New Hopes to curb domestic violence in 2007

Date: January 1, 1970
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For many women?s groups and activists in Zimbabwe, the perfect end to 2006 would have been the enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill into law. When Parliament re-opens for the new year in 2007, the Bill will be with the Parliamentary Legal Committee for final deliberations.

Reports earlier in that year revealed that as many as 60% of murder cases heard in the country’s courts are attributable to domestic violence. As we move into 2007, we hope that the legislative framework, combined with increased awareness, will address this evermore-pervasive problem in Zimbabwean society.
“The Bill has created a platform where domestic violence is brought to the fore,” noted Sithokozile Thabethe, a programme officer with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association (ZWLA). “If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t take the time to reflect on problems caused by gender-based violence (GBV), and the strategies to combat it.”
Organisations and individuals offered input at a public hearing last September, discussions about domestic violence received significant space in the Zimbabwean press and thus far, the Bill has been the only one to be published in the print media, clause by clause, in this session of parliament.
In the process of publicising the Bill, many Zimbabwean women have shared their painful experiences of domestic violence. Some have carried with them blood-soiled clothes as reminders of their ordeals.
Tendai*, a woman in her late thirties, visits the Musasa Project, an organisation that offers counseling for survivors of domestic violence, every Thursday morning as part of a domestic violence survivors’ support group. She tells of the many times over the last decade that her husband beat her and threatened to shoot her if she left the house. “I am married, but it’s just a title,” she confides calmly.
She only breaks down when she talks of the four-year-old son she lost earlier last year. “He became a cripple at nine months and died of AIDS in January.”
After a long pause, she tells how her husband did not support the child – she had to sell her old clothes to finance his clinic check-ups.  Tendai is also HIV positive and believes that her husband’s promiscuous behaviour is the cause.
She has a peace and maintenance order against her husband, which has stopped the physical abuse. Yet she continues to live with him because she fears becoming a financial burden to her own family. She has no steady income or job skills, and is wholly reliant on her husband for financial support, except for the money she makes from the HIV and AIDS testimonials she occasionally gives.
Varaidzo Munyika, a counselling programme officer with Musasa, believes that economic dependency explains why many women stay in abusive households. She adds that for many other women cultural dynamics that rely on the extended family to solve familial disputes, prevent them from leaving abusive relationships.
“Women never want to use the law. They will exhaust all other social avenues to resolve their differences. We are not going against this culture, but we are saying for these women, as a last resort, they should be able to use the law.”
Tendai is optimistic about the Domestic Violence Bill. However, she voices concern at the harassment women often suffer when reporting cases of gender-based violence. She would like sensitisation campaigns within the police forces in preparation for dealing with domestic violence cases. She called for even more campaigns to get the Bill out to remote areas of the country.
Thabethe noted that the Bill’s complex legalese language needs to be simplified and translated into all local vernacular languages. “This Bill needs to be taken to the people, especially in the rural areas. They need to know its exact provisions and be allowed to ask as many questions as possible,” added Munyika.
The Bill has also created some tension between the sexes. This was epitomised by the statement made late last year by Timothy Mubhawu, a local parliamentarian, that the Bill was diabolic, and that the powers of men were being “usurped in broad daylight.”
Many women’s groups held demonstrations against Mubhawu. “Men are quite against this Bill as evidenced by Mubhawu,” noted Munyika. “This implies that there are a lot of abusers who feel threatened.”
Padare/ Enkundleni, a men’s organisation advocating for social movement towards a gender-just society aims to challenge these views. “We acknowledge that GBV is an existing problem and that men and boys are being socialised into patriarchal beliefs,” noted Tapuwa Manyati, the organisation’s Information Officer.
He said that negative sentiments about the Bill likely stemmed from a male fear of women taking over their sphere. He also noted that some men are responding positively to the Bill and that through Padare, many have sought clarification on some of the clauses that they found difficult to understand.
Manyati also said that it is time to acknowledge the use of culture and religion as an excuse for abusing women. “We see it as a challenge to educate our peers and challenge male stereotypes perpetuated in all spheres of society.” 
On announcing the tabling of the Bill in parliament, the president, Robert Mugabe, defined traditional practices such as wife inheritance and child pledging as retrogressive. “Apart from delaying national efforts towards gender equality, such abhorrent practices also run counter to efforts to prevent the spread of the HIV and AIDS pandemic,” he said. The Bill outlaws these practices, as well as forced virginity testing and genital mutilation.
Domestic violence of course has serious implications for the spread of HIV and AIDS. Inability to negotiate safer sex, for fear of violent retaliation, is a major concern. Current figures estimate that nearly 60% of Zimbabweans living with HIV are women. “This is not even about negotiating for safer sex,” pointed out Munyika however. “It’s about negotiating for sex!”
The hopes for 2007 remain the same as those of the past year – a legislative framework to finally deal with the issue of domestic violence and its many implications. “Women are sleeping in toilets for fear of their husbands,” noted Tendai. “Children are being traumatised by seeing acts of violence. This is why we need this Bill so much.”
* not her real name
Fungai Machirori is a trainee media professional with the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS). This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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