Zim: Do protection orders shield victims from GBV?

Zim: Do protection orders shield victims from GBV?

Date: December 20, 2019
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Gibson Mhaka

Bulawayo, 9 December: IT was an emotional interview as 40-year-old Esnathy occasionally broke down as she narrated the story of her alleged abuse by her ex-husband.

She started with a disclaimer. “I did not want this information to go public. This is because the man is very violent and would kill me once he heard that I had published him in the Press.

Esnathy, the mother of three from Bulawayo said after enduring 17 years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the man who once claimed she was the love of his life, called it quits.

She said: “After we separated, I sought a protection order against him but he continued threatening, stalking and harassing me even though I had that protection order against him. The other day he came to my house and threatened me before he smashed windows. I reported him to the police for breaching the order”.

Fighting back tears, she added: “To my surprise the police didn’t arrest him saying there was a ‘lack of evidence’ that he committed the offence”.

A month later, her ex-husband breached the order again when he brutally assaulted her after he found her in the company of another man and there is a strong possibility that he would murder her if he finds her once more with that man.

There is no doubt that the day she was granted the constantly violated order, Esnathy who had since moved on with her life, thought she had finally found peace and wherever she goes, she would not always have to look behind her in fear.

Esnathy is just one of the many women and girls in Zimbabwe and other Southern Africa Development Countries (SADC) facing domestic violence while at the same time receiving insufficient protection and little recourse for justice.

She is indeed an example of a victim of domestic violence who is being failed by both the police and the criminal justice system.

Intimate parter violence  (IPV)  is one of the most common forms of violence against women. It is an obstacle to equality, development, peace and human rights in Zimbabwe and in Southern Africa.

Cases of assaults by husbands upon their wives have increased despite attempts to curb this practice. Some women may be reluctant to make criminal complaints against their violent husbands or may withdraw criminal complaints after lodging them.

Although, there are many tools designed to act as life-saving instruments for victims of abuse, especially when they’re trying to leave a dangerous relationship, protection or restraining orders are touted as alternative measures to help keep women safe.

Protection orders are intended to restrain the person to which they’re issued from harassing, attacking, stalking, threatening, contacting or coming near the target of the abuse as well as her home and workplace.

As the World marks 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based-Violence (GBV), a key question that apparently begs to be answered is: Do protection orders actually shield domestic violence victims?

The annual campaign kicked off on 25 November and is running until 10 December under the theme: Orange the World: Generation Equality Against Rape.

According to gender experts that very tool (protection orders), designed to help keep women safe is apparently failing to protect them from repeated incidents of physical and psychological abuse. They maintained that protection orders are still not doing their job to shield victims of domestic violence from harm.

They claimed some obtained protection orders only to have them ignored by their partners.  Studies have also shown that women in possession of protection orders are still dying mostly after police officers fail to implement the granted orders. Most police officers are cautious and will not always arrest perpetrators.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) member for Bulawayo chapter, Thembelinhle Sibanda said the failure to adequately charge and prosecute perpetrators renders protection orders meaningless adding that some of the sentence imposed was disturbingly lenient.

“Unless sufficiently deterrent sentences are imposed by the courts as provided by the Domestic Violence Act, the whole purpose of this piece of legislation will never be realised.

“Men will continue to brutalise their wives or ex-lovers. Whilst each case should be decided on its own merits, in serious cases like domestic violence custodial sentences are appropriate,” she said.

She said where criminal charges are brought against violent partners, it is important that the courts impose adequately deterrent sentences even though the effect will be to break up families.

It is important to note that breaching a protection order is a criminal act and is supposed to help police get offenders off the street faster, but far too often that is not what happens.

Nonhlanhla Moyo, a gender activist and counsellor said protection orders are not doing their job to shield victims from harm. She said protection orders despite being touted as an extra security layer that victims of domestic violence need in order to enhance other efforts meant to keep them safe from their abusers, they are leaving them vulnerable.

“Protection orders are just a piece of paper and not a bullet proof vest. They don’t do much good if the perpetrator is intent on doing harm. What is needed is to tighten the penalties for sexual violence and domestic violence against women.

“At times the courts even worsen the situation by referring the parties for counselling where perpetrators will occasionally pretend to reform after the counselling sessions,” said Moyo.

Nomzamo Ncube, a programme officer with Emthonjeni Women’s Forum have a different view. She said although, protection orders are not a panacea, they can however, serve a useful role in threat management.

“Protection orders are very useful as life-saving tools for victims of gender-based-violence. This is because they give peace of mind and safety to the survivors. The abuser or perpetrator is bound by the terms and conditions of the order of protection and may be arrested and charged with violating the order and committing other substantive crimes wherever the abuser violates a valid order.

“Meanwhile, as activists we feel that more could be done to ensure that victims are provided with user-friendly information about available services as well as information regarding protection orders and their enforcement through the contempt process.  We suggest that magistrates and police both make this a priority when dealing with domestic violence victims,” she said.

Commenting on the accusations that protection orders are difficult to get and there was lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, a Bulawayo regional magistrate who spoke on condition of anonymity for professional reasons said:

“Lack of evidence is the primary reason why applications are sometimes rejected. From the court’s side, it’s impossible to grant a protection order based solely on an application form. Applications with substantial evidence such as police reports and medical records are likely to be approved by the magistrate.

“Emotional and psychological abuse are also harder to prove. In short successful applications require substantial documented evidence,” the magistrate advised.

The magistrate further said even if a protection order is granted, there is the question of enforcement.

“Sometimes the problem lies with police officers who are failing to implement orders by arresting the perpetrators in the event that they breach the orders,” added the magistrate.

A men’s rights activist, Sam Chiwara said although there were concerns that men were also victims of gender-based violence, the level of domestic violence suffered by them was insignificant as compared to their female counterparts.

“Men are the major perpetrators or drivers of gender-based violence. It is important to note that despite growing sentiments that males were equally exposed to gender-based violence as females, they were however, the major perpetrators. The level of domestic violence suffered by men is insignificant as compared to their female counterparts,” said Mr Chiwara.

Despite a number of awareness campaigns and the enactment of laws , domestic violence continues to be on the increase as shown by worrying statistics  which shows that one in three women in the country has experienced has experienced physical violence since at the age of 15, a figure which confirms that violence against women is still rife as compared to men though believed to be distorted as they normally shy away from reporting to the police.

The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development also identifies GBV as an area of concern and proposes several approaches to addressing this pandemic.

The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination and attainment of gender equality and equity through enactment of gender-responsive legislation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects.

The protocol was revised in 2016 to align with the provisions of other instruments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agenda 2063 and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063.

The region has also put in place other legal frameworks such as the Regional GBV Strategy 2018-2030 and its Framework of Action and the SADC Regional Strategy on Women, Peace and Security-2022 that create a roadmap for SADC countries to eliminate GBV by 2030.

Gibson Mhaka is a senior reporter with Zimpapers-B-Metro. This story is part of the GL 16 Days SRHR News Service.

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