Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
IT’S that time of the year again when the world deliberately escalates efforts towards the prevention and elimination of violence against women and children because of its debilitating effect on the well-being of victims.
Zambia’s localised theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (October 25 to November 10) is “Orange the world: Raising an equality-conscious generation against GBV”.
The United Nations’ theme, which has an influence on global campaigns, states: ‘Orange the world: Generation equality stands against rape’.
Prime among our concerns in this 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is that violence against women and girls continues to hinder victims from exploring their full potential in life, 25 years after governments adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
For me, GBV is a driver of poverty because it stifles women’s participation in society, thereby trapping them in the quagmire of poverty.
Poverty continues to bear a woman’s face because of the gender inequalities that deprive women of opportunities that could help them live fulfilled lives as equal partners with their male counterparts.
Because of the many forms of GBV that are deeply engrained in our patriarchal system, women continue to have limited access to education services, economic opportunities, and this is made worse by their low representation in decision-making positions, labour market and business enterprises, among others.
So the feminisation of poverty continues 25 years after governments committed themselves to creating gender equality, whose progress is being hindered by mainly the wave of violence against women and children.
What has GBV got to do with poverty affecting women and children? You may be wondering.
Well, gender violence is an all-round evil that takes the form of child marriage, sexual violence, especially rape and child defilement, which has left lives of many girls shattered, and spouse battering, affecting women to a larger degree than their male counterparts.
Apart from physical violence that we all know as being in the GBV category, the Beijing Declaration also cites sexual harassment, intimidation in workplaces and institutions of learning, trafficking of girls and women for prostitution and unpaid labour, especially domestic work, forced prostitution, systematic rape and sexual slavery.
All these are forms of GBV which hinder women from either getting educated or realising their full potential in life as entrepreneurs, salaried workers and leaders at corporate, community and national levels.
So GBV, whether physically or emotionally-based, has a crippling effect on victims because it hinders them from fully participating in community activities, more so that it is entrenched in our traditional norms and values.
For example, forcing young girls to marry not only exposes them to forced sex, it also deprives them of the opportunity to get an education and break free from poverty.
Despite its negative effect on the health and livelihoods of women, child marriage continues to thrive on our bad traditions that degrade women as homemakers.
This is the reason why many adolescents in our rural communities tend to opt out of school and opt for marriage.
As a result of this scenario, girl children grow up with a low self-esteem, seeing themselves as second-class citizens because of the socially constructed gender-based stereotypes that spell out what women can and cannot do in society.
Generally, society has a low perception of women, the reason why the abnormal treatment of women and girls through such practices as forced sex, sexual harassment in school and workplaces, as well as discrimination in different spheres of human endeavour, is considered normal.
This explains why women still face an uphill battle in their quest to gain acceptance as able leaders despite having what it takes to function, for instance as Members of Parliament and councillors.
Sometimes women and girls themselves are inclined to accept the degrading treatment and discrimination they are subjected to because our social system is male-controlled.
As a result of this, girls will endure sexual violence and not talk about it. Some of our girls have had their lives shattered because they have been made mothers prematurely, while others have contracted sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, from their defilers.
Similarly, some women will put up with domestic violence and see it as a normal way of life because society tells them that beating one’s wife is a sign of love.
Based on the low status of women in society, husbands are given the green light to batter their wives when domestic disputes arise. It is no wonder that a lot of women and girls have lost their lives at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends.
Well, I know for a fact that some men too have been murdered by their intimate partners. It’s all because of our social system that condones spouse battering as a way of resolving disputes.
Obviously, GBV has a significant cost on our economy by way of deaths of economically active individuals, funeral costs, loss of man-hours occasioned by the injury of victims of assault, and of course medical costs to treat battered victims.
The United Nations (UN) in Zambia says GBV affects 43 percent women in the country or one in every two, according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) country director George Okuthu.
At global level, more than a third of women worldwide have experienced either sexual or physical violence at some point in their lives, according to Mr Okuthu.
Speaking on behalf of the UN at the launch of the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV in Lusaka, he further said that research indicates that the cost of violence against women amounts to about two percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP) annually. This amounts to US$1.5 trillion.
To support UN estimates on the scale of GBV are statistics from the Zambia Police Service that indicate that 6,788 cases of GBV were reported in Zambia countrywide during the third quarter of 2019 compared to 6,114 recorded in the third quarter of 2018. This represents an increase in GBV cases by 674 cases or about 10 percent.
As for forced sex against children, 773 young people were defiled between July and September alone, representing an 11.4 percent increase, compared to the same period in the previous year. Of these cases, 770 of the child defilement victims were girls (99.6 percent) and three of them boys (0.4 percent).
Regarding assault occasioning actual bodily harm, 1,928 cases were recorded countrywide, and of these victims, 1,640 were females (85.1 percent) and 288 (14.9 percent) males.
The frequency of violence against girls and women just in three months is very worrying. This is why we should all make concerted efforts to denounce GBV in our spheres of influence.
We need to create a Zambia where women and men, boys and girls will be accorded the same level of respect and treatment in society without partiality.
Everyone should be allowed to enjoy their social, economic, cultural and political rights without discrimination on the basis of gender.
GBV is a multi-faceted evil that not only affects individuals, but has telling consequences on communities and the nation at large.
We should all denounce it in one voice and raise awareness so that our children could recognise this evil at an early age to disassociate themselves from negative cultural practices that condone it.
We ought to eliminate all bad traditions on which gender violence thrives such as child marriage, forced marriage, sexual violence, child defilement and trafficking of women and girls for exploitation of varied forms.
Parents should go beyond paying lip service to the anti- GBV campaign by modelling good marriage values to their children where the exchange of blows and shedding of blood have no room.
Remember, children learn by observing how we live our lives, not by what we tell them.
So this 16 Days of Activism Against GBV is not for non-governmental organisations alone; families, schools, corporate bodies and the Church should come on board too.
Let’s talk about it, let’s walk the talk in our own spheres of influence.
Phone: 0211- 221364/227793
Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA