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and culture central to ending GBV
Grace Mutandwa, Gender Links
December 04, 2012
Every two or
three months, Rudo and her husband Tobias part with either a goat
or two chickens as a fine for their violently explosive marriage.
that lives on a small farming settlement half an hour's drive north
east of Harare, have had countless trips to the village headman
in the four years they have been married. Losing their only real
tangible wealth to the village court does not seem to deter Tobias
from beating up his wife. The wife's crimes vary from not doing
the ironing properly to being a failure in her "other marital
Rudo is just
one of several women who rush to the headman for protection from
violent and abusive husbands.
the family structure handled cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Today many couples
do not maintain strong links with family. Some violent men even
scare their own family elders so much that the family would rather
turn a blind eye than be involved.
At the start
of the Sixteen Days of Activism 2012, Zimbabwe's Women Affairs,
Gender and Community Development Minister, Olivia Muchena launched
a National Gender Based Violence Strategy. "We need to start
from our homes by upholding the principle of family unity and dignity
as well as strengthening of traditional mediation system as we seek
to end domestic violence," said Muchena.
traditional leaders and cultural institutions for supporting Government's
efforts to curb domestic violence and commended traditional leaders
for providing shelter to some victims of domestic violence.
now has a law that protects women from domestic violence, not all
victims are comfortable with reporting their spouses to the police.
Friends and family members still ostracize women who dare to report
or speak about being subjected to physical or emotional violence.
other countries in Southern Africa are experiencing a change in
strategies for dealing with GBV. In the early 80's women's rights
groups educated women on how to respond to violent relationships
and seek redress. There is a growing realisation by government and
civil society even where there are protective laws that the human
element is important to change attitudes and behaviour.
and giving them shelter served as a temporary measure but did not
deter men from beating up their wives. Laws had to be enacted to
specifically target GBV. This resulted in more awareness campaigns
and acknowledgement that in a patriarchal society there is need
to have the buy-in of traditional leaders, legislators and religious
leaders who are mostly men.
In a bid to
find a lasting strategy to eradicating GBV, South Africa's Council
of Churches conducted research on traditional leaders. The Council
recognised the wide influence of traditional leaders in Southern
African rural communities.
Acting as "custodians
of African culture," traditional leaders play a key role in
advocating for community health initiatives. They preside over customary
law courts and reach communities through imbizos/lekgotlas/dares,
or community dialogues.
leaders are key partners in HIV and AIDS interventions, they are
an untapped resource for advocacy regarding sexual and gender-based
violence (SGBV) service interventions. In order to strengthen community-based
initiatives and to understand the potential role of traditional
leaders in the prevention of SGBV, the Council held a series of
workshops in three South African provinces.
Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS)
Knowledge for Health (K4Health) project early this year launched
an online discussion forum on the role of traditional leaders as
partners in the prevention of HIV and GBV. One of the recommendations
from the discussion is that government and civil society should
acknowledge the importance of traditional leaders in addressing
harmful cultural practices to mitigate HIV and GBV.
often struggle to catch up with progressive legal developments that
urban women have access to. The inclusion of traditional leaders
in legislative discussions has resulted in chiefs passing on the
information to their subjects. The Zimbabwe Chief's Council that
sits in parliament should be encouraged to champion women's rights
also has a highly religious population. Some church leaders are
beginning to counsel young people on the verge of getting married
on the evils of GBV. The counselling focuses on economic, social
and other problems that the couple might encounter and how to deal
with the problems without resorting to violence. Those already married
and struggling with proper non-physical communication also receive
In a church
service on November 25, one priest said special prayers for couples
in physical conflict. But it will take more than prayers and fining
people goats or chickens to realise any significant gains in the
UN's 2012 global theme; From peace in the Home to Peace in the World:
Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women!
is a freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe. This article is part
of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen
Days of Activism against Gender Violence.
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