Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
AS THE year 2018 comes to a close, I find it worth pondering on the problem of gender-based violence (GBV), the commonest infringement of the human rights of women and girls in Zambia.
For your information, indications are that there were more reported gender-based violations against women and girls in Zambia this year than in the previous years.
Of the reported cases, sexual and physical violence are the most common abuses that continue to hinder women from enjoying their human rights and exploring their full potential in life.
The GBV prevalence in Zambia has between 2012 and 2016 gone up by 50 percent. At the centre of the violations of women and girls are the unequal power relations between men and women, negative cultural practices which permit the subordination of females to males and the culturally embedded sexual violence against women.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres aptly puts it that “at its core, violence against women and girls is the manifestation of a profound lack of respect – a failure by men to recognise the inherent equality and dignity of women. It is an issue of fundamental human rights”.
Whereas the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights demands that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, this is not so for women and girls who are perpetually subjected to GBV and its intrinsic emotional torture.
In the third quarter of this year, 6,116 cases of GBV were recorded by the Zambia Police countrywide, compared to 5,096 cases that were recorded during the same period last year.
This signified an increase in reported cases by 16.7 percent.
Police are yet to release statistics for the last quarter of the year, but indications are that the scourge is taking an upward turn.
From the year 2009 until now, more cases of GBV have been reported, raising the concern of Government, the United Nations (UN) in Zambia and the women’s movement under the umbrella of the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC).
The NGOCC has actually demanded that Government should convene a national indaba on GBV in the first quarter of 2019 to bring stakeholders to the table to find a lasting solution to the problem.
NGOCC board chairperson Mary Mulenga, who made the proposal recently, feels GBV is fast escalating into a national crisis.
Mrs Mulenga argues that the current punishment being meted out against perpetrators of GBV, is not deterrent enough to stop the vice.
True to the NGOCC’s observation, in 2009, 9,261 cases of GBV were reported; then the figure went up to 12, 924 in 2012; thereafter they shot up to 18,088 in 2015; whereas in 2016, 18,540 cases were reported; and by 2017, the number skyrocketed to 21,504.
Stakeholders argue that the reported cases are just a tip of the iceberg because of the tendency by many victims to remain tight-lipped under the veil of tradition.
For example, many battered wives don’t report their abusive husbands to police because of the common belief that a husband has the right to slap and kick his wife to ‘chasten’ her.
Spouse battering is also seen as an expression of love by a husband for his ‘erring’ wife, and traditional counsellors actually teach women to accept ‘moderate’ levels of spanking from a man.
Friends would in fact pour scorn on a woman who is never beaten by her husband that she is not loved by her non-aggressive spouse.
With that misconception, some battered wives would endure the violence to the point of losing their lives.
And because poverty often bears a ‘female face’, economically insecure women find it difficult to have their abusers prosecuted in the courts of law. If the victim of GBV depends on her abusive partner for upkeep, chances are high that she would keep quiet about it and endure the abuse quietly.
For example, only 43 percent of Zambian women who have experienced physical and sexual violence have sought help from any source, the NGOCC board chairperson said, quoting the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) 2013/2014.
Mrs Mulenga, speaking at the launch of the commemoration of the 2018 16 Days of Activism Against GBV last month, added that 9 percent of the women who had experienced violence had never told anyone.
“It is regrettable that many Zambian cultural beliefs and norms strongly perpetuate GBV. For example, the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey of 2013/2014 found that a large majority of women (85%) and men (69%) believed that a husband is justified in beating his wife for at least one reason,” Mrs Mulenga said.
What this means is that women themselves believe more in the culture of wife battering than men do. A lot of work then needs to be done to change mindsets of not only culprits but victims of GBV.
At the centre of GBV in Zambia is the sexual assault of girls. From court news, one can reckon that there are more people going to jail for sexual assault of girl children than any other crime.
Perhaps, rapists occupy more space in our correctional facilities than other criminals.
I stand to be corrected, but it seems every week we have a good number of men all over the country going to jail for child defilement.
A number of girl children have been left with indelible emotional scars; some have been impregnated by their fathers and fatherly figures, while others have been infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
With the same vigour that the courts are sending sexually perverted minds to court, offenders seem undeterred in their predatory sexual behaviour against children.
Perhaps, the Anti-GBV indaba that the NGOCC is proposing in the first quarter of 2019 is worth considering.
The United Nations (UN) in Zambia is actually worried about the scourge of GBV against girls and women in Zambia.
Acting as UN Resident Coordinator, Medhin Tsehaiu, at the commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, said that the scale of GBV in Zambia was too high.
Dr Tsehaiu observed that the level of reporting GBV in the country has steadily risen since the start of the programme to upgrade the Anti-GBV Act and introduce fast track courts.
“ In 2012, 12,924 crimes were reported; in 2016, that number had risen by 50 percent to 18,540 – around 50 a day, every day of the year,” he said.
The UN believes that GBV affects about 43 percent of women in Zambia, or 1 in every 2 women, causing untold pain to victims, and high economic costs to the country.
Apart from tearing down lives of victims, GBV also has a crippling effect on productivity and, consequently, economic output.
Globally, the cost of violence against women could amount to about 2 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually.
The UN says this is equivalent to US$1.5 trillion, according to research. This means that violence against women and girls is a worldwide problem; the UN Secretary General calls it a global pandemic.
It also means that while affected individuals suffer indescribable pain and economic loss, national economies too have to pay in terms of low economic output and bearing associated costs, for instance in form of medical care for victims and loss of man-hours or death of economically active individuals.
Therefore it is in the interest of everyone in the country to stop GBV.
To encourage victims of abuse to seek justice, the Anti-GBV Act of 2011 obligates the state to create temporary shelters and a fund for survivors of GBV.
The one-stop shelters are also meant to spur victims of GBV to become self-reliant through skills training.
While there, GBV survivors would receive the necessary support to learn how to earn their bread so that they don’t go back to abusive partners.
Away from the reach and influence of abusive breadwinners/guardians, all victims of abuse, including girl children, will have no reason to withdraw cases from court. However, these shelters are still under making seven years after the Act came into force.
Notably, Government has shown political will to the campaign against GBV by, for instance, enacting the Anti- Gender Based Violence Act and the Gender Equity and Equality Act of 2015.
The Government has gone further to create GBV fast-track courts in Eastern, Copperbelt, Lusaka, Central, Western and Southern provinces. The courts, which are child-friendly, are helping in the speedy disposal of cases.
Stakeholders are demanding that Government should make funds available for the establishment of fast-track courts in Northern, Luapula, Muchinga and North-Western provinces. Hopefully, we will see this happening next year.
Government has also embarked on the construction of some shelters for survivors of GBV. What remains is furnishing them with the necessary tools so that GBV survivors could start utilising them.
The NGOCC and other partners have been calling on Government to allocate enough resources for the full implementation of the Anti- GBV Act.
Specifics in their appeal are the establishment and operationalisation of the anti- GBV fund, as well as temporary shelters for the survivors of GBV.
These things should be doable, given the political will that Government has shown to the anti-GBV crusade.
The other critical need is to rally more stakeholders such as the Church, corporate bodies, individuals and survivors of GBV to this noble campaign.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com. Phone: 0211-221364/227793
Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA