As the world, including Zimbabwe, commemorates the 16 Days of Gender Activism, experts told NewsDay that the issue of gender was about the relationships between men and women and the power dynamics of those relationships, which normally tilt unfairly on women.
A gender activist and veteran female journalist, Ropafadzo Mapimhidze, said enactment of legislation which empowered women like the Domestic Violence Act was very welcome.
She said it was a milestone achievement because through the Act domestic violence had been criminalised and those women, including a pocket of men, experiencing gender violence can be protected by the Act.
Mapimhidze said the 16 days of activism are meant to drum up support for women who find themselves in those circumstances and gender activism should translate from January to December.
She said the media should play a critical role in highlighting issues to do with relationships between men and women and gender violence in different languages.
NewsDay reporter, Veneranda Langa (VL) also spoke to the Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Jessie Fungai Majome (JM), on the issues to do with gender violence and the role the media should play to highlight these issues.
Majome said Zimbabweans should instantly deal with issues of violence against women as we draw towards elections because most women were victimised during election campaign periods.
The following are excerpts from a question-and answer discussion with Majome pertaining to the 16 Days of Gender Activism:
VL: What is the significance of the 16 Days of Gender Activism? Does it translate to that those (males/females) who perpetrate gender violence should put their weapons down during those 16 days, and after that they can be allowed to continue with their violence?
JM: It is a clearly unacceptable and disgusting attitude for perpetrators of gender violence to think they can begin their devious acts after those 16 Days of Gender Activism.
The idea of the 16 Days of Gender Activism is to re-double efforts we do every day to draw attention to the fight against gender violence.
Otherwise gender activism should be continued 365 days in the year. We need to stand up against the perpetrators so that there is no room for violence outside the 16 days and they need to understand that gender violence is totally unacceptable.
VL: Are the 16 Days of Gender Activism about issues to do with women only? Where do men get in?
JM: The 16 days are for any violence perpetrated on anyone – be it women or men. However, the reality is that a majority of the victims are women and the perpetrators are usually men and that is why there is much concentration on female voices.
VL: Why much concentration on violence against women? Are men not affected by violence?
JM: This is all about power dynamics and women have been the most affected as men are more powerful than women.
A lot of women have been victims of rape and violence perpetrated by men. However, there are also some men who have experienced violence perpetrated on them by women and we are saying we need to nip these issues in the bud.
VL: Can you explain more about the issues of violence against women and rape?
JM: This year our theme is “Structural Causes of Violence” and this needs us to look at violence even in the context of politically- motivated violence.
VL: Gender activists have said the police are not even aware of legislation that protects women and other victims of gender violence. What do you say about that?
JM: We need to conduct a comprehensive programme with the police because gender violence looks at enforcement of the law. We should train the police to be sensitive to that so that they are able to implement the laws related to gender-related violence.
Domestic violence should be monitored and whatever is done to curb it in terms of the law should be evaluated to find out if it is effective. We also need to set up victim friendly courts at every police station and conduct audits to ensure the system is in place and working.
The police should also be equipped with rape-specific equipment. Of course this should be a collaborated project with the Ministry of Home Affairs, councillors, local authorities and civic society organisations concerned.
VL: Which are the laws that specifically deal with issues of gender-based violence?
JM: People should note that before the Domestic Violence Act was passed, it was possible to report domestic violence.
Domestic violence constitutes several offences and what that Act did was consolidate remedies for protection available to victims because it allowed them to obtain peace orders.
Now with the Domestic Violence Act everything is under one roof and this also allows a person who is not necessarily a victim to report cases of violence on behalf of the victims.
However, cases of gender violence can also be reported under the Criminal Law( Codification and Reform) Act, which has a whole battery of offences some of which can be classified as domestic violence, like beating up or threatening someone. What we need to do is step up enforcement of that law.
VL: Apart from the law, what else can be done to stamp out domestic violence?
JM: We need all stakeholders, including organisations that work with women, politicians and other people, to really ensure a Domestic Violence Council is in place and that one-stop centres are in place.
These one-stop centres would enable a person to make a criminal report and provide counseling, legal services and medical attention.
These centres need to be available all over the country and funding should be provided for that, as well as technical resources.
VL: What role should the media play to help in the fight against domestic violence?
JM: We need the media to also play their part and cover issues of domestic violence in a manner that probes the causes of this violence and using analytical methods, including advocacy.
For example, the media sometimes becomes part of the problem in condoning rape.
They will raise alarm that a three-year-old has been raped, but it is not all about the rape. It is an alarm on the age, as if they are saying older persons should be raped.
As long as we continue writing that way, women will continue to be raped. The age is totally immaterial.