Hu­mil­i­a­tion: The lat­est form of gen­der vi­o­lence

Groups ask men and boys to shun the prac­tice

Africa Renewal - - Interview - By Sally Nyakanyanga

Com­muter bus ter­mi­nals in Zim­babwe are slowly be­com­ing the new bat­tle­grounds in an un­de­clared war against women. Of­ten, small gangs of touts pounce on women and girls at bus sta­tions in ma­jor cities, ac­cuse them of in­de­cent dress­ing and some­times strip them naked in public.

The worst ex­am­ple of this new vari­a­tion of misog­y­nist vi­o­lence hap­pened last De­cem­ber when a group of touts at­tacked a woman at one of the ma­jor bus sta­tions in the cap­i­tal, Harare, and stripped her naked for the “crime” of wear­ing a mini-skirt. She man­aged to es­cape af­ter pay­ing a com­muter om­nibus crew $2 to hide her from the mob. Po­lice ar­rested two of the at­tack­ers who are still in cus­tody await­ing trial, but the other sus­pects are still at large.

The public strip­ping of women ac­cused of in­de­cent dress­ing is the lat­est in a se­ries of at­tacks against women in Zim­babwe based solely on gen­der. The prob­lem is ex­ac­er­bated by the coun­try’s wors­en­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions that have been strain­ing fam­ily re­la­tions. Other forms of gen­der-based vi­o­lence in­clude in­ti­mate part­ner or spousal vi­o­lence, rape and sex­ual as­sault, pe­dophilia, fam­ily rape, sex­ual co­er­cion and ha­rass­ment, hu­man traf­fick­ing and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion and abuse es­pe­cially of girls.

As in other parts of the world, many cases of vi­o­lence against women in Zim­babwe go un­re­ported. But the few that make it into the docket books paint a trou­bling pic­ture. Worse still, th­ese cases are not al­ways treated as crimes. “As a so­ci­ety, we need to un­der­stand that vi­o­lence against women is a crim­i­nal of­fense and there­fore can­not be ex­cused,” Vir­ginia Muwanigwa, the chair­per­son of the Women’s Coali­tion of Zim­babwe, a group that cham­pi­ons the rights of women and girls in Zim­babwe, told Africa Re­newal in an in­ter­view.

Musasa Project, a group that pro­vides shel­ter, legal ad­vice, so­cial coun­selling and skills train­ing to sur­vivors of vi­o­lence, last year han­dled more than 21,500 cases of vi­o­lence against women com­pared to 10,402 cases in 2013. Ac­cord­ing to the group’s pro­gramme of­fi­cer, Vimbai Njo­vana, th­ese were mainly sex­ual and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases in just four cities. The project pro­cesses an av­er­age of 30 to 50 cases of gen­der vi­o­lence in its Harare of­fice alone.

UN Women’s Gen­der Spe­cial­ist, Michelle Gudo, said her or­gan­i­sa­tion runs a three-year pro­gramme ded­i­cated to the pre­ven­tion of vi­o­lence against ado­les­cent girls and young women.

“Of­fer­ing sup­port to women is not enough,” says Ms. Njo­vana. “We need eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment projects to spruce them up fi­nan­cially. Women are the face of poverty as most of them look up to their spouses for fi­nan­cial sup­port.”

Fig­ures on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence from po­lice au­thor­i­ties are es­pe­cially dis­tress­ing. Last year the po­lice han­dled more than 4,600 cases of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in the cap­i­tal city, up from 2,505 the pre­vi­ous year.

As the rate of vi­o­lence against women con­tin­ues to rise, gen­der ad­vo­cacy groups have de­vel­oped a new ap­proach in their cam­paign against the scourge. The ex­er­cise in­volves en­list­ing men’s or­ga­ni­za­tions and urg­ing them to turn their mem­bers against gen­der-based vi­o­lence. One such or­ga­ni­za­tion is the Padare Men’s Fo­rum on Gen­der, which fo­cuses on men’s in­volve­ment in pro­mot­ing gen­der equal­ity in Zim­babwe.

In ad­di­tion to en­list­ing men in its new anti-vi­o­lence cam­paign, the Fo­rum has in­creased its ad­vo­cacy for strong legal frame­works against gen­der vi­o­lence and work­ing with women or­ga­ni­za­tions to foster gen­der equal­ity.

“We en­gage men in po­si­tions of power such as chiefs, pas­tors, vil­lage heads, mem­bers of par­lia­ment and lo­cal coun­cil­lors to help curb GBV [ gen­der-based vi­o­lence] in the coun­try,” says Kelvin Hazangwi.

Zim­bab­wean laws such as the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act of 2007 ex­ist on the books but are not strictly en­forced be­cause of limited re­sources, poor co­or­di­na­tion among var­i­ous ac­tors and public re­sis­tance based on pa­tri­ar­chal and re­li­gious be­liefs. On the part of the gov­ern­ment, the act­ing Min­is­ter for Women’s Af­fairs, Gen­der and Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment, Christo­pher Mushowe, says his min­istry is work­ing to en­sure that its GBV strat­egy is im­ple­mented suc­cess­fully.

Joseph Ma­thenge

Ac­tors in a skit de­pict­ing vi­o­lence against women. The vice is on the in­crease in Zim­babwe and other coun­tries in Africa.

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