GENDER FOCUS with MWAZIPEZA CHANDA
ACTIVISM will be high on the womenâ€™s movement agenda next week, and in this Jubilee year. It is important to note that we owe it to our Independence heroes to free this country from gender-based violence (GBV).
Zambia has seen swelling numbers of horrific domestic abuse crimes against women and in some instances men.
Violence in homes occur in both urban and rural, high-income and low-income areas and in several instances these crimes are being perpetuated by personnel from the defence services such as the army and police. Disappointingly there have even been cases of pastors raping church members and teachers abusing pupils – this evil knows no boundary.
Physical, psychological and verbal attacks against women also occur on our streets and in our schools, no one is spared and no one deserves it.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign that starts on November 25, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day. The campaign aims to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international level.
This yearâ€™s theme for the 16 Days of Activism is: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the Nation: Stop Gender Based Violence, Empower a Woman.
The key word in this campaign is activism; which in a general sense can be described as intentional action to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change.
The majority of GBV victims remain in abusive environments due to lack of resources or poor support from family friends and community.
Gender-based violence is defined by the United Nations as any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, occurring in public or private life.
Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or economic abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, and any other person who is a member of the household, dependent, or parent of a child of that household. Domestic violence has negative health consequences on the victims and especially on the reproductive health of women
It is very common for a woman to be completely dependent on her abusive husband for food, clothes and shelter for herself and her children and is therefore forced to live with the indignity of years of black eyes, broken limbs and sexual assault simply because she has nowhere to go.
In other cases young girls are so intimidated by abusers that they fear for their lives and choose to keep secret the abuse inflicted on them by guardians, teachers or other authority figures. This submissive behaviour and culture of secrecy then continues into adult life.
Unfortunately many times the breaking point of GBV comes when the victim has suffered major and sometimes fatal injuries.
There have been so many cases recently of men killing their wives and then committing suicide. They leave behind traumatised children, families and communities.
While the nation at large is often shocked by such incidents, thousands of women suffer at the hand of abusive men every single day. The reactions to such events are usually two-sided.
Victims receive either sympathy or blame when their pictures and images are flashed on television screens and newspapers. A good number of GBV cases are connected to drunkenness and adultery.
If a woman is sexually-assaulted by men, the community is quick to ask why she was out in public at night. When a woman is beaten by her husband over food, she is often considered to be in the wrong.
Violence against women should never be tolerated and this is the time to speak out and remind perpetrators that GBV is a crime.
If the Central Statistical Office Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) is to be believed almost half (47 percent) of all the women they surveyed had experienced physical violence by the time they turned 15 years of age.
5,236 women were questioned during the survey and it was evident that majority of these attacks were experienced in the home at the hands of their partner which bears testimony to the high incidence of early marriage in the country.
Child marriage in Zambia affects 42 percent of girls nationwide. It is a gross human rights violation which constitutes a grave threat to young girlsâ€™ lives, health and future prospects – putting them at risk of violence, poverty, HIV and AIDS and complications related to pregnancy and childbirth which in developing countries like Zambia are the main causes of death among 15 to 19-year-old girls.
The 2007 ZDHS statistics indicate that child marriage occurs more frequently among girls who are the least educated, poorest and living in rural areas. Women aged 20-24 and living in rural areas were twice more likely to be married before age 18 compared to their urban counterparts.
The inclusion of the domestic violence module in the 2007 ZDHS was done in recognition of the presence of GBV as an economic, human rights, and health issue in Zambia.
The connection between illiteracy, poverty and poor health and gender-based violence cannot be denied and hence the need to empower our young girls and women.
From Peace in the Home to Peace in the Nation is the rallying cry of the 16 days campaign and in light of the death of our President Michael Chilufya Sata there is need to ensure peace prevails through the campaign period and beyond, as women and children are often the most vulnerable in society.
Our late President was a great icon of activism – he was known to be an action man who acted on his conscience to ensure the betterment of the downtrodden.
President Sata contributed to the gender-equality campaign through his appointment of women to various senior positions and the establishment of the Ministry of Gender and Child Development.
Beyond that, many social security programmes were established to help empower women and we have seen more women access loans and skills training as more financial institutions make them available.
The momentum towards empowering women should be maintained as this will benefit the whole nation.
Each and every one of us should feel compelled to honour the memory of our late President by participating in a small way towards eliminating GBV.
By participating in march-pasts, prayer meetings and community activities; we can also show solidarity to government agencies committed to improving the welfare of women.
On the social media front the use of the #16days hashtag can be used to debate and share information to help survivors of GBV.
It is encouraging to see more traditional leaders, politicians, non-governmental organisations, community leaders and individuals joining the anti-GBV fight.
It is my hope that we will all be activists in the 16 Days against GBV.
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GENDER FOCUS with MWAZIPEZA CHANDA