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This article participates on the following special index pages:

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


  • Perspective: Harrowing tales recounted at the Domestic Violence Bill hearing
    Fungai Machirori, Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS)
    September 28, 2006

    http://www.healthdev.org/eforums/cms/individual.asp?sid=172&sname=Partners%20Zimbabwe

    View the index of articles on the debate around the Domestic Violence Bill

    The beginning of the public hearing on the Domestic Violence Bill scarcely betrayed hinted at the poignancy of many of the testimonies that would follow. Women and girls - professionals, students, housewives, some barely able to walk with age, some clutching babies at their hips - sang, danced and ululated as they made their grand entrance into the public meeting room. But soon after came the disbelieving silence as victims of domestic violence shared their horrific ordeals.

    The hearing was held in order for organisations and the general public to make submissions on the Domestic Violence Bill to the Portfolio Committees on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, as well as Youth, Gender and Women's Affairs. In her address to the committees, the Director of Girl Child Network (GCN), Betty Makoni, gave an account on behalf of a group of victims and survivors of domestic violence present at the gathering. She recounted the ordeal of a family of three young siblings, the oldest barely 10 years old, who had watched their father bludgeon their mother to death. Her crime was that she had wanted to attend a funeral - something her husband found suspicious, as this was the second she was to attend in quick succession. He is currently in prison. Another story was shared of a girl who was raped and impregnated by her own father. She gave birth to her child around the same time as her own mother - both women bearing children by the same man. One victim showed her physical reminder of the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her husband - the blood-soaked T-shirt she had been wearing that day. Many sighed and moaned under their breath at the stories.

    "This so-called private matter is a matter of public policy," noted the Director of Women's Trust, Luta Shaba. This points to the need for openness in discussing issues around domestic violence as shown by the testimonies and submissions presented before the panel of government officials. Present were the Minister of Gender, Women's Affairs and Community Development, Oppah Muchinguri, Minister Shuvai Mahofa, Members of Parliament and senators. Organisations dealing in gender, law, human rights and HIV and AIDS, such as GCN, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers' Association (ZWALA), Padare/Enkhundleni, SAfAIDS, Zimbabwe Women's Resources Centre and Network and many others were also in attendance.

    The main recommendations made to the committee were in terms of planning and implementation around the Bill, once it is passed into law. The Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) advocated for society preparedness campaigns for the care of abused women and children. The agency also called for massive training on domestic violence in all sectors of society. During this process they suggested that best practices would also be tabulated.

    The National Coordinator of Women and Law in Southern Africa, Sylvia Chirau, expressed the need for a resocialisation process in terms of challenging society's attitudes and values around gender and violence, beginning with giving children as young as nursery school, anti-violence lessons.

    Emilia Muchawa of ZWALA noted that while the Domestic Violence Bill provides a harmonised procedure for a person who is a victim of domestic violence, it still requires amending in order to strengthen it. For instance, she noted that no minimum sentence is provided for the offence of domestic violence, which leaves this to the magistrate to decide. Many echoed this sentiment, calling for much stiffer penalties than the 10-year maximum prison sentence and the level fourteen fine (Z$25 000) the Bill currently offers as punishment. Also of great importance to note is that most domestic violence cases are not heard in national courts but filtered through the junior magistrates' courts where fines are as low as $4,000. This means that perpetrators of domestic violence can easily pay their fine, re-enter society and commit the same crimes again.

    ZWALA also urged the Portfolio Committee to consider issues of access to justice. Magistrates' courts and police are not easily accessible to rural people and a suggestion was made for chiefs to have powers to grant protection orders to protect victims from further abuse. ZWALA noted that the rural setting meant that few NGOs were available to provide anti-domestic violence counselors and therefore, a proposal was made that people at village and ward levels be trained to provide the service. Under the proposed law, a panel of social welfare officers and members of private voluntary organisations concerned with domestic violence will be constituted to counsel and advise survivors of domestic violence.

    Disappointingly, no submissions by HIV and AIDS organisations were made to the Portfolio Committees, especially in light of the fact that the Bill never makes direct reference to the link between domestic violence and HIV. Rape and coerced sexual activity are important drivers in the spread of HIV, while women who demand condom use in their relationships are often subjected to abusive retaliation by their partners. Current statistics show that over half of all people living with HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe are women.

    The Bill is also being mooted near to the time of the annual commemorations of the 16 Days of Activism to stop Violence Against Women, with the campaign beginning on the 25th of November. The event provides women human rights defenders with a powerful platform for continued lobbying for the immediate passing of the Bill into law. This will be assisted by the October release of the UN Secretary General's in-depth study into all forms of Violence Against Women.

    While many of the speakers at the public hearing voiced frustration at the long wait for a law to protect them from the on-going violence, they maintained determination to see their efforts succeed. And as the meeting drew to a close, all were reminded once more of it significance when one of the young boys who had watched his father beat his mother to death came forward to give his views on the Bill. He and his brother and sister now live with their 90-year-old grandmother who is barely able to support them. "I watched my father kill my mother," recounted the barefoot boy. "I want him in jail for forty years or more."

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