Decades later, we are still fighting patriarchy and inequality between men and women, with the latter mostly at the receiving end of gender based violence (GBV). The scenario is so warped that even good education and economic empowerment have not liberated some women from the vagaries of GBV.
GBV manifests in many forms and remains a widespread human rights issue as well as a growing public health problem in Zimbabwe. The 2010-2011 Demographic Health Survey report reveals that at least one-third of the women in Zimbabwe have experienced some form of physical violence since the age of 15.
Media reports have it that by mid-June this year, there had been at least 149 cases of brutal domestic violence that saw women lose life or limb. Recent police statistics on abuse also depict a harrowing state of the condition of women in Zimbabwe, and the number of cases going unreported can only be imagined. In spite of the Domestic Violence Act, cases of GBV have been on a steady increase, depicting extreme manifestation of gender inequity that targets women and girls because of their subordinate social status.
As violence against women increases, it takes on new forms and its survivors become younger. Women experience various types of violence that include physical abuse, sexual violence, emotional and psychological abuse, as well as harmful traditional, religious and cultural practices among others. Harmful traditional practices like early forced marriage; marital rape and practices like polygamy are rampant and violate the sexual, reproductive and human rights of women.
The effects of GBV are often devastating and long term, affecting the physical health and mental well-being of women and girls. It does not end there. The ripple effects can compromise socio-economic development and in the long term, the ability of a country to move away from the poverty scourge. Last week Katswe Sistahood, an organisation working on the frontlines for the sexual and reproductive rights of young women, told the violence stories of women through eclectic song and dance.
Among others, Katswe shared the all too familiar stories of women suffering violence at the hands of in-laws; of "corrective" rape survivors forced to mother unwanted babies; of women experiencing arbitrary arrests and police brutality under the banner of loitering and soliciting. An outstanding theme in most of the stories was how a majority of women stay in abusive relationships when the option to walk out seems so simple.
Some research findings have shown that a lot of women just lack the financial independence that would enable them to do so. While economic empowerment and good education has not and does not necessarily translate into emancipation for some women, it is still an important fact that this lack of economic independence remains the greatest challenge for a lot of women. In simple terms, if you have no money, you often have no voice and no choices.
It is hoped that as the Ministry of Finance looks into plans for the next fiscal year, more provisions for gender specific and responsive budgets will be made. Making robust provisions for women, as an economically disadvantaged societal group through deliberate initiatives such as the Women's Development Fund (WDF) should be prioritised and adequate funds actually disbursed, not just "allocated". We applaud that through the women's fund, a robust implementation framework has been developed to ensure increased participation of women in key sectors of the economy.
However, more can be done. The judicial and health care systems are largely inaccessible to women. Lack of adequate and specialised services, legal and psychological support also prevent women from feeling confident enough to report violence or stay engaged with the justice system. Holistic approaches to domestic violence are therefore required.
There is also pervasive culture of patriarchy that will not just disappear overnight, but changing attitudes is a gradual process that calls for society to move out of their comfort zones and confront human rights abuses head on. The responsibility for gender mainstreaming has largely been left to women's organisations and the Ministry of Women's Affairs, which has notably been rolling out a 4Ps (prevention, participation, promotion and programming) campaign.
Mr Fungai Tichawangana, a board member of Katswe Sistahood, said something poignant recently, that very often society is busy coaching women and girls on how to avoid getting raped or abused in various ways, but the same society does not coach young men how and why not to rape women.
The Government in 2012 appointed and announced a 12-member domestic violence council tasked with facilitating effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. Part of the council's mandate is to make provisions for dealing with all aspects of domestic violence and monitor their effectiveness.
A Girl Child Empowerment Framework is apparently also being mulled by the Ministry of Women's Affairs to enable to meaningful inclusion of young people in economic planning. We applaud these moves as welcome developments in the face of a growing problem of GBV and the impunity society has awarded to it.