New approaches for fighting GBV

On November 8, 2011, villagers of Makhado, some 100km west of Beitbridge town, woke up to the gory site of a woman who had been stabbed to death. Her two day old baby’s throat had been slit and the perpetrator, her husband, was hanging from a tree a few meters away.

There has been a lack of will by law enforcement agents to fully implement laws related to GBV.
There has been a lack of will by law enforcement agents to fully implement laws related to GBV.

Letina Muleya is reported to have died instantly from multiple stab wounds while her baby was in a critical state at the Beitbridge District Hospital. Her husband, Mbonisi Sibanda 39, died as a result of suicide.

As Zimbabwe commemorates the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, it has been noted with alarm that cases are on the increase. Despite the protests, laws, awareness campaigns, workshops and trainings on the dangers of GBV, men and women are still violently turning against each other, threatening efforts for peace, not just on the domestic front, but also at a national level, considering that unstable homes breed unstable societies.

UN initiative

The 16 Days of Activism against GBV campaign is a United Nations initiative launched in 2005. It has since been embraced by several member states worldwide and is commemorated annually from 25 November to 10 December. The campaign focuses primarily on generating and increasing awareness of the negative impact of domestic violence especially on women and children. Nonetheless the campaign targets both men and women in raising awareness and encouraging them to adopt peaceful means of settling disputes in the home.

Despite its poor record in domesticating international laws, Zimbabwe has made notable efforts to localise international and regional gender protocols. The enactment of laws like the Domestic Violence Act in 2007 have gone a long way in legally supporting both men and women who have faced violence in the home as well as in raising awareness about the dangers of GBV.

However, there has been a lack of will by law enforcement agents to fully implement this law, choosing instead to administer mediatory efforts which at times lead to worse outcomes. Reports from various women’s groups have stated that the police have been turning away female domestic violence victims, saying their cases should be settled within family circles.

Male victims have been mocked for being too weak to rein in their abusive spouses and this made men reluctant to report violations against them. This has led to incidents of suicide, murder, aggravated assault, attempted murder and other severe cases of GBV in the home, many of which remain undocumented. On paper, the law covers a wide array of offences and ensures relatively stiff punishment, however, few monitoring mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that police officers and traditional leaders understand and fully administer the law.

One officer not enough

The DVA requires that each police station be staffed with at least one constable who has relevant expertise in dealing with domestic violence (Art. 5), and also empowers police to make arrests without a warrant when a domestic violence offence appears to be impending or is in progress. However, instances of police officers being abusive to already violated and traumatized victims are rife, showing that a minimum of one gender trained officer is not enough.

It is imperative that police training includes gender courses and training on how to handle and counsel domestic violence victims at the point of reporting a case. All police officers must be proven to be competent enough to deal with cases in a gender sensitive manner without needing to refer any such cases to a specialized unit. While Victim friendly units must be maintained for the specialized attention to GBV cases, all officers need to be trained on being gender sensitive so that whoever attends to a victim of GBV or other crime handles the case with due delicacy.

The DVA also expanded the meaning of the term “violence” to include harm resulting from traditional practices such as forced marriage, child marriage, wife inheritance and female genital mutilation (Article 3.1). Persons who have been abused because of their age, incapacity, disability or mental disorder are also covered by the definition of domestic violence (Art 3.1)2. Despite these strides, information on the contents and administration of this law remains scarce with many men assuming the law is meant to protect women only.

Monitoring committees

Moving forward, it is recommended that ward-based GBV monitoring committees be set up to monitor and help disseminate information on domestic violence laws help centres and so forth. It would help to have governments contributing financially to the setting up of these committees and the effective running victim friendly units at police stations. These committees can be accommodated under Article 15 of the DVA which empowers the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to set up a council through which monitoring structures can be set up. So far this council has been silent on issues.

As part of its gender budgeting exercise, the Ministry of finance should allocate significant funds to the Ministry of women’s affairs, Gender and Community Development and the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to fully implement the DVA. From its inception in 2007, the Anti-Domestic Violence Council has had no budget, no secretariat, no office and this has been blamed on a lack of gender sensitive budgeting policies by government.3 It is recommended that each ministry be allocated a specific gender mainstreaming budget line. The government must also fund the GBV council and its members adequately in line with provisions in Art 16 of the DVA.

Lack of training

The Anti-Domestic Violence Council’s first term expired in 2010 and no new body has been announced since, meaning there is no monitoring body and mechanism to fight the escalation of GBV in Zimbabwe. Furthermore, a lack of training of the community councillors and police officers has meant that the DVA has had little impact in fighting and limiting GBV. The government, through responsible ministries, must engage civic groups to help in the dissemination of information and lobbying for community involvement in fighting this epidemic.

Besides, so far it is non-governmental organisations and independent bodies that have the capacity to counsel GBV victims, gather statistics as well as disseminate information. Hence a clear partnership and consultation with these sectors is very necessary.

As we enter the New Year, clear strategies for how we can plan year long campaigns that fully implement the DVA are necessary so that the 2012 campaign has different story to tell from the previous six years. Coordinated efforts between government and CSOs are also necessary if nationwide results in the reduction of cases of GBV are to be felt.

Post published in: Politics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *