Today is the seventh of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a period during which the world focuses attention on violence that the vulnerable in society endure in homes, at the workplace and elsewhere.
The annual commemoration begins on November 25, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, ending on December 10 which is Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is “Leave No One Behind: End Violence Against Women and Girls.”
It is widely recognised that women bear the brunt of gender-based violence in basically all settings worldwide and girls suffer the worst.
The reasons why the foregoing is the case are many. The world is traditionally patriarchal, which means that men and boys tend to be regarded as superior to women and girls. Customs oppress women and girls. Not many of them are not allowed to own land and other important property.
In some settings women are supposed to do inferior jobs to those held by men and in cases when they do similar jobs, women earn less than men doing the same job. Also, women have no decision-making roles. Society weakens them socially and economically.
In our opinion it is these cultural factors that make women and girls vulnerable to gender-based violence with men and boys the perpetrators.
We note that in recent years, society has been moving to uplift women and girls from their inferior positions. In the West, women and men are almost at par in many respects but in more traditional settings like Africa and Asia more still needs to be done for parity to be achieved. It is these enduring challenges that must be addressed holistically, now.
This year’s theme is very pertinent in our country as women and girls still suffer violence against men and boys. In saying this, it is crucial for us to observe that violence is not just physical; it is also emotional; it is also economic.
The Zimbabwe Health Demographic Survey of 2015 says there was an increase in cases of gender-based violence in Zimbabwe with one out of three women having experienced gender based violence since the age of 15. During the same year a total of 377 288 cases of domestic violence were recorded compared to 356 963 in 2015, which was a 20 percent increase. Since the beginning of this year, like others before it, media reports have shown a marked increase in reported cases of domestic violence where even high-profile individuals were implicated.
This year, the focus of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence is on Africa. On Tuesday, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka visited Côte d’Ivoire as part of the proceedings.
In a statement, Ms Mlambo-Nqcuka highlighted the importance of Spotlight Initiative, a new, global, multi-year European Union and UN-led initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.
“Spotlight’s investment in Africa will have a particular focus on ending harmful practices that affect the younger elements of the population, like child marriage and female genital mutilation, and on sexual and gender-based violence. In other areas of the world the spotlight turns to other forms like domestic and family violence, femicide, trafficking in human beings, and sexual and economic exploitation. The consequences of each aspect of violence can be lifelong and cumulative for the girls and women affected. The consequences of changing that are similarly transformative.”
Her observations are true for Zimbabwe as they are for most of our continent.
Be that as it may, Zimbabwe, through the Government working with its co-operating partners is doing substantial work to reduce violence against women and girls and uplift their social, political and economic status.
Indeed child marriage is a problem in Africa, a point that Ms Mlambo-Nqcuka made in her statement this week but Zimbabwe, through the Constitutional Court did well in January last year by banning the practice. The ConCourt ruled that Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act which permitted children to marry was inconsistent with Section 78(1) of the new Constitution, which sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in Zimbabwe and, as such, should be outlawed.
That was an important ruling seeing that child marriages were rife especially in rural areas and some religious settings. Parents who send their minor children away into marriage or men who take young girls for wives must take note of this ban. If they don’t, they are courting trouble for themselves.
The Government is doing well in enhancing women’s economic status. By and large, there is no discrimination against women on the job market in our country. A woman has an equal chance of getting any job and can compete on equal footing with a man as long as she has the required educational and physical attributes.
On another score, institutions of higher and tertiary education always encourage ladies to apply to study with them. They also provide disaggregated data of enrolments and graduands which shows that the institutions are cognisant of the need to offer equal opportunities to ladies and men and to check their own progress.
The challenge with this, however, seems to be access to primary school education in some rural and religious settings where parents are still unwilling to send their daughters to school.
The country also has the Domestic Violence Act which provides a legal framework to punish those who perpetrate violence against women and children.
Indeed there has been good progress but challenges remain. To ensure that these challenges are overcome, we encourage the Government, community leaders, law enforcement agents and development partners to intensify educational and economic empowerment programmes so that our people — men and women — know that domestic violence is wrong, and criminal, while at the same time opening up economic opportunities for the fairer sex.