Taking GBV to the grave

Isabel Masuka’s casket was lowered into her final resting place at Glen Forest cemetery in Harare at 1: 25 pm on Wednesday, April 23.

The late Isabel Masuka
The late Isabel Masuka

Described by her friends, relatives, family and fellow workmates from the National Blood Service and students from Women’s University in Africa as a down to earth and humble woman, the circumstances surrounding the mother of two’s death remains a mystery.

Her grief stricken father Cephas Masuka does not mince his words: “My daughter did not deserve such a horrible fate and to imagine what she went through in her final moment breaks my heart. We were devastated by what we saw on the eve of April 19 and we hope that whoever is responsible for her death will meet their fate.”

Masuka described the circumstances leading to the discovery of his third daughter’s body at her Waterfalls home.

Farewell

Having spent the Saturday at her parents’ home at no 30 Jennifer Road in Waterfalls, in the company of her husband and children, the late Isabel bid farewell to her parents and headed to her home in the same neighbourhood around sunset.

Unbeknown to the Masuka family, this was the last time that they would see their daughter alive. “My son in law, Louis Matanda, brought their nine-year-old child later in the evening and when we asked him where Isabel was, he told us she was at home. He said because she would not be at home the following day, she had sent him to bring the child for babysitting.”

Masuka said when they queried him further on why she had not indicated that she would be travelling the following day earlier, their son in law was evasive and gave them a lame excuse.

“Their eldest child called him and he told her that she would never see him again but things were not well at their home. We got anxious and after he left, we drove to their home. That is when we found our daughter in a pool of blood. She was already dead,” said a grief-stricken Masuka.

The family buried their daughter in the absence of their son-in-law, who has been on the run since the day his wife’s body was discovered.

Secrecy

“When a human being decides to be cruel, they can be worse than animals. “The marriage institution is under attack. But I want to urge every woman here that they should not be silent about any form of abuse that they are going through,” a niece to the late Isabel identified as Jane Masunda told mourners.

She said because the late Isabel was a very reserved woman who valued the marriage institution, she never confided in anyone about her experiences at home.

“We should not adhere to the advice that we give each other as women that you should not tell the world what we are going through in our marriages. The late Isabel died with her experiences as a closely guarded secret but this should be a lesson for everyone to speak out,” she added.

The UN Secretary General in his message to Zimbabwe on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) said millions of women and girls around the world were assaulted, beaten, raped, mutilated or even murdered in what constitutes appalling violations of their human rights.

Defined by the United Nations General Assembly as any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering for individuals, GBV includes threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

Violated

A Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey report confirmed the WHO findings and revealed that despite the commendable policy frameworks by the government, GBV is still a challenge, as 1 in 4 women reported that they had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

According to the study, in nine out of 10 of the cases, the perpetrator is the woman’s current or former husband, partner or boyfriend. The ZDHS study stated that one in three women aged 15 to 49 had experienced physical violence since the age 15.

Musasa Project, an NGO that provides services such as counselling, medical care and temporary shelter to women survivors of domestic violence recorded 454 cases of gender based violence in August, 2013 alone.

Fear of rejection

The Women’ Trust, a Harare based NGO working in all the country’s provinces towards promoting women empowerment, believes the reasons why women are silent about GBV at home is because of how society has socialised the girl child.

The Media, Communication and Advocacy Officer, Tendai Garwe, said because African societies took pride in the marriage institution, women often kept silent about their pain for fear of being rejected by society if they are divorced.

The late Isabel Masoka being laid to rest at Glenforest cemetery in Harare.
The late Isabel Masoka being laid to rest at Glenforest cemetery in Harare.

“Even as women, we advise each other that we should protect the sanctity of marriage and this involves keeping secret some issues, including GBV,” said Garwe. “The aunts tell us that not everything should be in the public domain. Sometimes as married women, we are also scared of relating our experiences because we fear that someone will take advantage of our situations and snatch our husbands away from us.”

Garwe said because there were two sides of the economic coin, where women could be vulnerable to abuse because they are economically dependent on their spouses, women were also prone to GBV if they earned more than their husbands or partners.

“While some women maintain their silence because the husband is the breadwinner, others are violated because if they are earning more than men, they are viewed as independent. In such instances, women are accused that they are failing to accord the man of the house their respect because they are earning more than their spouses,” she said.

The Zimbabwean government have over the years been commended for setting the policy framework for gender based violence prevention and response which includes the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) of 2007.

The ZDHS 2010/ 2011 results revealed a two percent decline from 31 to 29 percent, of the number of women who reported having experienced spousal violence.

Society expects it

Social scientist and marriage counsellor, Leornard Jamanda, from Chitungwiza said: “Women’s subordinate status makes them more vulnerable to violence. Such a situation contributes to an environment that accepts, excuses, and even expects violence against women.”

He attributed negative cultural perceptions which fuelled the attitude of looking down on women.

“Women are expected to sit on the floor while men are elevated to decision makers and there are instances when a woman is violated not because they have done anything wrong but because the man is insecure and they want to instil fear in a woman,” said Jamanda, adding that sometimes such beatings can end up fatally.

Speak out

Women’s affairs minister, Oppah Muchinguri, said despite the enactment of several gender responsive policies such as the DVA, women and girls in Zimbabwe continued to be victims in 99 percent of GBV cases.

She added that unless women and men opened up and used the law to their advantage, GBV would continue especially within the privacy of the home.

Temba Nzounhenda, the organising secretary of the Men’s Forum said society should join forces and promote a culture of peace in the home.

“Men are victims too but because of how they are socialised that it is not manly to open up and tell the world that they are victims of GBV, they suffer in silence,” he said. He emphasised the importance of raising awareness against GBV and raising men and women who valued peace and utilised avenues for conflict resolution whenever disputes arose within their homes.

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