Spare a thought for women

TODAY is the seventh day of the 16 days of activism campaign. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign commemorated annually from November 25 to December 10.

guest column; MIRIAM T MAJOME

But why 16 days though? November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and December 10 is Human Rights Day. So the 16 days are derived from the number of days in between the two commemorative days.

The 16-day campaign seeks to highlight the scourge and galvanise action to end violence against women and children around the world.

It started in 1991 and originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute co-ordinated by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership. Since 1991 the campaign has been marked and commemorated annually by the majority of countries in the world, so it is an international campaign.

Notably the 16-day period also encompasses two other important days the Universal Children’s Day and World AIDS Day on December 1. People commemorate the campaign by wearing a little white ribbon to show support for the cause.

This year there is a very creative campaign in which men have been put as the major voices and faces of the campaign and are boldly declaring that they are feminists.
Gender-based violence affects both men and women and the community and nation at large because it disturbs the moral and economic fabric.

Every year valuable human resources are lost to injury and even death. Men are also victims of violence by women, but women remain more affected than men. Children are also badly affected as victims and as collateral damage.

Even though most campaigns, including the present 16-day campaign target women it in no way minimises or trivialises the harm that men and children endure when they fall victim to domestic violence.

The aim of every campaign against domestic violence is to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence against women, men and children.

Zimbabwe has quite a robust legislative mechanism to deal with gender based violence. The Domestic Violence Act, the Constitution and the Criminal Codification and Reform Act, together provide adequate legal safeguards.

However, they are not adequately used as legal safeguards as reported cases are not investigated properly. What is even worse is that the majority of women victims withdraw their complaints to save their husbands and boyfriends. This results in the court cases crumbling instantly, because it is difficult for prosecutors to proceed with a case in which there is no complainant.

The Domestic Violence Act provides for protection from domestic violence and prescribes various forms of relief for victims. Section 80 of the Constitution, especially provides for the rights of women and protection of their dignity and worth as equal human beings in the society. Section 80(3) prohibits laws, customs, traditions and cultural practices that infringe upon the rights and personal safety of women.

Gender-based violence takes many forms, the chief of which is physical violence in personal and romantic relationships. There are also violent crimes such as murder, robbery and assault that is mostly targeted at women.

Women are more targeted for violent crimes for any number of reasons and motives the same way they are taken advantage of even in business dealings.

It is a fact that women are generally paid less than men for the same or more work, but pay double for the same or lesser goods and services. Gender-based violence also manifests in emotional abuse. At home and personal spaces, victims are subjected to verbal and psychological abuse. At work women are statistically more prone to sexual abuse, harassment and discriminatory practices.

Women report more cases of abuse, humiliation and degradation of their dignity. These abusive patterns lead to social and economic deprivation, which are also serious forms of gender-based violence.

Women tend to be purposefully excluded from serious opportunities and access to material resources both at home and at the workplace. The pre-conceived negative perceptions towards women all contribute to entrench the many forms of gender based violence.

Section 3 of the Act lists many acts that fall under the ambit of domestic violence. Domestic violence means any unlawful act, omission or behaviour which results in death or the direct infliction of physical, sexual or mental injury.

These acts are specifically described as including, physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, stalking, malicious damage to property, forcible entry into the victim’s residence where the parties do not share the same residence.

It also includes, depriving someone or hindering them from accessing or having a reasonable share of the use of the facilities associated with the victim’s place of residence. It is common for one partner to drive the other partner away from the house or impose restrictions to their access to household facilities. An example is locking a person in or out of domestic premises or work premises.

The majority of cultures worldwide, generally hold women in lower esteem than men. The Act describes as domestic violence the act of unilaterally disposing of household assets or other property in which the other party has an interest. It is not uncommon for men to sell the family house and for women and children to be thrown out onto the street.

Religion and culture are majors accessories and accomplices to the subjugation of women. Women have to contend with harmful cultural and religious practices that violate their human rights and self-esteem.

The Act is specific about the harmful cultural practices and criminalises their performance and this goes a long way to curb gender-based violence. When people become aware that certain cultural and religious practices are illegal, it has a somewhat deterrent effect over the course of time.

Offences specifically described in the Act are practices like virginity testing, female genital mutilation, pledging of women or girls for the purposes of appeasing spirits or forced marriage or child marriage or forced wife inheritance or sexual intercourse between fathers-in-law and married daughters-in-law. There are many more domestic violence offences listed in the Act and it makes it clear that all acts of violence against women are criminal offences.

Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and teacher. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted on

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