- A recent brutal murder of a Zimbabwean student by her boyfriend has caused renewed attention towards gender-based violence in Zimbabwe and abroad. Zimbabwe's Vice-President, Joice Mujuru, has vigorously condemned gender-based violence and any cultural practices that put the safety of women at risk, and she is getting support from abroad.
A combination of an inflexible approach to cultural and traditional practices; an economic downturn that has seen women become the chief bread winners as men are made unemployed; together with odious beliefs on HIV and virgins has meant gender-based violence is frighteningly common in Zimbabwe.
Press reports and data collected at workshops and through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) indicate a steep rise in violence against women in Zimbabwe. No hard statistical evidence exists, although indicators and questions on this violence were included in the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey of 2005 - which will be the first time to have documented data on gender-based violence.
The brutal murder case in end-February has caused a broad public debate on gender-based violence in Zimbabwe. Traditional healers and police have added their voices to the condemnation of this form of violence. Vice-President Mujuru has expressed concern at the rise in cases of gender-based violence and called for a bill against it.
Support is also coming from abroad. The UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF) this week called on Zimbabwe's political and community leaders to campaign widely and forcefully to end what it calls "the growing tide of violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe".
"The crime of domestic violence has devastating impacts on women and children and on Zimbabwe's development," said UNICEF's representative in Zimbabwe, Festo Kavishe. "UNICEF says no, no and no to the horrifying stories of women who go into a relationship with high hopes and good intentions - and find themselves trapped with men who beat, kick, rape and at times kill them."
According to a UNICEF analysis, Zimbabwe's increases in gender-based violence appear to arise from traditional practices and principles that include the subjugation of women, and that it is culturally permissible for a man to physically "discipline" his wife and children; Zimbabwe's worsening economic times have meant more and more women are becoming the breadwinners while the men have been forced to remain at home; and that Zimbabwe has a high HIV prevalence rate, at 20.1 percent, and more than half of these are women and girls.
UNICEF in a statement holds that leaders need to "increase respect for women and their key role in the country's development." The UN agency adds that it is "a strong proponent with all those calling for the acceleration of the enactment of a law on Gender Based Violence," as proposed by the Zimbabwean Vice-President.
"Zimbabwe's women continue to shine in the face of great social and economic odds," commented Dr Kavishe. "They deserve our respect and admiration, and absolute protection. We must also remember that domestic abuse wounds children as much as women. Studies show that children who are abused or who witness abuse are at high risk for cognitive, emotional and developmental problems. Some take on adult roles of trying to protect their mothers; some may themselves engage in aggressive behaviour – and thus the seed of violence has been planted in the next generation. That is not what any Zimbabwean would want to do."
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