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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Index of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill

  • Domestic Violence Bill - will it free women?
    International Video Fair (IVF)
    Extracted from IVF Newsletter: Issue No 9 (Sept - Dec 2006)
    November 01, 2006

    Index of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill

    Gender specific violation or abuses are often overlooked and deemed secondary to other "mainstream" human rights abuses. Only a handful of countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have specific Domestic Violence Acts in place. These include Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia and Seychelles.

    Four countries (Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe) have domestic violence laws pending. In the remaining countries domestic violence is covered under laws such as "common assault" that are inadequate for dealing with this complex violation of women’s rights that invariably takes place in "hidden" places like the home.

    In Zimbabwe for example, gender based violence prevalence and gravity has intensified and in recent years, the violence has taken atrocious forms such as the rape and the sodomy of young children in the misguided belief that this will cure HIV & AIDS infection.

    "It is important to note that the gender and power dynamics that help perpetuate and condone gender violence are central features driving the HIV & AIDS epidemic," said Musasa Project, a Zimbabwean non-governmental organization that deals with gender-based violence.

    "The use and meaning of violence is connected with power. Due to socialization, in most societies, especially African societies, social, economic, political and interpersonal power remain with men and power is socially gendered."

    Gender-based violence is defined as any act of violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women or men, including threats of such acts, coercion or an arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

    In an effort to address this global problem, the Women’s Global Leadership Institute participants in 1991 chose November 25 to December 10 as 16 days of activism which has since then become an international campaign adopted as an organized strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women.

    UNAIDS estimate in its report on Global AIDS epidemic that 17 million of over 38 million HIV positive people worldwide are women, three quarters of these living in Africa.

    In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls already make up almost 60 percent of adults living with HIV according to UNAIDS.

    According to statistics by Musasa Project about 55 percent of domestic violence in Zimbabwe goes unreported and in the majority of cases reported no action is taken.

    "These statistics . . . are only a tip of the ice-berg. Reasons for not reporting vary from socialization which encourages that a person should not hang their dirty linen in public to lack of specific legislation to address the abuses they face," said Musasa.

    Gender-based violence destroys women’s health. Due to the biological make up of women and their inability to negotiate safer sex because of their lower socio-economic status in society makes women vulnerable to HIV infection. Gender based violence can also render women incapable of controlling their fertility rate and cause them to experience poor health.

    Violence on women also has negative implications on the development of a nation. Women constitute the majority of the world’s poorest group of people largely due to lack of or limited access to education. Thus lack of access to and lower levels of education narrow the scope of the economic activities women can engage in. This can result in women in engaging in unremunerated labour. According to the Zimbabwe’s Women Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) women do two thirds work yet only earn five percent of its income and own less than one percent of its assets. Thus gender-based violence impedes women’s full participation in society largely by handicapping their ability to contribute to economic progress.

    Other effects of violence are stress, divorce, and loss of property, hospitalization, permanent injury, unwanted pregnancies and disfigurement.

    The yet to be assented Prevention of Domestic Violence Bill in Malawi has important aspects like orders for protection, occupancy and tenancy. It also gives powers to the police to enter homes and apprehend the culprits if there is domestic violence. It provides for payment of fines as high as K1 million (USD 7,500) and custodial sentences for culprits, depending on the gravity of the abuse.

    Marital rape, psychological torture and economic abuse are also incorporated in the Bill. This is commendable since it will also help protect the more vulnerable parties from HIV. It also provides for counseling for both perpetrators and victims in Malawi.

    Musasa Project with the support of the women’s movement in Zimbabwe has successfully lobbied for the Domestic Violence Bill, which is expected to be introduced in Parliament soon.

    The Bill seeks to protect women, men and children, including domestic workers who might find themselves victims of abuse by their employers.

    It states that a victim of domestic violence is entitled to apply to the courts for a protection order, which prohibits the perpetrator from further abusing the victim. The culprit is liable to a fine or custodial penalty if they breach the order.

    Under the Bill, the police officers have the right to arrest without warrants where a person is about to commit domestic violence where there is reasonable suspicion that the person is about to commit or has committed domestic violence.

    A 2005 study by the Gender and Media in Southern Africa (GEMSA) noted that only four countries (Lesotho, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) had passed Sexual Offences Acts. These acts recognize rape in marriage; a critical factor in the era of HIV & AIDS, where one of the largest categories of those newly infected is married women who are faithful in their relationships while their husbands are not.

    The study also looked at the provision for the administration of Post Exposure Prophylaxis or PEP to survivors of sexual assault. Only four out of the twelve countries in the study (Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia) had policies requiring that health facilities administer PEP, a course of anti-retroviral drugs that can help to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection, after a sexual assault.

    "The weak policy and legal provisions, lack of public education for survivors of sexual assault to seek this treatment, which has to be taken within 72 hours of the assault, is one of the most disturbing findings of the study, given the fact that Southern Africa has the highest rate of HIV & AIDS infection in the world. It is also disturbing that debates about this issue have been confined to policy and legal provisions, rather than to the human rights of women, and the Constitutional obligations of the state, in situations where women are exposed to the danger of the deadly virus as a result of coerced sex," said the study.

    Extra marital affairs account for the greater cases of violence (44%) and yet multiple sexual relationships are a key driver to the HIV epidemic in Zimbabwe. Even UNAIDS confirms marriage is proving to be a serious risk factor for HIV infection for women. Studies in Kenya and Zambia have shown that younger married women are at a higher risk of HIV infection than their unmarried counterparts. Relative interference account for 14 percent of gender based violence and cultural practices (13%).

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