Public justice against violence is a woman’s right

Date: January 1, 1970
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As we approach yet again the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, we must ask ourselves how can these days come and pass each year with no significant milestones to stop all forms of violence committed mainly against women?

As we approach yet again the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, we must ask ourselves how can these days come and pass each year with no significant milestones to stop all forms of violence committed mainly against women?

A litany of violations against women continue to be the norm, rather than the exception, and feminist, gender and human rights activists have made little strides in digging out the root of the problem – the unequal power relations between women and men.

Throughout Southern Africa, women’s daily existence is threatened by men!

During 2003 in Zimbabwe for example, there were three vivid cases of violence against women: the case of a Member of Parliament who stabbed his wife to death in Harare(the Zimbabwean capital) for alleged infidelity; a Harare man who burnt his wife to death also for alleged extra marital affairs; and the recent incident in Norton where a man shot his girl friend and mother of his son, her father and her sister. This killing spree happened because the man thought he should have the control regarding the custody of the child.

The Musasa Project in Zimbabwe, which provides counseling, legal advice and shelter for women, says that in 2002 alone, it handled close to 3000 cases of physical violence, mainly against women. This is a little over eight cases a day, which is only the tip of the iceberg since many cases are unreported.

There also are other non-visible forms of violence like economic and psychological violence, which have long-term consequences on the development of a woman and her immediate family.

In a country like South Africa where laws against domestic violence have been passed, the media is still filled with complaints of hesitancy by the courts to use the law against the perpetrators. The inefficiency coupled with patriarchal attitudes cause the system to fail the women whom it should protect.

Every incidence of gender-based violence demonstrates the power and control men always want to exert over women. Society, and some women themselves,  tend to believe that men have the right to control women. Men also believe they should determine who women socialise with, or how they should behave.

Unfortunately, there is still widespread belief that crimes of gender-based violence do not deserve the same seriousness as other crimes which are classified as grievous bodily harm.

All forms of violence against women are deliberately trivalised  because society, especially men, fear giving women the power and control they should have by right over themselves. The majority of men believe that if they give power to women, they will in turn lose it and more importantly, lose their control over women.

Violence against women also is regarded as a private, rather than a public issue. But who defines when violence is public or private?

For example, when violence occurs against men in prisons or for political reasons(which in most cases happens in the private sphere with state agents),  it is considered public.

High-profiled human rights institutions and lawyers quickly take up the cases of violence against men in prison or political violence against males. The same public attention, be it nationally or internationally,  is not given to violence against women in similar or other circumstances. Violence against women gets a slow or less profiled response.

When men’s power is threatened, they call upon all forms of public instruments to fight the ‘"injustices’", for their fight for dignity, security of person, etc is perceived as a just cause.

Women’s fight for emancipation on the other hand is not seen as just. And institutions dominated by men, who are afraid of women gaining the right to control themselves, are slow to champion the cause.

Women must therefore target the public institutions like parliaments, the courts, the legal system, etc in their fight against violence. These institutions must be challenged to seriously address the unequal power relations between women and men, and they should be the first to have codes of conduct against the very gender-based violence they seek to address throughout the entire society.

The media too has a role to play by treating violence against women, not as gossip and a sensational sideline, but as a political, economic and social issue which impacts negatively on a society’s development.

Gender-based violence should not be treated as a hot issue for the moment—usually during the 16 Days- and then easily forgotten in the dustbin of memory during the other 349 days of each year.

Zuwa Moyo is a Zimbabwean-based freelance writer, feminist and human rights activist.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information








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