Violence by any other name is still violence

Date: January 1, 1970
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?If we agree to this Bill, we will be trapped. If I catch my wife with another man, I cannot discipline her because once she reports it, it becomes domestic violence.? One of Zimbabwe?s Members of Parliament, Zacharia Ziyambi, offered the statement in a sitting of Parliament for the second reading of the country?s proposed Domestic Violence Bill.

These words hold a frighteningly powerful answer to the question of why domestic violence persists, and will continue to do so in our societies, unless we re-think the beliefs and expectations we hold about this most serious offence.
The current law in Zimbabwe treats physical and sexual abuses of women as crimes of common assault in Zimbabwe. The Domestic Violence Bill is now at the committee stage where it will be debated in the House of Assembly.
Only a handful of countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have specific Domestic Violence Acts in place – including Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia, and Seychelles. Even in countries that have such a law in place, domestic violence continues to be a pervasive problem.
The Zimbabwe Domestic Violence Bill currently in the pipeline incorporates provisions for preventing violence, including the establishment of a non-Domestic Violence Committee composed of government, non-governmental organisations, churches and traditional leaders. It also provides for a definition of domestic violence that encompasses physical, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, as well as "economic" abuse, that is, the misuse of financial assets to the detriment of the partner and other members of the family.
Ziyambi’s comments show how people still run ropes around the issue, refusing to accept their own actions as domestic violence. He would like to believe that domestic violence begins when the law enables his wife to report such acts to the police.
However, domestic violence does not require the state’s approval in order to define it. It refers to the gross use of one’s own power, whether physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, or otherwise, to dominate and harm another human being and thus rob them of their inherent rights and dignity.
The point is not to analyse jealousy, infidelity, and the factors that lead to these abuses. We must highlight the arrogance and lack of awareness that exists among perpetrators of domestic violence.
People who hold Mr. Ziyambi’s views believe that as long as the act of striking a partner or child, or using other means to create fear and subordination, occurs within the four neat walls of the home, the matter remains solely their business. Therefore, to them, the Domestic Violence Bill, if passed into law, would serve as a pervasive Big Brother-like structure that would impinge upon their right to privacy and ‘freedom’ to discipline errant behaviour.
The statement from Tafara-Mabvuku MP, Timothy Mubawu that women are not equal to men and any legislation supporting such claims would be diabolical, resulted in mass protests by women’s groups. Yet, other speakers echoed his sentiments more subtly showing that this Bill is making many people, particularly, men, very uneasy.
Unfortunately, this discomfort is not born from concern for the loss of mutual respect and trust that ought to form personal relationships, but instead, from the sanctions that a criminal charge of domestic violence would bring.
In the same session of Parliament, Binga representative, Joel Gabbuza noted, “It (the Domestic Violence Bill) is against jealousy and extreme possessiveness but I have to be possessive because she (his wife) is the only asset I love.”
Here, possessiveness is equated to and understood as an offshoot of love, when in fact real love must entail trust and respect in order to be called such. The statement implies that women are valued as mere assets to yield investments on bride price through servile behaviour and childbearing – to be further disposed of if they fail to fulfill these roles. This implies that women can never be equal partners and stakeholders within marriages and societies.
It was refreshing, however, to hear one male policy influencer, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, note that domestic violence cannot be justified through traditional customs and values. Chinamasa contradicts such claims and urged Zimbabweans to move away from a system of condoning domestic violence in the name of culture.
He, and hopefully many others, realise that culture is dynamic and as such must adapt to ever-changing environments in order to remain viable and relevant. Gender equality and equity are values that we need to start appreciating in homes and other social institutions to create a culture of tolerance and respect for each human being’s individuality and security of person.
Violence begets violence and violent acts in the home must be recognised for what they are – violence.
(Fungai Machirori is a trainee media professional with the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS). This is part of a series of articles produced by the Gender Links Opinión and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.)

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