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Domestic violence deeper than assumed


Tinopona Mapereke Katsande, popularly known as “Joyce Huni” in the local soap, Studio 263, which saw her meteoric rise to fame, is now counted among the thousands of women countrywide who have fallen prey to physical violence at the hands of their “lovers”.

Editorial by Ropafadzo Mapimhidze

Katsande, who is also a disc jockey at ZiFM, has chosen the difficult path of speaking out and the matter has generated heated debate around issues to do with domestic violence.

Tragically, some of the comments made on various social networking sites are very disturbing. “Why would a man beat someone he loves? She must have done something that must have infuriated her partner,” wrote one reader.

This just shows that the issue of domestic violence is far much wider and deeper than assumed. Firstly, if deeply ingrained beliefs that there are circumstances and contexts in which domestic violence can be justified are not uprooted, then we still have a lot of work to do.

Secondly, this incident — though perhaps one in a thousand — has shown that contrary to popular belief that some few justified beating up women (in case of their spouses) because they would have paid lobola, this case challenges us to widen our understanding.

Katsande is not married to Brian Munjodzi, the alleged wrongdoer.

Domestic violence is a social problem which is stalking many Zimbabwean homes and, it is high time authorities came up with lasting solutions to this social ill.

Although the women’s movement in the country celebrated the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act a few years ago, the challenge that we face today is to ensure that law is used effectively to pre-empt, rather than react to violence against women.

Although Katsande was lucky to escape with her life, and thereby is in a position to have that law work for her in retrospect, how many women do not live to see justice done because they would have died at their supposed lovers’ hands?

Cases of women battered or butchered at the hands of their spouses abound if reports in the media are anything to go by. Recently, I heard about a Zimbabwean man living in South Africa who knifed his 19-year-old wife seven times and she bled to death. The assailant slipped off and committed suicide by stabbing himself. Both bodies were brought to Zimbabwe for burial.

Proper documentation and prosecution of domestic violence cases is difficult because more often than not, women withdraw cases against their partners before action can be taken at law.

Prominent among the reasons why this happens is that the women often have to rely on those men for survival.

Socio-economic empowerment of women becomes critical against that backdrop.

Perhaps if more women were economically independent, they would be in a position to say “No” to abuse even at the hands of their spouses. It was disheartening to hear fellow learned friends in the media actually justifying domestic violence and emphasising that the beatings made them fall in line with tradition.

But have we ever cared to ask which, or whose tradition? A proper study of the role of the woman in traditional African society shows that women had a place of honour and respect as “life givers” and nurturers.

But the truth of the matter is that domestic violence also impacts negatively on children who may also become violent spouses when they grow up.

Some spouses have openly declared that they are untouchable, particularly those in the uniformed forces and politicians, who behave as though they are above the law.

Needless to say, domestic violence is not gendered. Both men and women can fall victim to the scourge. This has been recognised by the Domestic Violence Act which has broadened the definition of domestic violence to encompass wicked acts done against men.

But due to the patriarchal nature of society in which men fear being labelled “feminine” or “unmanly”, very few male survivors of domestic violence come out in the open.

Domestic violence transcends husband/wife and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships to encompass conflicts between parents and their children, domestic employer and employee, siblings etc.

It is unfortunate that a lot of times even families blame the survivor as having brought the beating upon herself.

However, the Act describes domestic violence as physical violence that includes hitting, kicking, and punching and any other manner of physical abuse or assault or threat of such physical assault.
Sexual abuse including rape, indecent assault, unwanted sexual touching or exposure or any act that degrades another person also contribute to domestic violence.

Zimbabwe passed into law the Domestic Violence Act Chapter 5.16 in June 2006 to allow maximum protection for survivors of domestic violence, provide relief to survivors and long-term measures for the prevention of domestic violence.

Zimbabwe has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and on September 14, 1998, leaders of the Sadc regional trade block signed an addendum to the 1997 Declaration on Gender and Development on “The Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children”.

Sadc resolved to adopt measures aimed at enacting laws making various forms of violence against women clearly defined crimes with appropriate penalties in order to prevent and eradicate domestic violence.

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