Zambia: Fighting gender-based violence as fresh cases continue to emerge

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Young school girls organize themselves before the March to End Gender-Based Violence. Photo: UN Women/Deepika Nath
Young school girls organize themselves before the March to End Gender-Based Violence. Photo: UN Women/Deepika Nath

It is becoming a common occurrence—an everyday thing. Barely a day passes in Zambia without the report of a case of violence against women, whether in a rural or an urban setting.

In some areas, the number of reported cases averages 50 a day. It is widely believed, however, that many cases go unreported. And the numbers keep going up.

An annual survey by the Victim Support Unit of the Zambia Police Service reveals that in 2016 the country recorded 18,540 cases of gender-based violence, more than the 18,088 cases recorded in the previous year.

Gender-based violence (GBV) in Zambia takes the form of physical, mental, social or economic abuse against a person because of that person’s gender and includes violence that may result in physical, sexual or psychological harm and suffering to the victim. It may also include threats or coercion, or the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life.

Women in Zambia experience a variety of forms of violence including battery, sexual abuse and exploitation, rape, defilement (rape of a child) and incest.  

Similarly, the 2017 Gender Based Violence third-quarter report indicates that the total number of GBV cases in just one quarter countrywide was 16,090, compared to 13,092 cases in 2016 during the same period—a 18.6% increase.

Esther Katongo, the public relations officer for the Zambia police, said when releasing the report that there had been an increase in physical GBV cases such as those involving assault and murder.

This year the country joins the rest of the world in observing 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence from 25 November to 10 December. This year’s theme, “Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls,” reflects the core principle of the transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Zambia’s minister of gender, Victoria Kalima, says the right to life, to freedom of thought and expression and to equality before the law are being compromised by acts of GBV.

Widespread violence against women is one of many realities that exacerbate women’s subjugation in Zambian society. Child marriage is another form of GBV and a human rights violation that robs girls of their right to health, a secure life and the right to choose when and whom to marry.

Zambia Demographic and Health Survey 2013–2014, carried the Central Statistical Office in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the University Teaching Hospital, the Tropical Diseases Research Centre and the Department of Population Studies, found that child marriages were more common among girls than boys. About 17% of Zambian girls aged 15 to 19 are married, compared to only 1% of boys of the same age group.

Gender experts say the root causes of GBV can largely be narrowed down to inequality for women and the associated violence and harmful and controlling aspects of masculinity that result from patriarchal power imbalances embedded in much of Africa’s traditional and cultural beliefs.

This imbalance often leads to pervasive cultural stereotypes and attitudes that perpetuate the cycle of GBV. Communities, especially in the rural areas, have continued to embrace negative cultural beliefs whereby GBV is the norm. If a man does not beat his wife, it is taken to mean he does not love her. Some beliefs condone men’s infidelity but never women’s.

The dependency syndrome, whereby women depend on the perpetrators of violence for survival, puts survivors in vulnerable situations.

A 2010 report by the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women showed that the causes and consequences of GBV were disheartening to Zambian women.

The report cited the prevalence of customary law and its institutions, and the power of traditional leaders to influence and shape societal norms. This system affects women in differently from men, as structures and attitudes within the family and the community marginalize them. 

Deeply embedded patriarchal values have led to women remaining discriminated against and disadvantaged in many sectors and to their being at a higher risk of violence.

Gender discrimination has limited women’s access to land, education, credit and other productive assets and has created a power imbalance preventing women and girls from having full control over their lives. This has led to women being overrepresented among the extremely poor, the unemployed, the illiterate and those living with HIV and AIDS—while at the same time being underrepresented in political and decision-making bodies.

Zambia Sexual Behaviour Study 2005 indicated that 15.1% of female respondents reported having experienced forced sex and that 17.7% of urban females and 13.7% of rural females reported having been subjected to sexual violence.

About 43% of married women reported having experienced some form of physical or sexual violence from their husbands or partners in the year preceding the survey. 

Gender inequality is prevalent in many sectors and is reflected in low status and limited opportunities for women and girls. In addition to poverty, cultural and traditional practices continue to infringe the rights of women and girls. Some of the customary practices that contribute to discrimination against women and fuel violence include sexual cleansing (a tradition whereby a woman is expected to have sex as a cleansing ritual after her first period or after becoming widowed, initiation ceremonies that indoctrinate young women to be submissive to male domination, early marriages, lobola (bride price) and polygamy.

Anna Makapu, 25, from Mandevu in the capital Lusaka, is a survivor of GBV. Her 35-year-old husband has beaten and insulted her repeatedly. She says she has reported him to the authorities several times but he has never been arrested.

The mother of five says she has nowhere else to go since her husband is the sole breadwinner.

“I am scared that one of us will be badly injured if we continue to fight. Sadly, my family just looks the other way, having washed their hands after seeing that we have not tried to resolve the problem. The cause of our fights is poverty. Many of the fights start when he can’t get his preferred

relish,” says Mrs. Makapu.

The couple’s neighbours have urged them to stop fighting and have talked to them about the dangers of GBV.

Another survivor, 47-year-old Judith Banda from Lusaka, is currently living a GBV-free life after surviving the worst assault by her husband, who broke her ribs. The injury scared her husband, who has since vowed never to beat her again, as he has realised that he could kill her.

Ms. Banda explained that her husband used to beat her repeatedly but that she would forgive him easily and he never changed his behaviour. She is now urging both men and women to report cases of GBV to the police.

Awareness

Yet despite the grim picture, statistics suggest that women are beginning to take steps to report such cases. In the past, most cases of GBV were considered family or private issues and went unreported.

GBV is a hindrance to the attainment of gender equality and the realisation of the social and economic goals of Zambia, as it erodes the confidence of the survivors that they can contribute to development efforts.

The Ministry of Gender has been coordinating a joint programme between the government and the UN on GBV, which has a multisectoral approach and involves enhancing access to health services, legal services and social protection systems for survivors of GBV.

Under the joint programme, two fast-track courts in the cities Kabwe and Lusaka have been established to speedily deal with GBV cases.

The Non–Governmental Organizations Coordinating Council(NGOCC), an umbrella organization coordinating member NGOs, faith based organisations and community based organisation addressing gender and development through training, networking and advocacy, has been advocating for the scaling up of the fast-track courts and the operationalisation of an anti-GBV fund to help survivors. Since it was established in 1985, NGOCC has grown from being a co-coordinating body to a focal point for women issues in Zambia.

NGOCC’s executive director, Engwase Mwale, told Africa Renewal that the organisation has been advocating for the full implementation of the anti-GBV law, which would include constructing shelters for survivors in the districts.

Ms. Mwale says few people know about the law, especially women, who are in most cases the worst affected. NGOCC is simplifying and translating its key messages into local languages to help more women understand it, especially how to identify the various forms of GBV, how to preserve evidence and where to report. The organisation is also carrying out awareness campaigns countrywide.

Meanwhile, another NGO, Women for Change, has been implementing a village-led initiative dubbed One Stop Centre whereby community members are trained in handling GBV cases, where and to whom to refer cases they cannot handle and collaborating with the police.

The executive director, Lumba Siyanga, told Africa Renewal that the centres provide health services, legal advice and social protection services under one roof.

Involving men

To make sure that men are not left behind, the Zambia National Women’s Lobby has been promoting male involvement in the fight against GBV through its Men and Boys Network.

The lobby’s national board chairperson, Beauty Katebe, says male support for gender equality is critical. The lobby is creating awareness that men, in partnership with women, could play a significant role in ending GBV. 

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