Ending structural violence against women


MONDAY December 10, 2018 marked the Human Rights Day. The day is observed each year in all UN member countries as the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This year’s Human Rights Day marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marking a landmark for the document that proclaim the inalienable rights which every citizen of the world is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, origin, status, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion etc.
According to the UN, the declaration sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It further, establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person including the values of equality, justice and human dignity. The universal declaration of human rights further empowers all citizens of the world; women, children, the aged, the physically impaired etc to meet their basic human rights.
However, despite the universal declaration of human rights in 1948, there are still many groups in our society today such as women and girls whose rights have continued to be violated by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. According to Galtung (1969) in his study on “Violence, Peace and Peace Studies”, this constitutes structural violence. For instance, the increased violence against women as witnessed in our country recently which is a growing epidemic has taken its toll on the physical, psychological, sexual and economic lives of many women. Structural violence against women can take many forms. For instance, it can stem from the interaction of patriarchy with other structural factors such as culture and the prevailing economic inequalities based on gender in our society.
Recently, there have been numerous reports of gender-based violence in the various media in Zambia. The consequences of such violations of women rights in form of structural violence are myriad. Structural violence impacts all aspects of women’s lives including their health, safety and that of their children and also society as a whole. Other physical health consequences of such violence against women in our society include injury, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, HIV/AIDS, permanent disabilities, depression, fear, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, obsessive behaviour etc. It is therefore, evident that such structural violence against women denies them their fundamental rights.
Recently, there has been increased sensitisation on women’s rights in our country and across the world. Various women’s movements and NGOs in our country have in the past launched campaigns against rape, domestic violence, and sexism against women. For instance, more recently, human rights activists in Zambia such as Linda Kasonde and Pamela Chisanga through the Women’s Lobby have been campaigning for political parties to sign a pledge condemning sexual abuse, harassment and intimidation of female leaders and calling for political parties to punish the perpetrators from within their parties. Despite such efforts however, women have continued to be victims of many forms of violence. Although there is no doubt that our patriarchal society has been one of the major sources of such structural violence against women, there is need for further cross-national studies to investigate other underlying factors that lead to violence against women regardless of it’s from in order to substantiate factors that influence or cause such violence against women across all levels of society.
The Zambian government has recognised the need for equal and full participation of women and men at all levels of national development and has put in place both legal and policy framework in order to attain its vision of full gender equality. For instance, the 2014 National Gender Policy which is aimed at ensuring the attainment of gender equality in the development process by redressing the existing gender imbalances. The policy also provides for equal opportunities for women and men to actively participate and contribute to their fullest ability and equitably benefit from national development (GRZ, 2014). Other gender related laws in Zambia include the country’s Constitution under the Bill of Rights which provides for the non-discrimination of women’s rights, the Anti Gender-Based Violence Act of 2011, the revised Penal Code (2005), and the Gender Equity and Equality Rights Bill of 2015. Other institutional mechanisms include the establishment of the Ministry of Gender in 2012, which was previously an office under Cabinet Office responsible for gender issues in the country. However, despite such institutional mechanisms put in place to address these gender imbalances in our country, other retrogressive cultural and customary practices such as sexual cleansing, child and forced marriages, inequalities in women and property ownership all justify the oppression of women in our contemporary society which constitute structural violence against women which should be addressed to align them with our country’s laws.
There is therefore, need for society, including men to stand up for the rights of women. This should begin by changing some of society’s attitudes and addressing the negative stereotypes towards women in our society that disadvantage them from fully participating in national development.
The author is a social commentator and blogger.

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