Rural women left out of most Anti-GBV programmes

By Precious Moyo

Her darling fiancée turned into a monster. The blushing, intimate kisses and hugs turned into violent blows, insults and forced sex.

She sits by her hut, in deep thought. What can she do? She is bound by the life time contract that she signed “We shall be together till death do us part”.

If it was a magistrate’s court wedding, she could have terminated it years back but how can she write off a vow she made before the village and family elders?

Whenever she thinks of reporting her husband to her in-laws she recalls the commandments she was given upon arrival as a new daughter in law- “1. If a man beats you it’s a sign of love 2. Divorce is a taboo as it tarnishes the family’s image 3. A woman endures for the sake of her children 4. Internal issues are not publicized 5. Respect your husband for he is the lord of the house”

Sibongile Bumi*(not her real name) of Luthi village in Nkayi mirrors the sad life of many village women who are victims of gender based violence but are helpless about it.

Many women in Zimbabwe especially in rural communities hardly report cases of domestic abuse for fear of being stigmatised, fear of the unknown, a culture of silence and lack of knowledge. It takes courage for one to report and stand up for themselves.

Bumi’s left eye has a big scar that one can guess is from a deep cut. Just on top of her cleavage there is a fresh wound that she is treating with some traditional herbs and medicines.

“I got married at the age of 25, hardly two years into my marriage, my husband turned into a drunkard and very abusive. He uses all his money on alcohol and in the process, he becomes violent and beat me for no reason,” she said.

“Many times l tried to tell my aunt but she told me that l should be strong for the sake of my children. I am fed up with this relationship but it’s a snare that l can’t easily escape,” she said with watery eyes.

Bumi* is a housewife and spends her time in the fields, fetching firewood, water and nursing.

“In the evening l will be so tired but my husband demands sex. It’s not like l deny him his conjugal rights but he should give me time to rest and we have sex maybe in the morning,” she said.

While their urban counterparts can maneouvre the internet and read on their rights and how to deal with GBV, rural women continue to be stuck on traditional values and norms.

Sexual Rights Centre Director, Ms Musa Sibindi, said there is need to intensify rural women empowerment as they are still abused based on culture and religion.

“New brides are told that you have to endure for the sake of your children. They have been blinded to think that GBV is normal. It’s high time Government and the advocates invest in rural women empowerment,” she said.

Ms Sibindi said most GBV advocates have not yet reached the scale to talk to rural homes.

“Women in urban areas are now empowered and they know even the right to divorce but these are bound by traditional courts. It’s high time advocacy moves from just holding conferences in hotels but to go on ground and empower these women,” she said.

Ms Sibindi said traditional leaders and elderly people should play a critical role in empowering women.

“Gone are the days when a man was just made to pay a goat to appease a chief after GBV. Justice should be put into consideration to help these women. Elderly people especially who receive the bride should be frank and empower young women,” she said.

Ms Fiona Nyoni, a Gender Activist said women in rural areas suffer GBV quietly as they fear to create sour relationships between their families and the in-laws.

“Usually in rural areas you marry within your village. These women hide cases of abuse in fear of exposing their families which may lead to sour relations within the village. This needs to be corrected right away because it costs their lives and that of their children,” she said.

According to Msasa project in Bulawayo, cases of gender based violence in Bulawayo are increasing with nearly 3 000 cases reported last year only.

The organisation said majority of reported cases are from Bulawayo while few come Nkayi, Matobo and Lupane.

Speaking at a media and advocacy meeting in Bulawayo last week, a counselor from Msasa Project said it was frightening that cases of gender-based violence were increasing despite awareness campaigns conducted by stakeholders.

“Last year, to date we have dealt with 2 817 cases of women who were abused, of which 2 272 were new cases. Of that number, 369 needed shelter support,” said the official.

Msasa Project said the majority of women reported on physical assault were seeking for protection orders against their husbands.

“426 women reported on physical assault where women would have been battered using various objects and 165 managed to have protection orders against their perpetrators,” said the official.

The counselor said women in rural areas rarely report cases of GBV

“This may be because they are not empowered enough or they are just afraid. More is needed to be done to empower them,” she said,

Msasa project said most survivors face challenges at police station where they are made to report cases at the front desk instead of the victim friendly unity.

“Survivors are not comfortable describing their experience at a public place and they need privacy. Most women allege that the police do not treat them in a victim friendly manner,” said the official.

Msasa project, as a way to conscientise people on gender based violence, has engaged stakeholders including the police, courts and traditional leaders in making them aware on how to treat the survivors.

Recently, when first lady Auxilia Mnangagwa met chief’s wives in Harare, she urged them to take part in fighting GBV in their rural communities.

 “I would like to work with you on social cohesion, ending gender based violence, girl child marriages, rape cases, and having viable community guidance in promoting food security and ending prostitution.

“I urge you all to work closely with the police and report to them whatever will be happening in your communities that need their services.” The first Lady reportedly said.