Friday, 28 December 2012

Women in Zambia Refuse to Report Spousal Abuse Due to Their Economic Dependence on Their Husbands.

A few months ago I set up a Gender Based Violence Corner at Kamwala Health Center to assist victims of gender based violence, provide them with counseling services and refer them to organizations that can assist them.

Having been a victim of physical spousal abuse in the past, I use my past experiences to connect with victims of gender based violence. I have dedicated myself to being a window of hope for women and children in my community who are traumatized by their experiences.

In the few months that I have been running the GBV Corner at Kamwala Clinic, I have discovered that a lot of young women and girls in Zambia do not report perpetrators of gender based violence because they are economically dependent on the men/people who inflict that violence upon them.

One lady that came to the GBV Corner one morning, Rebecca, from a nearby Township within Lusaka, approached me with a four months old baby and narrated that two months ago, in the middle of a fight with her husband, he had deliberately lifted the baby and dropped her to the floor. The baby’s spine was then fractured and the baby’s brain was damaged, meaning the baby is never going to live a normal life.

When Rebecca came to the clinic, she could hardly walk as she had stabs all over her body. Her husband had just used a screw driver to stab her repeatedly.

After counseling Rebecca, she agreed to report her husband to the police.

But as soon as Rebecca saw the police she changed her mind and refused to testify against her husband. Despite numerous efforts to counsel her, Rebecca refused to report her husband and cited her financial dependence on him as reasons for not wanting to report him.

Rebecca explained that if she reported her husband and he got arrested, there would be no one to look after her and her three children.

I felt very helpless at this moment because without Rebecca’s’ cooperation, it was difficult to render any help to her despite knowing that she was going through both physical and emotional abuse.

Alot of women in Zambia, like Rebecca do not report cases of gender based violence due to their economic dependence and financial insecurity.

On a sad note, after being discharged from the clinic, Rebecca returned to her abusive husbandL.
By Mwanga Simwanda.

My Hands for the Good of Others. I Refuse to Abuse!

Orphaned at a young age, Prisca dropped out of school due to a lack of sponsorship and is currently living with her husband and 8months old baby girl in Misisi compound. Misisi is a heavy density area in Lusaka with alarming rates of crime and poverty.

On the 6th of December 2012, Prisca*, aged 20, went to Kamwala clinic with a gash slightly above her right eye, and her eye covered in blood. With a baby strapped on her back, Prisca narrated in between sobs, that her husband came home the previous night around mid- night with his friend and demanded for food.

After telling him that there was no food in the home because he had not provided any, he started beating her mercilessly, and hit her right above her eye with a metal rod.

Prisca is just one of many young women in Zambia who are experiencing spousal abuse.

Despite there being so many initiatives to reduce gender based violence, gender based violence cases in Zambian communities are increasing by the day.

Yet, in spite of the overwhelmingly negative impact of violence against women on individuals and societies, violence against women and girls is often sanctified by customs and reinforced by institutions that limit women‘s rights, their decision-making power, and their recourse to protection from violence.  As such, violence against women is both an outcome and an expression of women‘s subordinate status in relation to men.

I have discovered that some women are taught that when a man hits them, it is a sign of the man’s love for them, and women are discouraged from reporting spousal abuse.

According to the Zambia National Action Plan on Gender Based Violence, at least one in every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced in to sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.   

The public health repercussions of this violence are colossal, and violence further drains a country‘s resources and handicaps women‘s ability to contribute to social and economic progress. 

As a young women’s rights activists who has been in the midst of victims of gender based violence, I go with the slogan: “My hands for the good of others. I refuse to abuse!”
By Chipasha Mwansa- Generation Alive Member.  

Thursday, 27 December 2012

How Can I Help Melinda?

Melinda is her name,

She had a head-ache one night.

Was brutally beaten by her husband for refusing to have sex with him.

She had a bruised face and recently had a miscarriage.

She refuses to report him to the police.

She is scared that her relatives will punish her for embarrassing her husband.

She won’t report because she depends on him,

It is painful to see Melinda go through this pain

What can we do to help Melinda and the numerous other women who are physically abused and are unable to report?
By Salome Hara- Generation Alive member.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Stopping Marital abuse in Zambia

Culture of Silence Around Spousal Violence in Zambia

By Chanda Buumba Katongo- Generation Alive

Cleopatra Tembo is 26. She lives in Zambia’s Matero Township. And she is routinely beaten by her husband. Cleopatra says she is hit for no apparent reason. Or rather she is beaten for doing things like going to the market in the evening, leaving the house without permission and cooking a meal late.

Cleopatra did not want to say much about the situation. But she did tell me that her husband beats her when he’s drunk – and that she is not brave enough to report him to authorities because she is scared that he may lose his job as a teacher.

However, Cleopatra added that she is not alone. Her family, neighbours and others in the community know that her husband batters her, but no one is brave enough to report her husband. Indeed, Cleopatra’s family often encourages her not to report her husband, while assuring her that one day he will stop hitting her. Sadly – that is extremely unlikely. Abusers seldom stop abusing their victims of their own accord.

Even more sadly – Cleopatra is not alone. Zambia’s shocking statistics show that gender based violence (GBV) is rife. Over 11,000 cases of GBV were recorded across the country in 2011 – ranging from assault to battery to rape to incest to murder. And this figure does not tell the whole story because many cases of GBV still go unreported – due to the culture of silence in Zambia regarding GBV and particularly domestic abuse, which many people view as part and parcel of daily life.

And it is not just wife beating. According to figures from the Zambia Demographic Health Survey of 2007, 20 percent of Zambian women have experienced sexual violence – and 42 percent of them were attacked by their husbands or partners.

Counsellors and NGOs have been working to sensitise couples and communities in the hope of reducing the level of sexual and physical abuse – but they are making very little progress. The reality is that it is extremely difficult to tackle gender based violence in a country that is still so deeply conservative, traditional and religious – and so patriarchal.

The answer is for a concerted and coordinated effort by all players. “Policy makers and other government officials should work hand in hand with civil society, the church, traditional counsellors and members of communities to reduce violence against women and children in Zambia,” said Womba Wanki, a member of the feminist organisations, Generation Alive.

But it is also clear that lots of work needs to be done at the community level – to change people’s attitudes and behaviour. For example, Iris Phiri – a counselor and founder of the Zambia National Traditional Counselors Association, which promotes pre-marriage counseling – points out that many women accept abuse from their husbands due to engrained social and cultural beliefs. And that these beliefs must be tackled.

Phiri argues that one way is to teach traditional counsellors about gender issues – and particularly about the danger of GBV – since they have substantial influence in their communities.

“We face a big challenge in terms of gender issues because our traditional counsellors and communities have not been taught properly about these issues,” said Phiri. “We need to be trained about GBV so that we can change the mind-sets of the perpetuators of GBV.”

However, it is also vital to ensure that perpetrators face justice. And currently, the vast majority of abusers get away with their crimes because so many attacks are not reported and because the authorities only manage to prosecute a small percentage of reported cases.

Indeed, according to Zambia’s Victim Support Unit, 8261 cases of gender based violence were reported to the authorities in 2009 – but shockingly, only 22 percent of these were prosecuted.

These statistics show why the campaign to end violence against women and girls appears to be making little headway in Zambia. But that is all the more reason to keep on fighting – to keep on struggling for justice for abuse survivors. And why we commemorate the 16 Days of Activism because we need to keep on speaking out – to break the silence around gender based violence in Zambia and stop the beatings, rapes and murders.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Crossing the Line to Stop Violence

Zambian Women’s Rights Activist Provides Window of Hope for Victims of Gender Based Violence!

Mwanga Simwanda, 28, is a dedicated women’s rights activist and a survivor of physical abuse.

Mwanga who is currently living and working in Zambia’s capital city Lusaka, is not only a survivor of gender based violence, but a window of hope for victims of gender based violence.

Having suffered physical abuse that had been inflicted upon her by her spouse for 3 years, Mwanga brings hope to other women who experience gender based violence through a Gender Based Violence Clinic or corner called ‘The Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner’.

 Mwanga set up the Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner at Kamwala Health Center located within Kamwala Township in Lusaka this year (2012).

Mwanga who is currently on separation from her husband, while awaiting divorce proceedings, was motivated to set up the Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner after her traumatic experience of spousal abuse.

Mwanga says her husband used to beat her on several occasions over minor disagreements.

“The frequent beatings cost me my job as I was not able to concentrate on my work with all the stress from the marriage”, says Mwanga.

“The beatings became worse when he started seeing another woman”, narrates Mwanga.

On one occasion Mwanga’s husband beat her while she was seven months pregnant and she almost lost the baby. Fortunately she was able to deliver a live baby after being rushed to a health facility.

After that experience, Mwanga decided to leave her matrimonial home. She realized that her husband’s continued assaults endangered not only her life but that of her two children as well.

After leaving her husband, Mwanga’s mother took her and her two children in. Making ends meet was difficult as her husband refused to support her or the children and she had already resigned from her job.

Mwanga’s husband had often told her that he could only support their children if Mwanga and the children moved back in with him, which she refused to do.

“This is what most women fear, moving from being financially comfortable to having nothing. It is a difficult decision and it takes a lot courage and determination not to go back to the abusive situation” says Mwanga.

Eventually, Mwanga found a job at the Ministry of Health at Kamwala Health Center. While at the Health Center she saw several women who had been beaten seeking medical attention. It is at this point that Mwanga took the initiative of setting up the Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner.

The Safe Haven Gender Based Violence Corner which has been operating for over three months now offers referral services to victims of Gender based violence, and has handled several cases of violence against women and girls.

Using her own experience of physical abuse to connect with the women, Mwanga refers complicated cases to non-governmental organizations including Young Women’s Christian Association, Women and law in Southern Africa- WILSA, Youth Vision Zambia as well as the Zambia Victim Support Unit.

“My idea was to open the GBV corner was also born after I gained political consciousness of how such as issues are depoliticized. Also, after participating in several power analysis and self-awareness exercises I came to the realization that staying in an abusive relationship was detrimental to my wellbeing and self-development and now I am able to help other women who are going through a similar experience.”

I have been motivated by my participation in several feminist spaces facilitated by Generation Alive, Youth Vision Zambia & Just Associates- JASS and the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa- OSISA.

There are many other young women like Mwanga who have experienced or are experiencing violence within their relationships/marriages, but very few have been able to leave abusive marriages due to various social economic factors including poverty, and cultural norms.

While some women in Zambia think leaving an abusive relationship/marriage is unthinkable, young women activists in Zambia like Mwanga are crossing the cultural barriers that promote a culture of silence around spousal abuse and other forms of gender based violence.

Mwanga’s story is unique in that she found the strength to leave an abusive marriage and found a way to give hope and inspire others that are experiencing gender based violence.

By Wala Nulungwe- Generation Alive Member.