25 November 2022: Today marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism against gender based violence which is being commemorated under the theme “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.”
As an organization that promotes human rights and access to justice for marginalized communities in Zimbabwe, the Legal Resources Foundation unequivocally condemns all forms of violence perpetrated against women and girls. Eradicating violence against women and girls is not an event but a sustained daily effort.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations perpetrated on humanity. In Zimbabwe, forty percent of women aged between 15 and 49 years have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner whereas less than forty percent sought for help. The long term impacts of violence impinge on sustainable development and gains that have already been made towards achieving gender equality. Gender based violence does not only affect the individual, it wreaks havoc on family ties, societal progress and endangers economic growth.
Adolescent girls are increasingly experiencing sexual violence in spaces where they are supposed to be protected. The public and private spaces have become zones for perpetrating physical, psychological, verbal and sexual violence with offenders normalizing the abuse of women and girls. Survivors of gender based are usually exposed to secondary victimization and suffer blame for having contributed to their own abuse.
The recent appalling media reports of two nine year old pregnant girls in Tsholotsho and Bindura as well as the murder of a fifteen year old “wife” are evidence of the magnitude of violence being perpetrated against women and girls in Zimbabwe. The abuse of women and girls is another global pandemic that needs the urgent attention of all sectors of society including the family structure.
While the Zimbabwean government has made commendable efforts to eradicate child sexual exploitation which has been normalized as “child marriage” by raising the legal age of marriage to eighteen years of age, more work needs to be done in enforcing the law and ensuring that perpetrators face steep penalties. Implementing the Marriages Act will contribute to the protection of girls and accords them a right to choose when they can get married without being coerced.
Legal Resources Foundation applauds the Constitutional Court for being progressive in raising the age of consent from sixteen to eighteen years of age in order to safeguard children from sexual exploitation and abuse. We, therefore, demand that the Criminal Law Code be aligned with Section 81 (1) of the Constitution which defines a child as any boy or girl who is below the age of eighteen years and has a right to be protected.
Our urgent call during the 16 Days of Activism against gender based violence is for the government of Zimbabwe to ensure the implementation of the Marriages Act so that girls can fully enjoy their rights. We urge the government to introduce minimum mandatory sentencing as a punitive measure for crimes such as rape. The move will contribute to the elimination of violence. We call upon the government to adequately resource the justice delivery and health sectors so that survivors receive quality and comprehensive services without facing secondary victimization. We call upon the access to justice delivery sector to consider the introduction of court user service fee waivers for survivors of gender based violence so that they are able to access justice without any impediments.
We urge the government and non-state actors to collaborate in a bid to strengthen the referral pathway and this includes setting up more safe shelters, provision of free legal representation, psychosocial support, rehabilitation, sexual reproductive health care services among others. We urge the general populace to abstain from perpetrating violence and stop blaming victims. We all have a part to play in eliminating violence and contributing to a world where women and girls are safe.