Traditional leaders should front GBV fight

Despite several cultural norms and values that are positive and which contribute to keeping valuable traditions alive, women and girls remain vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual violence.


WOMEN have been “conditioned” to uphold the traditions and cultural practices that perpetuate their being discriminated against in many ways.

At times these practices are initiated by men in the name of culture and tradition.

Despite several cultural norms and values that are positive and which contribute to keeping valuable traditions alive, women and girls remain vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual violence.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Paragraph 112 says, “Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms… In all societies, to a greater or lesser degree, women and girls are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class and culture.”

According to a 2019 World Bank report, violence against women affects one in three women globally in their lifetime.

About 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence, the report says.

Zimbabwe is not spared from the scourge, and Musasa Project, an organisation that champions the fight against gender-based violence in the country, concur, pointing out that about one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence while about one in four women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

Most rural communities in Zimbabwe are fraught with harmful traditional practices that perpetuate the discrimination and infringement of women’s fundamental civil liberties.

Unequal dominant patriarchal value system is the order of the day in these communities that are under the jurisdiction of traditional leaders.

Communication and dialogue led by traditional and community leaders within communities are seen as the panacea to breaking the culture of silence around gender-based violence.

A health peer educator at Venice Mine in Mhondoro-Ngezi’s ward 12 Welinda Mataga concurred that breaking the culture of silence around gender-based violence was a mammoth task in her community.

“Most women do not want to come out in the open when they have been abused by their husbands. They consider living in an abusive relationship until they die,” she said.

Mataga said they were engaging women in their community to open up whenever they are abused.

Dorothy Chirwa Tumbo, a social commentator said bringing violence against women to an end required concentrated efforts on many fronts and should be led by community leaders, including traditional leaders.

She said communicationaround gender-based violence should be initiated by traditional leaders.

“Involvement of traditional leaders is key in fighting gender-based violence and these should be through dialogue and communication because these have a positive allusion in addressing issues related to violence against women,” Chirwa-Tumbo said.

“Effective programmes also recognise that gender roles and relations are dependent on social contexts in which cultural, religious, economic, political and social circumstances are intertwined.”

Shepherd Mudimu, village head for Mudimu village in Sanyati Rural District’s ward 2 [Anfield Farm] said as traditional leaders they should lead from the front in the reducing gender-based violence in their communities.

“Issues of gender-based violence are rampant here and as a traditional leader, we are leading in fighting this scourge,” Mudimu said.

“We know that there are some harmful traditional practices that perpetuate violence against women and we are encouraging society to do away with these.

The traditional leader believes that coming out in the open by victims of gender-based violence was also one strategy that he uses to combat violence against women.

Headman Gudza of Gudza village in Buhera, Manicaland province who is among traditional leaders in the country advocating for gender equality among their peers and subjects, said traditional leaders should use their influence to fight gender-based violence.

“At first I did not accept that because growing up I had the belief that women were less important than men,” said headman Gudza.

“There has been a lot of transformation in the village with regards to gender-based violence and we are hoping to spread the message to other communities outside Gudza.

The traditional leader said part of their training and campaigns on gender issues involved making women aware of the legal system.

“Most women lack information, education and access to the legal system. So as a gender champion my task is to educate my community to be more sensitive to women’s economic and social rights,” headman Gudza said.

Women’s rights activist and Girls and Women Empowerment Network director Kumbirai Kahiya said the involvement of traditional leaders in fighting gender-based violence was pivotal.

“Traditional leaders are custodians of culture and their understanding, acceptance of how its changing and the importance of preaching gender equality for sustainable families and economies will ensure no women are violated for seeking education, for working and aspiring to improve their lives,” Kahiya said.

“Girls will be allowed an education and opportunities to advance their lives not to be forced into marriages.

“Traditional leaders are a critical voice in ending SGBV as most of the abuse stems from patriarchal beliefs and practices that are mostly traditional and religious.”

Kahiya, who is also a member of the Women Coalition of Zimbabwe, said traditional leaders were respected in rural communities and their voices carried weight.

“They must ensure that traditional law is in compliance to the national constitution regarding women and children rights,” she said.

“The unwritten rules of traditional societies still shape the gender roles that are a source of conflict in many homes. For example ownership of land is still hereditary along male sons’ line, village heads are mostly male, so this on its own reflects how we disregard the role of women in leading processes.

“If traditional leaders can contribute to constitution implementation my ensuring men and women are treated equally through distribution of resources which impact a woman financial status they can end SGBV.”

* This story was made possible by the Women Coalition of Zimbabwe, with support from Womankind Worldwide and Women in Politics Support Unit, as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

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