Women and girls living with disabilities have borne the brunt of gender-based violence during national lockdowns to slow down the spread of Covid-19 because most of them are not engaged in meaningful economic activities, a senior government official has said.
Jennifer Mhlanga, Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development deputy minister, told a recent meeting between traditional and church leaders as well as women and girls living with disabilities, that economic empowerment programmes could help end the vicious cycle.
Recent research by Deaf Women Included (DWI), showed that women and girls living with disabilities in Zimbabwe had limited opportunities to access formal education and employment, which made them more vulnerable to gender-based violence.
DWI, an organisation that facilitates community dialogues on prevention of violence against women and girls living with disabilities, organised the meeting to find strategies to fight the scourge.
‘‘Gender based violence has been very prevalent during Covid-19 national lockdowns due to low activities that usually keep families busy,” Mhlanga said.
‘‘We emphasise on the need for households to take up economic activities as the income at home determines happiness within the family.
“If the amount is too little, there is likelihood that misunderstandings and brutal attacks occur, and women will be at the receiving end as victims.”
She appealed to traditional and church leaders, among other groups to come up with measures to tackle gender-based violence, especially towards people living with disabilities.
‘‘Some gender-based violence perpetrators may have witnessed violence during their lifetime.
We must act together (to help them),’’ Mhlanga added.
‘‘It is, therefore, our mandate as a ministry to empower both males and females to reduce gender-based violence through community development projects.
“We are worried that our homes have been turned into war zones and it will affect communities, provinces and the nation.”
DWI director Agnes Chindimba, said women and young girls living with disabilities, who were victims of gender-based violence, faced double discrimination when trying to access services.
.“When it comes to women and girls with disabilities, we have realised that they are subjected to discrimination and there is need for government to closely work with us in taking measures to ensure full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Chindimba said.
“There is lack of provision for assistance and support, there are a lot of barriers such as lack of awareness, lack of funding, lack of adequate human resources, inappropriate policies and institutional frameworks, inadequate and unresponsive services and poor service coordination.”
She said there was need to ensure that women and girls living with disabilities had proper living conditions, formal education, employment, formal and informal support.
Reverend Isaac from Hurungwe Pastors Fraternity, echoed Chindimba’s sentiments, saying there was need to provide support to victims of gender-based violence.
‘‘We need to help them as cases of abuse of women and girls living with disabilities, especially during lockdowns, are on the increase,” Isaac said.
“The Christian community will always play its role in giving them comfort.”
Chindimba urged law enforcement agencies to create specialised desks to handle issues affecting people living with disabilities.
“There is need to have victim friendly units in the police, which specifically deals with cases of people living with disabilities, who are experiencing violence,” she added.