CASES of domestic violence are on the rise during the COVID-19 lockdown due to limited activity, which has worsened socio-economic constraints.
Fathers against Abuse Trust (FAA), a non-profit organisation on fighting gender-based violence (GBV) is engaging men and boys, to take the lead in addressing the issues. FAA co-founder Alois Nyamazana (AN) recently told NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Miriam Mangwaya that the prevailing economic constraints have resulted in increased aggressiveness among men, triggering domestic violence cases.
ND: What is the situation on domestic violence issues during this COVID-19 pandemic period? AN: The lockdown has forced families to stay together for a long time than they used to do prior to the pandemic. As a result, cases of family squabbles are rising. Some minor family misunderstandings are turning out to be violent and fatal.
During the lockdown, people are overwhelmed with challenges varying from anxiety, financial problems and uncertainty. Families are failing to engage in dialogues to resolve disputes, but are resorting to violence.
FAA seeks to raise a generation of men and boys who are responsible and treat other people, particularly women, with respect and dignity. Men should be engaged as catalysts for change and as partners for women and girls in securing a Zimbabwe that is GBV-free.
ND: What are the major forms of violence against men and boys?
AN: As FAA, we appreciate that women and girls are the main GBV victims due to historical gender imbalances that emanate from patriarchy. We also acknowledge the fact that there are also men and boys who are GBV victims.
Research has shown that men and boys suffer from GBV in conflict situations where they are sometimes recruited to perpetuate violence. In such circumstances, men participate not because they want to, but because they are being forced based on their gender.
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Boys can also be victims of sexual abuse as they may be forced to engage in sexual activities with elderly women. Incidences of sexual exploitation on men and boys for ritual purposes are also very prevalent. Men can also be victims of emotional violence, especially when they fail to fulfil some socially-ascribed roles.
Historically, men have always been breadwinners and are expected to be responsible for providing for the family. If they fail to fulfil such roles, they will be ridiculed, rebuked and degraded.
Even on social media, we have seen so many jokes that categorise men based on their income. That may result in emotional suffering. Some men and boys may also be abused based on their appearance or looks.
They may not have some expected masculine features and they are ridiculed for that, which again inflicts emotional suffering on them. There are also some cases of men and boys who are physically abused by their partners. Some have been burnt using boiling water, paraffin or cooking oil. Although their partners usually do this as revenge, it remains violence.
ND: What are the impacts of COVID-19-induced lockdowns on GBV?
AN: COVID-19 has had very damaging effects on communities with regards to GBV. Across the globe, cases of GBV escalated during the lockdown. We need to emphasise that GBV is about power struggles within families and communities. We have heard stories of couples fighting over a television remote control or over other minor issues.
The patriarchal society has constructed men as heads of families so when they feel that they are being challenged, they resort to violence.
During the lockdown, issues of domestic violence tend to increase because perpetrators are at home with their wives. The wives tend to blame men for the economic hardships that they are facing.
GBV also emanates from struggles over a few economic resources and opportunities. In Zimbabwe, more than 90% of people work in the informal sector, and their sources of income are disrupted. Scarcity of resources may have resulted in many families failing to cope with the financial pressures resulting in quarrels and fights.
During the lockdown, cases of child sexual abuse and child marriages have also increased as girls are not going to school and they were spending time in communities with abusers. Lockdown also resulted in serious mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and stress. There was breakdown of socio-economic support systems, hence many people were stressed, and those that failed to cope with stress ended up engaging in GBV.
ND: How do you encourage men to open up on GBV issues?
AN: As FAA, both men and women should be given platforms to open up and talk openly about GBV. Statistics show that 60% of people who die from suicide are men. This is mainly because they are not able to open up when they are facing challenges in their lives. We feel men are victims of patriarchy.
They have to endure and suffer in silence. Social construction of men does not permit them to open up. There are stereotypes against men who are considered weak. Culturally embedded gender norms believe that real men cannot accept defeat or that they cannot shed tears.
This results in men suffering silently. As FAA, we encourage men to shift norms and open up when facing challenges.
Parents should teach their children to seek help when they are facing challenges.
We believe that when men begin to open up on relationships, it can significantly contribute to the reduction of GBV as they can then get help on how they can deal with conflicts and challenges without having to use violence.
Men should seek counselling and get help regarding how they can peacefully co-exist with women and girls and societies should not restrict them. As FAA, we have created space and platforms for men to feel free to discuss issues and to get help whenever they need it.
ND: How does domestic violence affect men?
AN: GBV has negative impacts to community development regardless of gender. Research has shown that children who grow up witnessing GBV are likely to be either victims or perpetrators of violence themselves and the result is a vicious cycle of domestic violence, which should be broken. GBV results in emotional suffering, injuries and even death. GBV also affects communities economically as victims normally fail to be productive when they are abused.
In some instances, absenteeism at work increases when there is high prevalence of GBV. GBV puts a high burden on the public health system as victims suffer from injuries that require medical attention.
ND: What should be done to end GBV in societies?
AN: There is need to raise awareness about GBV in order to help people understand how it affects them and communities and take an inclusive approach in addressing the problem.
I take the church as an important stakeholder in addressing issues of domestic violence because in Zimbabwe around 90% of people are Christians so the church can play a very influential role in the fight against GBV.
There is need for schools to mainstream GBV in their curriculum to increase awareness of GBV. Government also needs to allocate more funds from the national budget towards fighting against GBV.
There is need to foster positive interpretation of masculinity among boys and men so that they become partners in the fight against GBV.
Lastly, organisations that are advocating for an end to GBV should be categorised as essential services during lockdown and should be allowed to operate cases of domestic violence which are continuing to rise.
Follow Miriam on Twitter @FloMangwaya