Society often engages in discussions concerning gender based violence (GBV) ; with statistics, causes and recommendations to curb GBV being thrown all over. Advocates against GBV continue to lobby for new legislatures and stiffer penalties against perpetrators of violence in our societies. The eradication of this social evil does not seem to be anywhere be happening.
Videos and pictures on GBV victims and/or perpetrators are being posted on the internet, day in and out, with most viral videos on social media focusing on what the victim (usually a woman), would have done to elicit such violation. In our discussions we do not go further to ask what enables perpetrators of GBV to have the strength to commit such acts of cruelty. It is time that we, as the society question the GBV enabling structures we have put in place in our communities.
In Zimbabwe, one in four women has experienced sexual violence and in nine out of ten of the cases, the perpetrator is the woman’s current or former husband, partner or boyfriend. Statistics show that in 2015, GBV cases increased by 34% in Zimbabwe. News reports go on further to say that almost half of the women in Zimbabwe have experienced a form of GBV, with 99% of GBV perpetrators being men. Most of these women have had to remain in these abusive relationships due to reasons that will be explored in this article.
When even law enforcement agents cannot help the GBV victim
Over the years, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has put up victim friendly offices in their stations to assist victims who come to report violence. Yet, in most cases, the statement is taken right in the charge office, with almost all the police on duty staring at the victim and asking questions one after the other. In worse cases, the perpetrator is also called to the station, and officers attempt to resolve the issue opting for an out of court settlement. Although trying to reconcile people can be a good thing, it may not be the best solution for the woman who has to go back to the same house with the perpetrator. Victims are pushed back to the very terror that has the potential to claim their lives. With battered bodies, bruised confidence and shattered self-worth, sufferers of violence still have the burden of the possibility of carrying these bruises for the rest of their lives.
The law enforcement system should therefore explore new avenues to deal with partners that come to report abuse at the police station, and put in place mechanisms that protect the victim from the abuser. An example that can be followed is how Gender Desks at police stations in Tanzania have trained officers handling issues to do with gender based violence. As a country, we should make sure all our officers have recived these trainings and refresher courses should be organised to add to share new best practices.
Tradition and cultural systems aide GBV
Although a lot of governmental and civil society work has been done in the country with the aim of transforming urban and rural communities to support women empowerment and eradication of GBV, there are some traditional practices and customary laws that are abused by perpetrators of violence against women and children. Both girls and boys are brought up to believe that once lobola (bride price) has been paid or marriage rites have been performed, it is the right of the men to discipline his wife and children, even if it means violence in all its forms. The aunts, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends who form the traditional family circle and act as advisors for young brides also echo these sentiments in their teachings, thus male domination hegemony is instilled in society from a young age, enabling the GBV cycle to continue.
Women and girls are taught to live with abuse as the law of marriage and relationships for the sake of the children, the home, and ’marital pride’. They keep their domestic plights to themselves, not only to maintain respectability but also for financial security owing to the lack of education and a reliable source of income.
The church no longer protecting its flock
The rise of spiritual awareness and demand of doctrinal advice on almost everything including family life has seen the sprouting of churches in Zimbabwe. 80% of women and men in Zimbabwe claim to belong to a church, meaning that these religious institutions also house perpetrators and victims of GBV. Most women find solace in the community they build at church, be that as it may, patriarchal ideology has also infiltrated these safe places as GBV is taking place in the church. Once again, the men are the leaders of thought and attitude which often leads to the abuse of women
For instance, women who may have matrimonial problems are asked to bring the spouse to church for counselling this presents a problems; not only has the survivor opened herself up for ridicule and gossip from fellow female congregants, she has to explain to her husband why he is being summoned to church! That in its self has the potential to cause further abuse.
The abuse has also been taken up by the clergymen themselves, with reports of ‘men of God’ abusing female congregants. While there are initiatives such as the Gender and Faith Network, which exist to curb violence against women in religious spaces the church no longer becomes a safe haven for the women as they can also be abused within the institution, through false doctrine, and even simple brain washing. Society has the mandate to question the role of the church in promoting GBV, and also investigating the abuses that are taking place within the church. If a woman can no longer even run to the church for protection, what hope is then left?
Towards a safe world for women and girls
As a nation we must look amongst ourselves to find the loop holes being taken advantage of by the perpetrators of gbv. Institutions that aide GBV against women and children should be investigated and recommendations made and implemented without fail. We have the mandate to ensure the eradication of GBV as a society. We must find it within ourselves to have the courage to turn away from the ‘norms’ and ideologies that perpetuate the abuse of women and children.
Written by Nomagugu Maseko and Samantha Tatenda Majoni
Samantha Tatenda Majoni, a media and communication professional who enjoys analysing society through the mediated lens and
Noma is a 32 year old mother to a beautiful 4year old girl who is trying to raise her princess in an equal and safe Zimbabwe.
Main image taken from www.theinspirationroom.com