GBV: Crisis within pandemic

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AROUND the world, as countries, including Zimbabwe, have gone into lockdown to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus, the noble and commendable effort to save lives has unintentionally given life to another pre-existing social ill, Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

Since the announcement of the Zimbabwe’s national lockdown on March 30, over 2 000 cases of GBV have been recorded across the country by various women’s organisation, a number which is higher than the 200 to 500 cases previously recorded in a month before the lockdown.

Analysts who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday said the national lockdown, although a necessary measure, has resulted in a horrifying surge of cases of GBV and has become a crisis within the global pandemic, affecting men, women and children.

UN Zimbabwe Spotlight Initiative communications officer Ruvimbo Mushavi said a cocktail of issues, including increased strains that come from concerns of health, psychosocial, and income, have resulted in the spike in cases of GBV.

“The levels of sexual and gender-based violence have spiked in Zimbabwe as households have been placed under the increased strain that come from concerns of health, psychosocial, and income, and many women and girls are under lockdown with their abusers. This has become a crisis within the global pandemic of Covid-19 that should not be ignored,” Mushavi said.

“UN Agencies in the Spotlight Initiative have already noted with concern the growing trend of GBV and are working with partners to ensure that sexual and gender-based violence data collection during Covid-19-related lockdown is conducted efficiently so to enhance response mechanisms,” she added.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana director Ekenia Chifamba said the increase in GBV cases during the lockdown period was being driven by various factors, chief among them being financial constraints.

“From what we have seen, financial constraints as a result the country’s economic hardships are a major contributing factor towards GBV. People are usually fighting as a result of resource constraints and with the lockdown many have lost their sources of income, thereby increasing resource-related conflicts,” Chifamba said.

“Another major drive has been idleness, because people normally spend their time occupied and doing something. People are now frustrated and not sure where their next meal is going to come from.

“Even those who are well resourced they are anxious and are thinking about what will happen to their businesses or jobs after the lockdown and how they will manage if they lose all of this,” she said.

Chifamba added that as a result of all these frustrations and uncertainty, people end up arguing over petty things and sometimes those arguments escalate into full blown fights.

“Recently we heard of a man who was axed to death by his wife over a television show. This goes to show what frustration can do to people, especially those who are stuck in the same space for long hours with no other place to go and channel out their frustration,” she said.

Chifamba further said that restrictive movement measures as per Covid-19 requirements have become a barrier to reporting, relocation and accessing health services for victims of gender-based violence.

“While some countries are able to offer alternative accommodation for survivors of GBV, expedite judgments in family courts, and provide psycho-social support in supermarkets, through helplines and virtual support groups, vulnerable women and girls in less developed countries like Zimbabwe are faced with a ticking time bomb especially now that we are in a lockdown situation.

This calls for the strengthening of response mechanisms that are able to function even during lockdowns,” Chifamba said.

According to psychologist, Brighton Sigola, GBV ultimately affects children who get caught up in the skirmishes between parents.

“Children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, and low-self-esteem and poor school performance among other problems. Exposing children to domestic violence creates a never ending vicious cycle of domestic violence because children learn through socialisation and observation.

“If they are socialised into believing that violence is the only way to solve their problems then they will become violent in the future and continue driving that cycle of GBV,” Sigola said.

Sigola called on the government and civil society organisations to come together and chart a way which will ensure that GBV is reduced, while also protecting citizens from the threat of Covid-19.

“Civil Society Organisations, the government and all relevant stakeholders need to come up with ways to end GBV particularly in difficult situations such as the national lockdown. More needs to be done to capacitate men and women with the right tools to ensure that they can solve their problems amicably rather than resorting to violence.

“Let us also move away from the habit of labelling all men as abusers and include them in initiatives aimed at ending GBV,” Sigola said.

While major focus is being placed on women and children and their experiences with during the GBV lockdown, Padare/Enkundlenui Men’s Forum on Gender’s programmes Officer Jonathan Chindewere also weighed in saying that men were also at the receiving end of GBV during the lockdown.

“As Padare/Enkundleni we acknowledge that women are the most vulnerable and have suffered a lot as a result of gender-based violence. However, men have also been at the receiving end of GBV and due to the way society views them, most of them unfortunately end up suffering in silence,” Chindewere said.

Chindewere further said that during the national lockdown period, Padare/Enkundleni has been receiving cases of men who are suffering abuse, mostly in the form of emotional and verbal abuse.

“In most cases in families, men are the bread winner or are expected to provide for the family. Now that the government has introduced a lockdown to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, many men, particularly those who work in the informal sector have lost their sources of income along with their ability to provide for their families.

“As a result of this many men are suffering verbal and emotional abuse from their significant others who expect them to put food on the table and meet the family’s day to day expenses. Emotional and verbal abuse are just as bad as physical abuse as they can result in anxiety, loss of self-esteem and mental instability,” Chindewere said.

He added that prolonged emotional abuse often leads to build up anger and emotion which can result in violent eruptions.

“Men tend to react through physical action when confronted by situations that put immense pressure on them and as a result of emotional and verbal abuse, some men end up being triggered to react violently towards their partners.

“This does not justify violent behaviour, but it just highlights the need to have proper communication channels within the home to avoid situations where emotions end up running high, resulting in violent confrontations,” he added.

Chindewere further said that another issue which was fuelling domestic violence during the lockdown was social media.

“Now that people are stuck together indoors, we have been receiving several incidents of men discovering love affairs on their partners’ mobile phones and also women discovering the same on their partners’ phones. Hiding such secretes becomes difficult if you are held up in the same space for long hours and people develop a tendency of snooping around their partners phone, looking for messages and images.

“This is also fuelling conflicts within the home and as such we continue appealing to the public to be faithful to their partners and avoid unnecessary tension,” Chindewere said.

The surge in GBV cases is not unique to Zimbabwe, but is occurring across the globe especially in countries who have initiated lockdowns in efforts to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

It is in this context that the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic, has called on States to take urgent measures to combat domestic violence in the context of Covid-19 lockdowns.

“All States should make significant efforts to address the COVID -19 threat, but they should not leave behind women and children victims of domestic violence, as this could lead to an increase of domestic violence including intimate partner femicides,” she said.

“The risk is aggravated in a time when there are no or fewer shelters and help services available for victims, when it is difficult to access those that are still open, and when there is less community support; fewer police interventions and less access to justice as many courts are closed,” she said.

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