Women have been conditioned to uphold the very traditions and cultural practices that perpetuate their being discriminated against in many ways.
social commentary:with Moses Mugugunyeki
At times, these practices are initiated by men in the name of culture and tradition.
Tendai Moyo, a mother of two, has for 10 years endured an abusive relationship.
“It was all rosy at the beginning of our marriage and our relationship was blessed,” Moyo said.
“However, things changed when my husband stopped going to church. He turned a drunkard and all hell broke loose.
“I suddenly became his punch bag. I kept quiet and never spoke to anyone about it. Even my church elders would ask if all was well, but l kept it to myself.”
Despite a plethora of cultural norms and values that are positive and which contribute to keeping valuable tradition alive, women and girls remain the most vulnerable to gender-based violence.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Paragraph 112 says: “Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women defines gender-based violence (GBV) against women as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately”.
Such violence takes multiple forms, including: “acts or omissions intended or likely to cause or result in death or physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, threats of such acts, harassment, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty”.
The Committee considers GBV to be a form of discrimination, under Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women..
In most societies, to a lesser degree, women and girls are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class and culture.
According to UNFPA, in Zimbabwe, about one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and about one in four women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
The advent of the Covid-19 outbreak, with lockdown measures, saw a surge in violence against women, especially domestic violence.
It is against this background that Zimbabwe from November 25 to December 10 joined the rest of the world in a campaign meant to raise awareness on violence against women.
This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign runs under the theme Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect.
The theme bolsters the UN secretary-general’s appeal and UN system-wide rapid response to the alarming surge in violence against women and girls seen this year.
Violence against women and girls has turned out to be a global human rights challenge, hence the need to have concerted efforts in dealing with the elephant in the room.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed this issue as a global emergency requiring urgent action at all levels, in all spaces and by all people.
“There is need to have increased efforts to recognise, acknowledge and act to end GBV in all its forms, regardless of who is affected,” said Zimbabwe Gender Commission CEO Virginia Muwanigwa.
“The painting the world orange mantra is speaking out, demanding accountability for ending GBV.
“It is joining hands to demand deterrent sentencing for convicted perpetrators!”
Communication and dialogue within the family and community at large is seen as a panacea to breaking the culture of silence around gender-based violence.
“I was shy to share my experiences with my church mates. I tried to speak to my husband’s sister to no avail,” said Moyo.
“However, l managed to reach out to a friend who engaged my husband’s friend. It was difficult at first, but the engagements knocked sense into my husband.”
Although involvement of men is seen as the key in fighting gender-based violence, dialogue and communication have a positive allusion in addressing issues
related to violence against women.
Councillor Idirashe Dongo from Zibagwe Rural District Council said cases of violence against women were a cause for concern in her area.
She believes breaking the culture of silence around gender-based violence is one way of addressing the issue.
“As a leader championing gender equality, l believe communication is key in addressing gender-based violence issues, including sexual abuse,” she said.
Dongo, who heads the gender committee in her council, said they have come up with a plethora of challenges to tame violence against women and girls in Zibagwe.
“One of our strategies is to help women break the silence around gender-based violence. We are going around the ward engaging women and mobilising them into groups where they can share ideas,” she said.
In a speech to mark the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said GBV was prevalent and called for a collective approach to curb it .
“Violence against women is also a pandemic – one that pre-dates the virus and will outlive it. As we face Covid-19’s devastation, there has never been a more important moment to resolve to put our combined resources and commitment behind the biggest issues, and to end violence against women and girls, for good,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Gender activist Nyaradzo Mashayamombe said dialogue and communication were a vital tool in fighting GBV.
“Coming out in the open and sharing your experiences with others is vital in fighting gender-based violence. We have in our programmes tried to encourage dialogue at getting people to identify and do something themselves about gender-based violence,” Mashayamombe said.
She said at the grassroots, families should practice live communication regularly to help with the reduction of violence against women.
“Dialogue and communication are viewed as innovative interventions aimed at breaking the culture of silence around gender-based violence,” she said.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Together, we must tackle male violence that affects and damages everyone — families and communities, societies and economies — and holds back all our efforts for peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. We need to increase accountability and question attitudes and approaches that enable violence.
“And we must provide resources for women’s civil society organisations on the frontlines.”