By Tariro Anne Chipanda
Although there have been countless efforts to stop the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) in Zimbabwe, the vice appears to be a persistent problem threatening the moral fabric of society.
GBV is violence directed against a person because of their gender or violence that affects people of a particular gender disproportionately.
In a highly patriarchal society like Zimbabwe, women and girls are primarily affected by GBV and their cries have received little or no attention.
One wonders why GBV, despite various efforts to address it, remains a challenge in our society. Contributing factors include patriarchal socio-cultural constructs, gender inequality between men and women as well as political and economic factors.
The patriarchal nature of Zimbabwean society is to a large extent discriminatory and contributes to the violence perpetrated against women and girls.
This part of society is treated as inferior humans, unable to do what men are capable of, which leaves them undermined, vulnerable and inferior.
However, this violates the constitutional rights of women and girls. This is evidenced 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 the citizenship.
(Sec.35) In Zimbabwe, underage women are beginning to experience gender-based violence, this can include physical abuse, forced marriages, emotional abuse, denial of resources or services, especially availability menstruation utensils and sexual violence.
The vulnerability of women girls in Zimbabwe has increased due to COVID-19. The pandemic has forced young women and girls to stay home with their abusers, increasing their vulnerability.
According to USAID, since the Covid-19 lockdowns began in March, Zimbabwe has seen a 60% increase in reported cases of gender-based violence. The national hotline of Musasa Project, an organization 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 significantly drastic. Apart from Covid-19, women suffer from gender-based violence as they have no voice within society and the police in general.
Although gender-based violence has negative effects on women or survivors, it actually affects economic and social structures. According to the World Bank, gender-based violence in Zimbabwe has resulted in a loss of around 3.7% of the country’s total GDP.
Indeed, gender-based violence affects women who are the breadwinners, it affects the female workforce and affects the companies they work for.
In other words, if they are educated, safe and healthy, their communities and their country benefit. Therefore, failure to provide adequate support to victims affected by gender-based violence leads to poverty.
To fight against poverty, the protection of women and girls must be guaranteed.
The Musasa Project is a helpful organization for victims of gender-based violence as they have a free helpline 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 of Zimbabwe has developed strategies to address gender-based violence and also child marriages, as they pose a threat to the human rights of women and girls. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats), 33.7% of girls under 18 are married.
Article 80 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe prohibits customs and practices that undermine women’s rights, including violence committed in the name of culture. The existing national gender policy protects women against gender-based violence by strengthening prevention and response institutions.
Many victims of gender-based violence, especially young adolescent girls and women, are exposed to health risks such as HIV and AIDS and this has a negative impact on their physical and mental health. Failure to provide post-violence care carries negative risks such as increased casualties from HIV and AIDS.
That’s why USAID’s Office of HIV and AIDS provides support to girls and young women by ensuring they are safe and healthy.
This is done by the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS Free, Mentored and Safe), it aims to reduce the high rate of HIV among young girls and women in the country.
In an effort to reduce gender-based violence, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) works with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, United Nations agencies and civil society by increasing the availability and using gender-based violence services for survivors and also reducing the normalization of gender-based communities.
UNFPA fights against GBV by raising awareness of gender-sensitive laws and services, it provides health care, psychosocial support and legal aid to 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 the rights of women. To the extent that there are organizations and constitutional laws that protect women’s rights against gender-based violence.
It can be noted that gender-based violence and child marriages are endemic in Zimbabwe. Indeed, hard-to-reach areas and rural areas have concealed harmful practices that violate women’s rights.
The use of lobola is a factor in gender-based violence as it causes early marriages or child marriages which the apostolic faith takes advantage of by offering false messages to appease the spirits by marrying younger girls with erroneous beliefs.
This is at the root of the high rate of child marriage in Zimbabwe. Therefore, women and girls with disabilities are the most vulnerable victims of gender-based violence and harmful practices.
Gender-based violence is inevitable in Zimbabwe because there are societies that are patriarchal and they are too ignorant to respect women’s rights. In some ways, some women and girls are afraid to report that they are victims of gender-based violence.
Tariro is a student in international relations at Africa University