BY MOSES MUGUGUNYEKI
For close to eight years Marina Chibanda had to endure an abusive relationship.
Her husband had turned her into his punching bag, especially when he got home intoxicated.
Initially, she would seek refuge at a friend’s place in the neighbourhood, but the husband would follow and vent his anger at the friend.
Efforts to go back to her parents would always hit a brick wall as no one accepted her at home because the family insisted that she stays with her husband after she had eloped without her father’s blessing.
“I was only a kid when I fell pregnant and eloped to stay with my boyfriend. My family tried to bring me back home, but I refused,” Chibanda said.
“I am now 26 and I got married when I was 18. My husband took advantage of my desperation and he would beat me when he felt like.
“His parents chased us from their house and we went to live at a rented cottage in the same area.”
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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.
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.
Since religious leaders and communities play a vital role in dealing with societal challenges, they are crucial partners in addressing GBV.
“One of our neighbours visited me when my husband was away and she asked me why I was being assaulted day and night,” Chibanda said.
“I did not have a definite answer and she asked me to join her one Sunday morning for a service at a local church.
“She introduced me to other church members, especially women of my age and I became part of the church.
“From discussions we had as women coupled with sermons, I became empowered enough and started a small business venture.
“Just because I was getting a few dollars from my business, I did not bother my husband as I used to do in the past.
“I later joined a mukando group within the church and women in the church supported me. Mai Mufundisi was with me all along and my life changed drastically.”
Chibanda said her family accepted her back after realising that she was born again.
“Mai Mufundisi took me home and spoke to my parents and she even approached my husband, who has since stopped beating me and is now assisting me in the business,” she said.
“I now visit my family and my young sisters come to my place.
“My husband is the one operating one of our tuck-shops.
“Yes, we sometimes quarrel, but we don’t fight. We are friends and we assist each other. He does not go to church, but he supports me being in the church.”
Chibanda said apart from counselling from elders in the church, Bible teachings through preaching and discussions have been helpful.
She said the GBV subject was a regular feature on the church programmes, particularly when family issues are brought to the fore.
Young Women’s Christian Association executive director Muchanyara Mukamuri said religious leaders and churches were critical in curbing gender-based violence.
“Religious leaders play a critical role in shaping up strategies to end GBV in our communities because they have a huge following. What they say usually is followed,” said Mukamuri.
“This is primarily because Zimbabwe has religious people where the majority being Christians, their leadership is believed to be a calling from the mighty powers, when they speak, people listen. Society should use them as the conduit to disseminate information on ending GBV.”
Mukamuri said religious leaders should be the entry point in the community.
Her sentiments were echoed by Zimbabwe Women Against Corruption Trust director Sandra Matendere who said the church was the best platform to unite people.
“The church as an institution has the duty of uniting people and strengthening marriages,” Matendere said.
“However, faith-based organizations work closely with churches through their leaders in complimenting government efforts to preach about peace, love and unity.
“Faith based organisations are closer to the community, so it’s easier to fight GBV by providing guidance and counselling services.
“A lot of women in communities are suffering in silence and they don’t report cases of GBV, so faith based organizations can facilitate platforms where women feel safe to report and speak out about GBV.”
Matendere said civic society should partner churches in holding GBV awareness campaigns in communities through the promotion of positive behaviour practices within families.
“Faith based organizations should also engage grassroots women and help introduce income generating projects as a way to economically empower them and in the process help reduce GBV,” she said.
Family therapist and counsellor as well as founder of the Wisdom Institute International Zimbabwe church Mazvariraishe Mabhugu believes religious leaders are the most qualified people to deal with GBV.
“The church has role to speak out, engage and act against gender based violence because psychological, physical and emotional abuse affect all — girls and women, boys and men,” said Mabhugu.
“GBV has no respect for one’s gender, race, social status, political persuasion or religion; therefore, it’s a subject that needs to be handled by religious leaders.”
Mabhugu said as a survivor of GBV, he was best suitable to help others deal with the scourge.
“I encourage the survivors of abuse to report to the police apart from preaching against it,” he said.
“We educate our members and society about the ugly consequences of such behaviour and being a family therapist/counselor I deal with this literally every day.”
Padare/Enkundleni Men’s Forum programmes’ officer Paul Vingi said one of their strategies in curbing GBV was involvement of faith-based organisations.
“You will realize that about 80% of our population goes to churches so as part of our intervention programmes we believe working with religious leaders is one way of curbing GBV,” Vingi said.
“If issues of GBV are spoken of in church by the leaders, we feel it will go a long way in curbing the scourge.”
Vingi said his organisation was working with different groups in addressing GBV and these include traditional leaders, artistes, church leaders, the media and policy makers.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches, an ecumenical organisation which represents 25 denominations, has trained more than 100 women in communication, planning, organising, conflict resolution and financial management with the aim of creating an enabling environment for women within the church.
For Chibanda, she has become a regular member of the church and shares her testimony at religious foras.
- This story was made possible by the Women Coalition of Zimbabwe, with support from Womankind Worldwide and Women in Politics Support Unit, as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.