ZIMBABWE: Let's Unite to End Domestic Violence

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating the 16-days of activism against gender violence which begin this Thursday, it is critical that this does not just become a one-off event but a more aggressive approach towards ameliorating the scourge be adopted.

The media have highlighted incidents of domestic violence many a time but what comes out appears to be only a tip of the iceberg.

More gruelling cases go unreported by both men and women for fear of reprisals.

Domestic violence is a cancer that eats into the whole social fabric. Not only does it affect the perpetrators, in the case of husband and wife, but it goes deeper to inflict physical, psychological, emotional and material harm to children, relatives, surrounding communities and the general welfare of the nation at large.

Of course, it is well and good that there are days set aside every year to take a re-look into domestic violence, which by the way affects both men and women almost in similar proportions although the scale tilts a bit more heavily for women.

However, this subject, going by its effects on society, should not just be confined to the special days but deserves more attention.

This Thursday will be the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, with more days set aside for HIV and Aids, the disabled, and human rights, among other sub themes that make up the 16 days to December 10.

Many cases of domestic violence have been reported but a few that come to mind immediately include one in which a policeman shot his wife nine times after a dispute and another in which a woman killed her two daughters as revenge following a fight with her husband over the purchase of a petticoat.

In another incident, a 62-year-old man was stabbed to death by his wife for being extravagant. In yet another, a man ran over his wife and two-year-old daughter following a dispute over the former's infidelity. He then threw himself in front of a haulage truck and died on the spot.

The list of such cases is endless and can only be deterred if a more proactive stance is adopted. The Domestic Violence Act, promulgated a few years ago, is highly regarded internationally but much more needs to be done to change behaviour and influence dispute resolution patterns.

Zimbabwe is already party to a number of regional and continental protocols on women's rights and other gender policies meant to dissuade acts of violence in the home but countless men, women and children continue to be victims of gender violence. Measures need to be adopted to create a more sober society that will not allow any form of violence.

The desire to eliminate gender violence by the organisers of the 16 days of activism is very noble but could be a bit far-fetched given the situation on the ground. The message on the need for violence-free homes will need to be sent home in the strongest of terms.

There is need by stakeholders to go backwards and study the root causes of domestic violence. These may vary but there are similar undercurrents that drive the men or women to endanger the lives of their loved ones and theirs in the process. We know research has been conducted countless times on the subject but there is need to adopt more practical approaches to eliminate this kind of behaviour.

Efforts should start right from kindergarten, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges to inculcate more responsible behaviour at a tender age. This should then put into context the 16 days of activism, which we feel should never be held in isolation of domestic violence is to be alleviated and eventually eliminated.

Preschools can engage in such activities as drama, song and dance that denounces domestic violence while the media should also continue to play their role in highlighting cases of violence was also giving the platform to proffer solutions.

However, we are baffled by the silence from women's organisations and other stakeholders in the run up to the commencement of the 16 days of activism. This gives credence to assertions that the commemorations are taken more as an event and not an on-going process with achievable goals.

There is always need to take stock of what happened during the commemorations last year and what impact, if any, this had on society to ensure that this year's commemorations are more informed and practical in their approach.

Another weakness that has been nurtured over the years is the confrontational and emotional approach to this issue by both women and men who end up losing the value of the cause they will be intending to advance.

Such sensitive issues as domestic violence need a more sober approach that leaves all parties feeling the need to change behaviour as opposed to having to defend themselves from many finger-pointing.

It's not a men's or women's affair but it's a gender issue that should be taken as such.

For Zimbabwe, the recovery in the economy is expected to register a decline in domestic violence as households become more financially empowered.

In some instances, poverty has emerged as the root cause for domestic violence hence brighter economic prospects are naturally linked to declining cases of domestic violence particularly in the low-income group.

However, for the high income levels it can actually be vice versa as more money could bring more problems such as infidelity, greediness and other such behaviour that cause domestic violence.

But whatever the cases maybe, the onus is on every citizen to ensure that in their small way they work towards eliminating domestic violence. These small efforts will add up to produce more friendly homes and hence the nation.