woman is being beaten up .
Was it because of the saying that “zvevaviri hazvipindirwi” (One must not involve themselves in matters involving two people) or because growing up whenever a woman would report of any abuse to her aunts or grandmothers would be told to ‘hang in there’ because that was part and parcel of a marriage. I guess you can’t enjoy the smell of the roses without the pricking thorns?
However there are other reasons that influence people to choose not to help or intervene during a violent act; fear of being victimised by the abuser ,waiting for the other bystanders to take action before they do it and even others convincing themselves that it is not their “ problem’’ to solve. Witnesses or bystanders choose not to intervene because they keep on telling themselves that they don’t have to act unless someone else does and this often results in them observing instead of taking action during a violent act.
In relation to people choosing not to act, it reminds me of the viral video that circulated on social media in which a shebeen owner beat up a lady over a debt. Through the lens of the bystander or the observer one saw how many people chose not to intervene and instead observed closely with the exception of the guy who was wearing a red t-shirt. This guy had tried to restrain the shebeen owner but his actions were in vain as the shebeen owner continued to beat the lady. This video showed how one can fall victim if they chose to intervene during a violent act, how people in this technological era chose to take videos and pictures during such atrocious acts instead of intervening.
The Gravity of Gender Based Violence in Zimbabwe
Although many choose not to intervene the consequences of gender based violence in Zimbabwe are grave. According to Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey one in every four women in Zimbabwe is abused and the abuser is often someone they know. Most survivors experience low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, fails to go to work and others die at the hands of their abuser when they don’t muster up the courage to leave. Also many gender based violence cases are not reported to the police because the survivors fear the stigma that is experienced in the society. Due to these grave consequences I believe we ought to stand up against gender based violence but how can one chose not to be a bystander?
How to not be a Bystander
After being a passive observer during the violent act I woke up the following morning to sweep the yard as I waited, hoping that I would see her emerge. It would at least give me a little consolation that she had lived to see another day. With a swollen face she later emerged to do her daily routine. After exchanging pleasantries I felt relieved that yes she was still standing. Yes she was bruised, but what mattered most to me was she was ALIVE!
What will I do the next time I am a witness to a violent act? I believe I will call the police to come help but for those who would want to intervene during an altercation or a violent act, always take heed of your own safety before you intervene, call the police before you intervene,and when talking to the survivor make it all about them not about the abuser. Also I believe many awareness programs should be run to conscientize people on gender based violence and our fellow police officers ought to be trained on how to handle survivors because many times they mock the survivor or downplay their situation when they come through to report their case.
In conclusion I believe one day, change will come but for now the fight against gender based violence continues not only in the homes but more so within ourselves.
Article written by Melody Chingwaru, a lady aged 25.She is a French tutor and passionate about women and children.
Main image taken from www.slideshare.com