SENIOR STAFF WRITER
THE United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Zimbabwe yesterday made an urgent call for the nation to channel resources to put to an end soaring cases of gender-based violence (GBV) and child abuse, amid the growing threat of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
This comes as the UNFPA State of the World Population 2020 report estimates that this year, there would be a significant increase in cases of GBV and child marriages due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced women and children to be stuck in spaces with perpetrators of abuse.
Speaking during the launch of the UNFPA State of the World Population 2020 report online yesterday, UNFPA Zimbabwe country representative Esther Muia said harmful practices against women and girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential in socio-economic development.
“This year’s UNFPA World Population 2020 report, titled Against My Will: Defying practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality, looks at least 19 harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, female genital mutilation, child marriage and gender-based violence.
“An estimated 4,1 million girls across the globe will be subjected to female genital mutilation, while over 13 million girls under age 18 will be forced into marriages to much older men,” Muia said.
“These figures are not only true for the globe but for Zimbabwe as well and this calls for urgent action to put an end to harmful practices against women and girls. We must prioritise the protection of women and girls and create opportunities so that they participate in socio-economic and political spaces,” she added.
Muia further said that there was a need for the government to ensure that laws, designed to protect women and children, are enforced without fear and favour.
“As UN agencies we are there to assist the government in ending harmful practices against women and children. However, the government needs to play an active role by enforcing the law thereby plugging the leaking roof, otherwise we will keep on mopping at the bottom while the leaking is not stopping at the top,” Muia said.
Speaking at the same event, European Union (EU) ambassador to Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen said the coronavirus pandemic has worsened GBV and child abuse and calls for more effort to end the scourge.
This comes as the national GBV response station has recorded a 90 percent increase in cases of GBV for the lockdown period as compared to pre-lockdown.
“Zimbabwe has made great strides in addressing issues to do with GBV and early child marriages countries in the continent.
“However, the Covid-19 pandemic has become a problem and it threatens to reverse these gains. We have recorded, through the EU-funded Spotlight Initiative, about 6 500 cases of GBV during the national lockdown.
“These figures are shocking and concerning at the same time and they indicate that more needs to be done to address the issue of GBV. I believe that we all have a role to play and we should challenge ourselves to ensure that we are not perpetrators of violence against women and children. It is important for us as men especially to be part of the solution rather than the problem,” Olkkonen said.
Women Affairs ministry permanent secretary Melusi Matshiya said in efforts to minimise GBV, the government had declared social workers as essential services.
“We have declared people who work to protect children and women as essential service to boost the fight against GBV and child abuse,” Matshiya said.