09 March 2022
Gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affects girls and women, and that is the reason why hundreds of organizations, including the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, focus on ending violence against women.
The United Nations Population Fund reports that one in three women have experienced physical or sexualized violence in their lifetime.
Forms of GBV include child marriage, female genital mutilation, honor killings, trafficking for sex or slavery, intimate partner violence, physical punishment, sexual, emotional or psychological violence.
In Zimbabwe, forms of GBV that are common include child marriage, female genital mutilation, intimate partner violence, physical punishment, sexual, emotional or psychological violence.
In this article, we will try to explain some of the common forms of GBV experienced by women and men in the country.
Child marriage is one of the forms of gender-based violence which is common in Zimbabwe particularly within the apostolic sect. One in three girls in Zimbabwe was likely to be married before turning 18 years, according to the United Nations.
Early pregnancy can pose a serious health risk to young girls.
For instance, Memory Machaya died while giving birth at a shrine of the Johanne Marange church in Marange, Mutare, on July 15, 2021.
Her death caused an outcry, with the United Nations condemning the prevalence of child marriages in Zimbabwe especially within white garment churches.
Memory was forced to drop out of school in Mhondoro while in Form 1 after she was married off to Evans Momberume, who was believed to be in his mid-to-late-twenties.
A new marriage bill that is before parliament for debate seeks to synchronize the laws, ban marriage of anyone below 18 years and prosecute anyone involved in the marriage of a minor.
Intimate partner violence
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), intimate partner violence or domestic violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women and includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and controlling behaviors by an intimate partner.
It occurs in all settings and among all socioeconomic, religious and cultural groups. The overwhelming global burden of this form of GBV is borne by women.
Examples of types of behavior include acts of physical violence, such as slapping, hitting, kicking and beating; sexual violence, including forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion; emotional (psychological) abuse, such as insults, belittling, constant humiliation, intimidation (e.g. destroying things), threats of harm, threats to take away children; and controlling behaviors, including isolating a person from family and friends; monitoring their movements; and restricting access to financial resources, employment, education or medical care.
Domestic violence affects women’s physical and mental health through direct pathways, such as injury, and indirect pathways, such as chronic health problems that arise from prolonged stress, experts say.
Any sexual act performed on an individual without their consent is called sexual violence, says European Institute for Gender Equality. Sexual violence can take the form of rape or sexual assault.
For example, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission reports that 22 women are raped daily, one every 75 minutes. On average, 646 women are sexually abused monthly, with one in three girls raped or sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18.
Female genital mutilation
According to WHO, female genital mutilation (FGM) or circumcision refers to a variety of operations involving partial or total removal of female external genitalia.
The female external genital organ consists of the vulva, which comprises the labia majora, labia minora, and the clitoris covered by its hood in front of the urinary and vaginal openings.
While the world is condemning FGM in all its forms in Africa, the practice also appears to be rampant in Zimbabwe.
Experts say FGM is not only exposing women to HIV/AIDS but violates their sexual rights, signaling a need for collective action in dealing with culturally embedded practices.
According to Herald, a 27-year-old woman died on 8 September 2016, after succumbing to the massive loss of blood as a result of the botched operation meant to make her count in society as a woman.
After failing to conceive, the woman was advised, as is the custom, to seek the attention of the elderly women affectionately known in the local dialect as nene (grandmother).
Any act which causes physical harm as a result of unlawful physical force can be classified as physical violence. Physical violence can take the form of, among others, serious and minor assault, deprivation of liberty and manslaughter.
Any act which causes psychological harm to an individual. It can take the form of, for example, coercion, defamation, verbal insult or harassment.
How can gender-based violence be stopped?
According to Plan International, violence is not a private matter – it must be uncovered in order for it to be challenged. Ending gender-based violence will involve action at all levels: challenging social norms that condone violence or impose gender roles; strengthening legislation to criminalize violence and prosecuting the perpetrators.
The organization says it’s vital for children to learn about gender-equality at school, just as it’s important to promote intergenerational dialogue on violence against children. Community dialogue can challenge the attitudes towards punishment and dominance that perpetuate gender-based violence, it says.
“We must all promote and strengthen values that support non-violent, respectful, nurturing, positive, gender-equitable relationships for all children and adolescents, including the most vulnerable and excluded,” Plan International says.
In her ministerial statement delivered on 4 March 2021, Sithembiso Nyoni, the minister of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development said the government was developing a Sexual Harassment Bill and Gender Equality Bill to help fight against GBV.
The Bills are expected to criminalize the offence of sexual harassment and provide frameworks for gender equality.