Women deserve to live in peace and dignity


IN ZAMBIA, the problem of violence not only against women and children, but men and boys, is worrisome and no longer an isolated problem, but a widespread, harrowing, tragic and daily affair that can no longer be ignored as it touches and impacts every Zambian in one way or the other.

One only has to pick a daily newspaper to witness the violence that is occurring in our homes, schools and communities.
Evidence indicates that women and girls are at greater risk and are generally less able to avoid or escape abuse. However, boys and men may also face sexual assault and other forms of violence as we have seen in the recent newspaper reports in Zambia. Forty-three percent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence, while 17 percent in the same age group have experienced sexual violence (ZDHS 2013/14).
It is often believed that the incidence of violence is higher among the poor, those residing in rural areas, less educated and unemployed. But the DHS survey found no significant difference among these variables with regard to women’s experience of both domestic and sexual violence.
Policy environment, magnitude and type of sexual and gender-based violence
The enactment of many laws and policies seeking to enhance enjoyment of rights by women such as the Penal Code Amendment Act of 2005, Anti-GBV Act, No.1 of 2011, Gender Equity and Equality Act No. 22 of 2015, 2014 Gender Policy, and stiffer penalties for perpetrators of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) has contributed to a stronger legal and policy framework.
However, the efficacy of these laws and policies is yet to be felt by most women. Consequently, cases of sexual and other forms of violence have continued to rise.
Despite the stiff penalties, incidents of defilement are still alarmingly high, with national data from Zambia Police Service totalling 2,363 by the end of 2016. For example, even though defilement carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years, if the offender is found guilty, it is still one of the most common types of violence. Indications are that this year the number of reported cases of defilement is likely to be higher than the figure of 2,363 that was recorded in 2016. During the same year, the Police Service recorded over 18,000 cases of GBV, compared to over 14,000 in 2013.
The average age of defiled victims is between 11 and 15 years, but there have been reports of children still in their infancy being defiled, in most cases by their close relatives.
This clearly shows that GBV cases are increasing with the majority of victims being women and children. Now, whether or not the increase could be attributed to heightened awareness, and hence increased reporting, you will agree that these numbers are significant and only the tip of the ice berg, given the fact that many GBV cases go unreported.
Our grandmothers have not been spared either. When they should be living in peace after contributing so much to society, they have become victims of violence. Worse still, a new trend of violence has emerged known as grannicides, where the elderly on suspicion of practising witchcraft are killed. The Times of Zambia dated August 21, 2017, reported several killings of elderly people suspected of witchcraft in Muchinga Province. Grandmothers are neither spared from rape by young men who could be their grandchildren. To put it plainly, this is unacceptable.
The question is, what will be the tipping point before we can all say enough is enough? Evidence shows that gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence. Victims of violence can suffer negative sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, obstetric fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and in worst cases even death.
Impact of sexual and other forms of violence on development
There is a direct link between violence and sustainable development. Violence against women prevents an economy from attaining its full potential. This results in lower economic growth and a reduced standard of living. Violence, therefore, has a significant negative influence on gross national product well-being.
Studies of the prevalence of violence against women worldwide indicate that violence is costly.
Costs can be found in the following major categories: Justice, health, social services, education, business costs, personal or household costs and intangibles. Every recognisable effect of violence has a cost, whether it is direct or indirect (Tanis Day, PhD; Katherine McKenna, PhD; Audra Bowls).
An example of a direct cost is money spent on a taxi fare to a hospital and salaries for staff in a one-stop centre and shelter. An example of an indirect tangible cost is lower earnings and profits resulting from reduced productivity. There are also direct costs that cannot be quantified monetarily, for example, pain and suffering, and the emotional loss of a loved one through a violent death. Finally, there are also indirect intangible costs such as the negative psychological effects on children who witness violence which cannot be estimated numerically. These costs can be borne by individuals, including victims, perpetrators, or other individuals affected by violence; businesses; governments at all levels; and by society in general.
A Paradox: Violence and peace co-existence?
How can a country be perceived as peaceful and yet experience extreme violence among its people? This is indeed a paradox that needs to be investigated. Zambia is known as a haven and oasis of peace that is unrivalled by many neighbouring countries and indeed the world over. The violence?
As citizens, we make it a point of pride to be able to say that our nation is and will remain an oasis of peace in the region. And as citizens, we can’t afford to be complacent about the well-being and rights of our most vulnerable population – women and children. We need to stand up and do what we can – EVERYTHING we can – to reverse this alarming trend. Nationally, there’s a consensus that Zambia can and must reverse this epidemic of violence within a generation, and in our respective institutions and capacities, we should be at least that ambitious.
And we already have the knowledge, the tools and the capacity to do it. While we can’t turn the tide on this epidemic overnight, we do know what works – violence is not an incurable disease.
What are some of the solutions?
Primary prevention of violence has received much less attention overall than the health and justice sector interventions. Despite the devastating effect violence has on women, children, families and society at large, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors.
1. Prevention – The best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes. Experts agree that prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls promoting respectful relationships and gender equality. Zambia is implementing Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for both in and out – of school adolescents and youth. This is a great opportunity to build the foundation for positive values among our children. However, no matter what we say, our children will notice and emulate what we do – these norms and values must begin at home.
2. Working with men and boys helps accelerate progress in preventing and ending violence against women and girls. They can begin to challenge the deeply-rooted inequalities and social norms that perpetuate men’s control and power over women and reinforce tolerance for violence against women and girls.
3. Awareness-raising and community mobilisation and dialogue including through media and social media, is another important component of an effective prevention strategy.
4. Communication and conflict resolution – Let us empower girls and women, educate our girls and boys on communication, conflict resolution and tolerance for diversity, to stand up for social justice. Let us help families, and strengthen communities to communicate openly.
5. Role of faith-based organisations – Churches have a paramount responsibility in the prevention of all forms of violence. “Correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women, and to relationships based on mutuality and love,ʺ whereas misinterpretations of Scripture and church teachings ʺcan contribute to the victims’ self-blame and suffering, and to the abuser’s rationalisations.ʺ
For instance, silence from the pulpit on the topic of domestic abuse can indeed become a roadblock for victims and lend support to their victimisation. (Catholic News Service * Viewpoints * March 2006). Our church leaders must speak up against these atrocities on our children, daughters, nieces, sisters, aunties, mothers and grandmothers.
These issues overlap and intersect. We cannot do one without the other. In our gender-based violence programmes, or in our school and out-of-school programmes, in our church and community programmes, in our workplaces, we must be on a mission to eliminate violence.
We don’t mean to suggest that these goals are the easiest in the world to achieve, and there are barriers, within families, schools, communities and government, to achieving these goals. It’s going to take a concerted, committed, nation and community-wide effort for us to safeguard peace in our nation. And the investment won’t be insignificant. But we tend to believe – and we are sure you’ll agree – that no investment in ending this epidemic can ever be too much.
Dr Mary Otieno is the UNFPA Zambia country representative while Dr Felix Victor Phiri is permanent secretary in the Ministry of Gender.

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