Domestic abuse in Matabeleland, a region located in the Southwestern parts of Zimbabwe, has long been rife - with victims like Pauline Ndlovu* unable to secure the help they need due to a lack of safe houses.
And while gender-based violence in the country has been labeled endemic by campaigners in Zimbabwe where 2 in every 4 women have experienced some form of abuse during their lifetime - little has been done to support women in dire need.
Harmful gender stereotypes embedded in social and cultural norms, which suggest that women must always submit to men or that a man who beats his wife does so because he loves her, have fuelled the rise in violence against women and girls in Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to Amnesty.
Campaigners fear the Covid-19 pandemic “prompted an escalation of gender-based violence in Southern Africa.”
In Zimbabwe, an organization that offers protection for women survivors of domestic violence, had documented 764 cases of gender-based violence in the first 11 days of the national lockdown.
By 13 June 2020, the number was 2,768.
One Zimbabwean woman, Maria*, was violently thrown out of her home by
her husband after he moved his mistress in during the lockdown.
Speaking to Awallprintss, Rotina Mafume-Musara said: “Due to sanctioned lockdowns, perpetrators [have] taken advantage of the situation knowing that a woman cannot willingly travel to the next clinic, police station, or relative’s house. Home becomes an incubation hub for abuse.
“Without a safe shelter within reach of women, some cases of GBV become fatal. The loss of life, grave injuries, and untold suffering will continue to happen to women who have nowhere to take refuge.” Musara, a programme manager at Musasa, a charity providing temporary safe shelters to GBV survivors, added.
There are now two safe houses in Matabeleland, a region home to 683 893 people, thanks to the Musasa organisation.
I traveled to visit and speak with victim-survivors, who asked to be anonymous, in Matabeleland.
Speaking on the impact the lack of safe houses have had on her experience, Ms Ndlovu said: “I have nowhere to run to, so I’m forced to stay here. [The] Last time I reported my husband to the police, I had to go back to the same environment where he assaulted me again and
threatened to throw me out of the house if I didn’t withdraw the charges. Out of fear of his anger, and the family’s dependence on him, I was forced to do just that. I continue now to live in fear.”
And she’s not alone.
Martha Muleya*, who was abused by her husband recalled her own experiences, saying: “I have been a victim of physical and sexual abuse for many years and each time I wanted to report him to the police he would threaten me. I was taught my rights and that the law
could protect me, but since I did not have an alternative place to turn to, I was forced to stall on reporting him, so I continued to suffer in silence.”
But victims like Pauline and Martha are caught between a rock and hard surface as they have serious economic dependence on their partners. Activists argue that the Domestic Violence Act in Zimbabwe first enacted in 2007 has addressed some inherent challenges, such as the protection of the rights of women, but significant gaps still exist.
What needs to be done?
Anna Mandizha Ncube from the Buwalo Matilikilo Trust, an organisation
focused on building sustainable initiatives to support victim-survivors, said support for domestic abuse victims goes beyond the simple enactment of an Act but it’s worth ensuring that the “shortcomings” in national efforts and the “local disparities” are being addressed.
She also emphasized the need for stronger “local response structures…[and] safe havens to meet the specific needs of GBV survivors.”
“The unavailability of safe houses in Hwange district are a huge impediment in fighting GBV. If one is beaten up by a spouse and [files] a police report [they’re] forced to [go] back home to the same environment [they] have been assaulted in and wait for the day to go
to court or for investigations to be done whilst still in the same environment,” said Mandizha-Ncube.
Meanwhile, Matabeleland North Provincial Development Officer in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community Development, and Small to Medium Enterprises, Masauso Phiri said: “The challenge is that so many of these cases go unreported and government agencies such as Police, Victim Friendly Unit (VFU), Ministry of Health, Courts, and the Social Welfare department operate in silos and don’t share information.
“The ministry does not have officers in all wards which means very few campaigns are done, especially in hard-to-reach areas, and this is oneof the contributing factors to low figures. In addition, the majority of the victims are women who might not be economically independent, so it becomes difficult to report cases of abuse.
"As we are faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, it becomes more difficult to report GBV cases
due to lockdown. The solution is to have more partners into the Province to complement Government effort.”