THE dawn of the lockdown period that was introduced following confirmation of positive COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe in March this year gave birth to a spike in Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases in the country.
By Michael Gwarisa
According to a report titled “Violence Against Women and Girls During the Covid-19 Crisis in Zimbabwe” that was gathered by five NGOs working with survivors of gender-based violence, including the Musasa Project, the Adult Rape Clinic and the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, there was a sharp increase in domestic violence during the first two-months of the Covid-19 lockdown between April and May.
The statistics showed that reports of physical violence went up by 38.5 percent during April and May. Reports of emotional violence over the same period were up by 80 percent. This represented the sharpest rise during lockdown. Even though GBV knows no boundaries and can occur in any environment including urban settings and leafy suburbs, the proportion of women who get abused but fail to report cases is higher in rural areas as well as win women living under extreme poverty.
Interviews conducted by HealthTimes in Mudzi, Uzumba, Maramba and Pfungwe indicate that most women fell victim to physical and emotional violence during the lockdown period at the hands of their partners or husbands largely due poverty and economic induced hardships.
For Mrs Alice Zihwa (49), living under serious abuse ranging from physical abuse, being denied conjugal rights and daily insults at the hands of her husband has left her emotionally scared and the lockdown period had exacerbated her plight.
I have been living under serious abuse from husband for a very long time. I am married to my sister’s husband as his second wife. Long back, my sister came and asked that I go and live her as well as help her out with some chores and look after her children. I didn’t even know my sister and her husband had connived and planned to make me a second wife.
“After the man married me, I had children for him, however all this has not even brought peace to me as I have been living under abuse for a very long time now. My husband denies me sex many times and we spend most of our times arguing and he beats me up a lot. I have been telling my sister about how our husband has been abusing me but she tells me to hang in there,” said Mrs Zihwa.
Even though she tried to raise alarm countless times especially with her sister, the calls have been falling on deaf ears despite the fact her sister is also living under the same daily abuse from her husband. Through an economic empowerment project dubbed the “Safe Spaces” project, Mrs Zihwa and several women from Uzumba, Maramba, Pfungwe and Mudzi have turned a new leaf in their lives as they no longer rely on their husbands for survival.
“My husband was no longer providing for me, he wasn’t even supporting my daily economic needs such as buying food, clothing and sex. I was now living a very tough life until one day i heard that the Zimbabwe Community Health Intervention Research (ZICHIRE) was doing a program called the Safe Spaces where they sought to empower women like me who are living under abusive marriages and relationships.
“I took part in trainings on Gender Based Violence in all its facets and it helped me a lot. It helped me emotionally, physically and economically. ZICHIRE game me clothes including under garments, toiletries and other things. I am also now part of the women who are doing a project here. We rear chickens for sale and for egg production and this has improved my life and income status in the community as well.”
[pullquote]”My husband denies me sex many times and we spend most of our times arguing and he beats me up a lot.”[/pullquote]
Primrose (30) from Marewa Village in Uzumba says her husband used to abuse her a lot and she even contracted several Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) from her husband and whenever she confronted him, it would end in tears.
“I would always cry day and night but my crying never yielded anything. Most times, he would beat me up and he did not allow me to report him to his relatives, the police or to share my abuse stories with anyone. However, my fortunes changed when ZICHIRE introduced the safe spaces program which has provided a platform for me to share experiences with my fellow women who have suffered abuse.
“I have learnt a lot and right now we are into chicken rearing projects and other women advised me that I should work hard and not wait for my husband to provide for me as this may reduce abuse. I also reported my husband and he is now doing community service for abusing me. That is the empowerment I got from these platforms,” said Mrs Primrose.
Sheilla (30) from Mudzi Ward 10 also said, “I used to live under abuse but the Safe Spaces program helped me a lot. Before, my husband would just beat me up and I wouldn’t take any action about it. After I received trainings around GBV recently, I went straight to the police and reported him.
“I was given a reference letter to go and get treatment because I had been seriously hurt during the physical abuse. The case was referred to the courts even though the case is yet to be dealt with. I was however given a protection order against my husband and right now if he dares to raise his hand or hos voice against me, he knows he will go to prison.”
Meanwhile, ZICHIRE Programs Manager, Mr Walter Chikanya said empowering women economically was one sure way of reducing GBV.
“The program that we have in UMP and Mudzi is a humanitarian program that is earmarked or targeting women who have been facing Gender Based Violence (GBV) during the times of COVID-19. We have an initiative in those two districts where we have created safe spaces where we have said women should be in safe spaces where they can talk about their experiences and where they can have access to referral pathways in terms of where they can report the cases and where they can get services after they suffer GBV,” said Mr Chikanya.
He added that empowering women through information and safe spaces alone was not enough hence the need for economic empowerment activities which will see more women participating in community income generating projects.
“In as much as we identify, mitigate and also conscientise them in terms of issues of GBV during COVID-19 or during disaster, we also then said information is not enough because some if them have been disempowered economically because of loss income during COVID-19.
“As you know, if you are also economically disempowered, chances of you being abused also increases. We came us with this idea of income generating projects for them. For sustainability purposes we then said the community also has be part of the project.
“They can bring in bricks and the builder but we have given other building material like roofing like nails, mash wire to be part of what they would have raised as a community then we provided them with day-old chicks and layers for both UMP and Mudzi. We provided about 1800 day old chicks and about 600 layers.”
ZICHIRE has established five Safe Spaces in each district and they all received the chicks and layers to kick-start poultry projects.
“It’s a poultry project that they can now start and we are also hoping that they can also pass it on to the next group. Once this group graduates, they can also give day old chicks to the next group so that it can be a continuous process and the project does not end with this particular group that we have given the first batch.
“We are there, we have the static programs and then we also have outreach programs. We have volunteers who are working with the static sites and then we also have outreach programs. We go out there and meet women in the community who might be going through similar cases of GBV. This is an integration of services like Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), GBV and COVID-19,” said Mr Chikanya.
The Safe Spaces project is also being supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA has also come through to provide dignity kits and other services to help women during the COVID-19 period.