By Nyaradzo Nyere
Melensia fears that she might have suffered permanent injuries from the routine beatings by her husband, which worsened when a lockdown was imposed to slow down the spread of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe last year.
Gender rights activists say cases of gender-based violence (GBV) spiralled out of control as loss of incomes during the lockdowns put a strain on marriages.
“Since the lockdown in 2019, my husband has been physically abusing me and our children to the point that l have suffered physical damages to my body and to some of my internal organs,” said Melensia, who preferred to be called by her first name for fear of victimisation.
The mother of two, said her husband has always been abusive, but during the coronavirus induced lockdown, the abuse worsened.
Melensia is nursing a scarred forehead, a swollen breast with a blood clot inside, and a bruised, swollen neck as a result of her husband’s recent attacks.
She is not alone in her predicament as millions of women around the world have become victims of GBV during lockdowns.
UN Women described the violence against women and girls in the Covid-19 era as “the shadow pandemic”.
“Without sufficient attention to preventing and responding to GBV in the Covid-19 response and recovery measures, women and girls’ rights across the world are threatened,” said a recent UN Women report.
Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, GBV was already a pressing issue in Zimbabwe.
According to a 2019 survey by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), 39.4% of women aged between15 and 49 had experienced violence since age 15 and 11.6% had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
During the lockdown, a range of GBV service providers and actors in Zimbabwe, including women’s rights organisations, have identified increased reports of GBV as a cause for concern.
One organisation said it recorded an average increase of over 60 percent in calls related to GBV from the start of the lockdown until October 7, 2020, compared to the pre-lockdown period.
During the first 11 days of the lockdown, the National GBV Hotline run by Musasa registered 764 reported cases of GBV, compared to 500 to 600 cases a month prior to the outbreak of Covid-19.
“About 94 percent of the calls to Musasa have been from women.
Emmanuel Manyati, director of Better Life Foundation, an organisation that works to uphold the rights of women said the high GBV cases motivated them to run a project centred on reducing cases of violence against women, especially during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
“Safeguarding the rights of women and girls is one of the most important factors in fighting against gender-based violence in communities,” Munyati said.
“Women in rural areas need more protection as they suffer perpetual abuse in silence due to a heavily patriarchal environment that views women as objects rather than equals in society and this puts them in the margins of development.
“As we focus on rural women and girls, their vulnerability is exacerbated by the Covid-19 lockdown that has seen many of them suffering, not only violence, but also sexual abuse at the hands of men.”
Manyati said the project used a research method known as the ‘Conversations cafe’ that was developed by Fred Emerie.
The participants were put into two groups to discuss and exhaust all gender related challenges that the community felt sorry about (Sorries), while the other groups focused on issues that the community was proud of (Prouds).
The session allowed the communities to self-introspect and widen the view of their own problems and suggest best homemade solutions to the challenges.
Manyati said sustainable ways of fighting community problems were identified and relevant community members made up the Women Protection Committee (WPC).
The WPC is made up of important community departments and members whose duties and abilities augment the effectiveness and efficiency of the project.
The committee is made up of a headman, three village heads, a nurse, a local school teacher, youth coordinator, neighbourhood police, ward councillor and five young women with the core duty of identifying GBV cases during lockdowns and reporting them.
Through the project, Melensia was able to report her husband, who was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
“I am recovering well at home, and l strongly urge the government and other organisations that are focused on the protection of women’s rights to increase their efforts during these lockdowns so as to reduce cases of GBV,” Melansia said.