BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
GENDER-BASED violence (GBV) is a global vice that continues to threaten women and girls’ security and often leaves the survivors deeply scarred emotionally and physically.
Statistics are staggering. The scourge affects one in every three women in their lifetime and, in the majority of cases, it is attributed to an intimate partner.
About 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence from their intimate partners or non-partner — or both, which could be a husband or boyfriend.
Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner and as many as 38% of women homicides are committed by an intimate partner.
But behind the disturbing statistics are stories of real women and girls who have horrific tales. Most of them, however, will never be heard and remain an ugly secret that family members take to the grave. Some have lived to tell their story while the unfortunate ones have been silenced for good.
Thirty-six year old Patricia Zulu is one of the lucky ones who survived the traumatic experience and is slowly rebuilding her shattered life, which was almost snuffed out in one moment of madness.
For Zulu the nightmare is still very fresh, often replaying itself in her head.
Currently, housed at Bubi shelter which is run by Musasa Project, with funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA,) Zulu’s injuries were so bad that she is now wheel chair bound.
But she remains hopeful about her future.
Narrating her story to the NewsDay Weekender, Zulu said it was on October 10 last year when her husband unleashed his fury on her.
“I cannot explain it, but he just went berserk and started attacking me with a metal rod. He beat me all over my body,” she recalled.
So vicious were her wounds that she ended up in a wheelchair. Her husband, unfortunately, could not bear to face his actions and committed suicide the following day.
“I miss him and I still struggle with the suicide, but I do not blame myself for what he did,” Zulu said.
For now as she nurses her physical and emotional wounds, Bubi shelter is offering her the solace she desperately needed.
Set up in 2014, the shelter has become a community initiative with the local chief donating land as more cases of GBV surface.
The director for Musasa Project, Precious Taru, told NewsDay Weekender that to date 260 women have been abused.
She said the community’s buy-in in the campaign to fight domestic violence and the rehabilitation of survivors was a positive development.
“The community has been very supportive, especially the leaders. The chief gave land so we could expand as rape cases increased,” Taru said.
Explaining the process, the matron at the shelter, Princess Khumalo, said when a woman comes to the centre either by referral or on her own, she is immediately attended to and asked to fill in a form with details of her case.
She is then counselled and, if the abuse is sexual, they are referred to the clinic and the police’s Victims Friendly Unit, which largely deals with rape victims who may also require services like Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PeP) to prevent getting infected by HIV.
“But PeP only works if the case has been reported within 72 hours,” she said.
Thereafter, the survivors are provided with shelter and stay until their cases have been resolved.
“Their stay can be anything from two weeks to three months,” she explained.
If they are mothers, they are housed together with their minor children to maintain the bond.
“Some of the women are afraid to go back for fear of the perpetrator,” she said.
Khumalo also said while staying at the centre the women were involved in skills projects like poultry and farming. This she said would be instrumental when they leave the shelter to resume their normal lives.
Lack of access to resources by women remains one of the drivers for GBV as many women are largely defenceless and unable to stand their ground.
Speaking during the tour of the facility, Zivanai Hlomayi, from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) office said the regional courts which dealt with the criminal cases like rape should expedite the matter so as to bring closure to the survivor.
Bubi community, through its leadership, has embraced the centre which are important in rehabilitating local women.
Regional director for the Eastern and Southern Africa UNFPA Julitta Onabanjo who also toured the centre said communities must recognise the courage displayed by the women survivors.
“We are Africans and must help each other. UNFPA is happy to invest in such initiatives,” she said.
She, however, urged the community to collectively map out ways of making sure the project was sustainable in the absence of donor funding.
“Ownership is key in sustainability. We must make this a model for Africa,” she said.
For women like Zulu they have been given a second chance at life and an opportunity to rebuild their lives and continue to contribute to their respective communities.
“I am grateful for this shelter because it has offered so much,” she said.