MWAPE MWENYA, Kasama/Mansa
IT HAS been two years since 40-year-old Foster Mwenya of Kasama was raped by a family friend, but the ordeal still lingers in her mind like it was yesterday.
“It was just like any other ordinary day, I went to bed around 20:00 hours without a thought of experiencing a nightmare. But to my surprise, around midnight, I heard a bang at the door to my bedroom and someone forcefully entered with a machete.
“I realised something wrong, I asked who it was and a male voice responded and asked me to co-operate, failure to which I would not live to see another day,” Ms Mwenya recollects.
Ms Mwenya, a mother of two boys, resolved to ‘co-operate’ with the stranger, as she could not imagine leaving her children orphaned.
She recollects how the stranger, whom she later recognised as a Gift, a family friend, forcefully spread her legs and raped her.
As if the pain of being raped wasn’t enough, the attacker, took a razor blade from his pocket and cut off Ms Mwenya’s labia majora and put them in his hat.
“Later he shaved my pubic hair and mixed it with other stuff in the hat and left me for dead,” she narrates in a composed state.
After the rapist left, Ms Mwenya gained the courage to scream for help. Her parents and neighbours promptly came to her rescue.
She recalls being rushed her to the police station and later to the hospital where she was treated.
“I‘m still shocked that my attacker was only sentenced to one year and eight months. As I speak, he is out of prison enjoying the freedom. During trial, he told the court that he did that to me because I was his wife, when in fact not. I just knew him as a family friend, who later took advantage of me,” she laments.
Ms Mwenya, who is being sheltered at a safe home run by the Young Women Christian Association in Kasama, is still traumatised about the incident and is undergoing psychosocial counselling.
Sadly, she is among other women, young and old, who have been victims of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) in all spheres of society.
A fact sheet by the Ministry of Gender and European Union (EU) shows that Zambia is faced with high levels of SGBV and child marriages, coupled with a high level of societal acceptance of GBV and domestic violence.
The report further indicates that awareness on existing support services for SGBV survivors is low and often, it is not systematically and comprehensively provided.
The first three quarters of 2017 saw 16,090 GBV cases reported compared to 13,092, for the first three quarters of 2016, representing a 18.6 percent increase.
It is to this effect that the European Union (EU) has pumped in €25 million (over K300 million) in the implementation of a new SGBV prevention and support programme to survivors in Zambia.
“The European Union has given this contribution to fight the scourge but is up to implementers to find a solution to this problem. I‘m encouraging you to forge an alliance and work together with the media, traditional and church leaders, as that is the only way we will see an end to this problem,” EU head of delegation to Zambia and COMESA Alessandro Mariani said.
Ambassador Mariani was in Kasama and Mansa this week to launch the SGBV prevention and support programme to survivors, which is expected to run between four to five years in the two districts.
He says the programme will be rolled out to 20 districts within Northern and Luapula provinces.
Ambassador Mariani disclosed this when he paid a courtesy call at Northern Province Permanent Secretary Elias Kamanga.
“The EU knows that the fight against SGBV is on top of things in Zambia, especially that President Lungu is the champion for the African Union to combat child marriages. We thought it was important to collaborate with Government to combat SGBV in the country,” Mr Mariani says.
He explains that Kasama and Mansa districts have been prioritised as reports indicate the two areas have not adequately benefited from similar projects.
Mr Mariani says the objective of the programme is to reduce SGBV in Zambia, through prevention awareness campaigns in the targeted areas, and increasing survivors’ access and use of comprehensive support services.
“I wish to encourage people to use the toll-free lines to report any case of abuse, while the childcare line is 116 and 933 for any GBV case. These lines are free and people should take advantage of them,” he says.
Ministry of Gender Permanent Secretary Auxilia Ponga says Government is determined to provide equal access to support services to disadvantaged groups.
In a speech read on her behalf by director of human resource Sandra Ndhlovu, Dr Ponga says the SGBV programme will strengthen Government’s institutional framework towards prevention and support services.
“This programme will also contribute to progressive achievement of sustainable development goal number five, on achieving gender equality and empowerment of women, girls, and goal number three on ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all ages,” Dr Ponga says.
Northern Province Permanent Secretary Elias Kamanga says cases of SGBV in the province are unacceptably high with over 10,000 cases reported annually.
“Shame on the women who choose to stay in abusive marriages and where children are also victims of violence. Women`s rights have for a long time been violated due to cultural, religion and societal beliefs,” Mr Kamanga laments.
He says access to information is key to fighting SGBV.
Kasama victim support unit representative Samuel Kakuwaha says 39 defilement cases were last year reported in the province compared to 71 in 2016.
Mr Sakuwaha attributes the reduction in the cases to concerted efforts by police and other stakeholders in raising awareness in communities on the dangers of the vice.