INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
[25 NOVEMBER 2020]
Orange the World: "Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect! "
Veritas Women joined Zimbabwe and the rest of world in commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November 2020. Significantly the day marks the beginning of the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign which culminates in Human Rights Day on 10 December. The campaign- a brainchild of the Women’s Global Leadership Institute started in 1991 and since then has been commemorated annually by women’s organisations in at least 187 countries worldwide. It necessary to set aside time each year to highlight the ever present and ever growing scourge of violence against women. Giving the campaign sustained focus for sixteen consecutive days helps to re-invigorate efforts by individuals, the community, government and non-governmental organisations worldwide to end violence against women and girls.
Defining Violence Against Women
Violence against women results in their social and economic deprivation. The many negative consequences of violence prejudices women through taking away social and career advancement opportunities and access to material resources. Domestic violence includes any unlawful acts, omissions or behaviours which result in death or the direct infliction of physical, sexual or mental injury. Physical violence, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological and economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, stalking, malicious damage to property, forcible entry into the victim’s private residence, chasing someone away from their residence or denying them entry or reasonable access to shared facilities, disposing of the matrimonial home and household assets in which the other party has an interest without their knowledge or consent are all forms of violence against women. Harmful cultural and religious practices that violate women’s human rights and dignity are acts of violence and include virginity testing, female genital mutilation, pledging of women or girls for the purposes of appeasing spirits or forced marriage as well as child marriage, forced wife inheritance and forced sexual intercourse between fathers in law and daughters in law.
COVID 19 Crisis & Violence
This year’s commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign takes place amidst the toll of the COVID 19 global pandemic. The pandemic-induced lockdowns and enforced quarantines to quell the virus have resulted in a marked increase in gender based violence globally. The Zimbabwe Women Lawyer’s Association reports that there has been a 63% increase in gender based violence in Zimbabwe since beginning of the lockdown in April 2020. Conversely in some countries like Italy and in some cases there was a noticeable reduction in the number of calls to report domestic violence. This suggests that many victims of violence in lockdown are unable to call for help because of the continuous physical proximity of the violence perpetrators. Quarantines and lockdowns are stipulated to reduce the community spread of the Coronavirus but they have their downsides as they inflict serious psychological and social disruptions. Couples and families are forced to spend inordinate amounts of time in confined spaces together which increases the likelihood of frustration, tension and conflict between them. The majority of domestic violence and gender based conflict and tension are women and children. While quarantines and lockdowns stem the spread of the Coronavirus they simultaneously raise the potential of gender based violence. This is what is now termed the quarantine paradox.
According to the World Health Organisation, 35% of women around the world experience some form of sexual and gender-based violence in their lifetime. In times of health crises and other social crises and political conflict the number can rise to more than 70%. Pandemics have always resulted in increases of sexual and gender-based violence. During the 2013-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa estimates of domestic violence incidence were very high even though official statistics were hard to obtain. During pandemics victims of gender based violence are often not given due medical attention because health workers will be pressed to give more attention and resources to the pandemic.
Domestic Violence Courts
Zimbabwe has made some strides in setting up legislative mechanisms to fight domestic violence since enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 2006. Notably among other provisions the Act provided for the creation of dedicated Domestic Violence (DV) courts in every Magistrates’ Court. Domestic Violence courts have their own separate registries for setting down and hearing cases with greater ease and urgency that is different from the general civil litigation cases ordinarily handled by Magistrates Courts. Domestic Violence court registries provide ready to fill in application forms to applicants which makes litigation more accessible to ordinary citizens when they approach the court for relief. Victims are more readily able to obtain interim protection orders which go a long way in protecting them from more violence while they wait for final determination of their cases.