BY Kovedzayi Takawira
Harare- The number of women and girls who have been abused sexually, physically, or emotionally during the covid-19 era has tripled in Zimbabwe with government and women rights advocates blaming poverty, religion, and harmful cultural practices for the rise in gender-based violence.
According to statistics, more than 100 000 women reported various forms of abuse in 2021 with underage marriages, sexual exploitation, and physical abuse being predominant.
Mary-Mubaiwa, the estranged wife of the country’s Vice President, Constantino Chiwenga has been in and out of the courts for the past two years and her health is failing.
According to her medical doctors, she requires a specialized operation to treat her for lymphoedema in South Africa.
But her powerful husband has allegedly blocked all attempts made to seek medical attention in South Africa.
She has also been denied access to her children since the fallout of their relationship with the Vice President two years ago. The courts have done little to help the matters.
“This is not a Marry Chiwenga situation, it’s a situation for all women today it’s me tomorrow its someone, we are treated as subjects by the other species it’s not like I want my husband, all I want are my children. I haven’t seen them in two years,” said Marry Chiwenga.
“People are afraid of my husband remember he is also a soldier, he is actually abusing his power,” she added.
She is among the 100 000 women and girls who have abused gender-based violence in 2021. Some have been killed and others forced to drop out of school as they would have fallen pregnant at a tender age. Child marriages are rampant especially during the covid-19 era.
Musasa program officer Rottina Mafume-Musara views the legal system and the pandemic as catalysts to the increase of GBV
“the legal system is supposed to protect us and offer comfort to survivors of violence but the challenges we have come across during the lockdown is that the courts are not accessible”
“laws are not aligned to the constitution which then becomes a barrier to legal access to GBV survivors and also the cultural expect women are afraid to report their breadwinners,” she said
Access to fair and equitable justice has been a challenge for most victims of gender-based violence like Marry Mubayiwa
According to Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association Director Abigail Matsvayi, emotional abuse tops the statistics but is not usually reported by most victims
“Physical and sexual abuse are the most common forms of abuse that are highly reported but this doesn’t leave out emotional abuse and violence that occurs as a result of harmful cultural practices which are not necessarily reported.”
Zimbabwe, just like many other countries globally, is observing the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence which started on the 25th of November until the 10th of December.
Led by UN Women, the 16 Days campaign highlights inequalities faced by a significant proportion of the world’s population.
The case of the country’s second citizen and his ailing wife has been swept under the carpet by many in most corridors even the female parliamentarians are afraid to sneeze about it
The Parliamentary Women’s forum Chair Sibusisiwe Bhudha Masara says that there are profiles that should not be pocked or questioned
“Cases that involve high profiles usually makes people develop cold feet because of some reasons that I am not privy to disclose, these are high profile people what can I say about the Vp’s issues I am just a female parliamentarian and a deputy chairperson of the female parliamentarians even the civic organisations are mum on the issue,” she said
After seeing those efforts to get help locally are fruitless, and no one is willing to help her, Mubayiwa has written to the United Nations to intervene on her issue
In Zimbabwe, besides the challenge of access to justice for victims of gender-based violence, girl child marriages are also on the rise. Culture and religion have been blamed for fuelling the practice. Government says gender-based violence is now a pandemic on its own just like the covid-19 crisis.
Gender-based violence impacts the well-being of individuals, societies, and nations. It also affects women’s economic stability. It has been estimated to cost the world more than 5% of global GDP. It’s greater than war. From acid attacks to poisoning, discrimination to intimidation, people around the world are being threatened, harassed, attacked, and killed purely based on their gender.