THE 16 days of Activism against gender-based violence have come and gone. However, this does not mean that we must stop speaking out against GBV.
Taking action against GBV must be a 365-day job for everyone. Silence is never golden when it comes to gender-based violence.
Due to fear of stigma, victimisation and increased violence, victims tend to opt to remain silent than to speak out and expose violators.
Now that the 16 days of Activism have passed, it is the duty of each of us in our communities to continue holding the hands of GBV victims and survivors in our communities, to report all abuse we see and to be each sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.
Girls and women have often been taught to remain silent when faced with abuse and violence. Society also socialises men to present themselves as strong, meaning that they are not supposed to present as weak, and they are also unlikely to report abuse, for fear of losing their masculinity.
Society needs to change the status quo. We must all work to break the silence.
Silence is not golden because it always gives permission to the oppressor to continue prevailing and wreaking havoc whenever, wherever and however.
Speaking out brings helps and helps other victims fund their strength to report abuse. Lessons can be drawn from the ‘me too’ movement, which saw many victims of abuse taking to social media to expose violators of their rights.
The ‘me too’ movement found the courage to post about the abuse and trauma they faced.
More men and women continue to open up about their experiences of harassment and violence, it is encouraging.
But, is our society ready to deal with these victims who are finding their strength.
Are we as Zimbabweans ready to act on these developments?
Encouraging victims to speak out is one thing knowing what to do when they speak out is another.
We must empower and equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills to help survivors and victims who have chosen to speak out to walk their path of finding justice.
We must not be obstacles. Some people can unknowingly be obstacles in the part to justice through mockery, through stigma, through harsh words and through gossip.
How we decide to react to victims speaking out has a bearing on how their journey to find justice will play out.
It is a good thing that more women and men are coming out with the experiences that have scarred them for life, which are often very traumatic.
These experiences are hard to speak about even to family members.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable in this patriarchal society as they are also victimised by fellow women who subscribe to patriarchy.
How we treat others is important as it has a bearing on so many things.
The way others treat us has an enormous bearing on how we learn to conceive of ourselves as human beings, especially when we are growing up.
Nobody is exempted a violence free community begins with the choices made by each one if us as individuals.
It is time for everyone to act, play their part by rejecting and reporting abusers. Families must not protect abusers, but should report them. This year calls for us all to Challenge and denounce cultural practices that perpetuate gender inequalities.
We are all called to be sensitive and supportive to GBV victims, to seek personal help to change harmful behaviours such as alcohol and substance abuse. It is the duty of every adult to teach children values of gender equality and to protect children from exposure to violence and harmful content on internet and social media, including pornography and sexual solicitation.
Across the world, women and girls face violence every single day, however the Covid-19 pandemic made the year a little more difficult for some.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, reports show that all types of violence against women have intensified, worsening this pervasive human rights violation. Taking action to end the scourge of violence can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. However it must be done and it is the responsibility of all of us to act.
It has been such a tough year and there has been a global rise of GBV cases associated with home confinement, as the Covid-19 pandemic has seen many people being locked down with abusers.
There is talk about how Covid-19 is leaving more people exposed and vulnerable to abuse, statistics are still sketchy about actual figures of victims, however there is just not enough action that corresponds with the severity of the matter.
These 16 days should bring to our attention what a merciless year 2020 has been and what should be one to prepare for such eventualities in future.
Despite the many hardships being faced and the new complexities of life that have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 virus, freedom from violence cannot under any circumstances be surrendered as the right to live a life free from abuse and violence is a basic and fundamental human right.
The most vulnerable members of society have throughout this year been experiencing untold suffering at the hands of their household members during this time. Children, women, men, people with disabilities, the elderly and other demographic groups are suffering during this time when people are supposed to be spending more time at their own homes than with other people.
Globally, many countries have reported a surge in cases of domestic violence and multiple forms of GBV, as well as violence against children. Strategies to address these challenges are being implemented in our neighbouring countries such as introductions of special toll free numbers for GBV victims only, with dedicated personnel aimed at responding to cases to do with GBV.
Zimbabwe could emulate some of the strategies being implemented by its neighbours to ensure that it is easier to reach out to victims sooner, and saves lives.
Homes should be safe spaces, the workplaces must be a happy place, free of harassment, school must be a safe space.
There must be no space that is tolerant to abusers.
In Zimbabwe, about 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and about 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
Creating safe spaces for all and fighting in unity to end these violations should be on everyone’s diary every day. It should not be an event but a culture.
There should be a clear commitment to fostering better working relationships between Government, private and civil society actors towards maximising collective impact in eradicating the root causes of GBV.
All Zimbabweans must reflect on their own complicity in maintaining the culture of violence and abuse, make the necessary behavioural and attitudinal shifts and commit to standing together to safeguard communities against these vicious cycles of abuse.
Advancing gender equality and dismantling patriarchy in Zimbabwe must therefore go beyond awareness to include radically transforming those systems and institutions that produce and reproduce unequal power relations.
The law must continue to protect women and men from abuse and must uphold equal treatment of victims of gender-based violence.
In most countries including Zimbabwe, navigating the justice system is complex and tedious hence many victims of gender-based violence end up withdrawing their cases before they reach court. Now with Covid-19, these complexities may be increased as even mobility is limited. A few cases result in conviction.
In most cases, abused people tend to withdraw cases due to lack of knowledge of their rights and in some cases the perpetrators are the family breadwinners. Women, and men too, must have support systems within the justice system that help them garner the courage to report all forms of violence and seek justice.
The shadow pandemic is real and it affects our sisters and brothers, our parents, friends, neighbours. It is noble to constantly check on each other because you never know which phone call or text could save a life.
The 16 days have passed, but we can draw from them to continue culture of zero tolerance to violence in our communities. It is important to keep reminding each other that silence is not golden when issues of violence are involved. — @andile_tshuma