When Kim*'s husband was diagnosed with HIV, he began to subject his wife to unrelenting emotional and physical abuse.
“When he tested positive, life became more difficult; he did not want me to go anywhere or even talk to anyone. I was forced to stay in the house sleeping. I became a slave and I was left without any option but to stay with him. He threatened to kill me if I ran away.”
But she did run away after her husband beat her, threatened her with a knife and forced her to have unprotected sex. Kim sought refuge with her sister, who persuaded her to report the case to the police. Her husband was arrested and the court sentenced him to one month in prison.
“One day after serving his prison term, he came where we stayed and destroyed everything in the house,” recalled Kim, adding that her husband came every night to torment them. When he caught her alone one day, he beat her and left her to die. She was taken to hospital and her husband was arrested for the second time.
Kim is among the 85 women whose poignant testimonies as survivors of violence are included in Zimbabwe's first comprehensive study on violence against women. Launched this December during the 16 Days of Activism, the study reveals that 68 per cent, that is two in three Zimbabwean women, have experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime, and one in four women reported an experience of violence in the 12 months prior to the study carried out in October-November 2012.
The UN Women-supported study, Peace begins@Home, Violence against Women (VAW) Baseline Study (www.genderlinks.org.za/article/violence-against-women-baseline-study-zim...) shows that emotional violence is the most prevalent form of Intimate Partner Violence with a high 56 per cent of the 3,326 women respondents reporting this form of violence in their lifetime.
“Emotional violence is not captured in police statistics... It is the silent death that women live with daily and which affects their agency,” said Colleen Lowe Morna, the CEO of Gender Links, a Southern Africa NGO, which conducted the study with Zimbabwe's Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development (MWAGCD) and Musasa, a local NGO that has worked on violence against women in Zimbabwe since 1988.
Of the six countries in Southern Africa that have conducted VAW baseline studies, Zimbabwe's was the largest with 6,600 respondents. While Zimbabwe has a strong legal framework for addressing violence against women and the study found that 50 per cent of the respondents had knowledge of the country's Domestic Violence Act, the survey also shows high levels of underreporting.
One in every 14 physically abused women had reported it to the police; four in every 1,000 women survivors had obtained a protection order against a physically abusive partner; one in 13 women had sought medical attention for their physical injuries; one in 10 women raped by non-partners had reported it to the police; and only one in 18 female rape survivors had sought medical attention.
“The big question for women is ‘Where do I go?'” said Netty Musanhu, the Director of Musasa. “The time women invest in getting justice stands in the way. Women have to pay for services, and we talked to one survivor who went to court 10 times, because the case kept being postponed. The services just are not there and when they are, they can be 200 kilometres or more, too far away for women to reach.”
The study provides the Zimbabwean Government with comprehensive sex-disaggregated data on IPV, and also indications of the factors that fuel violence against women and girls. UN Women provided technical support during the training of the researchers and reviewed drafts of the study before final publication, along with support through funding.
Government officials, local government councillors and members of civil society developed a national response plan to the findings immediately after the launch, which will be linked to the country's National Gender-Based Violence Strategy.
Gender equality activists say that Zimbabwe will also need to show political commitment to ending violence against women by allocating dedicated financial resources for prevention, response and support services, which is currently lacking.
*Her name has been changed to protect her identity