“That’s what is left of me after my husband beat me,” Rutendo spoke out at a women’s shelter, showing them her broken teeth and bruises that left permanent marks. “He hit me so hard because he thought I was behaving like a child and not a wife,” she continued.
Rutendo’s guardians had married her off at 15 because of their desperation for money. She was a child and as a child, she had her own child, going through all the pregnancy complications without proper care. “It all started the first day of marriage. He slept with me without my consent but well, I thought it was excitement. When I got pregnant, my husband’s family did little to help because they said I was not the first woman to get pregnant and they thought I was being childish. It was never easy in that house.
Whenever I brought up the story of moving out to my husband, he would say he was working on it. He loved me for a while but maybe his family didn’t. “I wished I hadn’t insisted on moving out because what I faced later on was unbearable, you could not imagine. He would get angry if he came home and I was all dressed up and looking good, he thought I was up to some kind of mischief. He would get angry if the child cries.
He would get angry if I asked for money. He would be angry at me when he had a bad and tiring day at work. He would even get angry at the mentioning of us going to church. He would come home drunk most days and force himself on me. Had I known that time, I would have reported marital rape but who could have told me that a married man can rape his own wife. For a while I thought he was bewitched, you know when these things happen, we have our own way of thinking but I was wrong. That was really him. Do you know the result of his anger?
Don’t you think hurting me with words would have been better than beating? He always beat me up. He would find a reason to beat me. He always had a reason. Now 14 years of marriage hasn’t been easy, to seek for a divorce is not easy either,” she said as she held out shards, which she had as evidence for divorce proceedings.
Violence against women and girls is an extreme manifestation of gender inequality and systematic gender-based discrimination. Gender based violence is not violence about women and girls only but both sexes experience GBV. We often use the terms ‘Gender-Based Violence’ (GBV) and ‘Violence against Women’ (VAW) interchangeably because the majority of the survivors and people who experience it are women and girls.
In definition, Gender-Based Violence is violence directed towards a person because of their gender and is deeply rooted in gender inequality or power inequalities between men and women.
Rutendo’s story is that one of domination of men over women, power inequalities, deprivation and violation of human rights. Further supported by the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993), “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”
Women are disadvantaged and discriminated. What we picture in our minds when we hear about GBV is that picture of a man beating up his wife just like the way we see in the movies or we read in books or in the story above, same with the picture we create of sexual harassment, where a girl is touched whilst in a bus queue. These are all forms of GBV.
GBV is not only limited to women being beaten by their partners (domestic violence), but rape, sexual harassment, reproductive coercion, forced marriage, dating abuse and prenatal sex selection are all forms of GBV. GBV is somehow rooted deeply in patriarchal and chauvinistic opinions where women are regarded as properties purchased by men.
GBV remains a global problem with the same roots cause noted above inequitable norms. Until and unless we address these fundamental inequalities, such as recognition that women’s rights are also human rights, we will not reduce cases of GBV.
“What I thought was that only strangers or uncles rape young girls but to my surprise, a woman can be raped by her own husband, in her home,” Rutendo said. It is clear that people know what rape is but they just do it anyway. They hardly think about the consequences. Unlike the perpetrators, some of the victims might not know that it is rape just like Rutendo and some do not report.
We could ask, “why is it that there have been campaigns against GBV in the past and we are still campaigning against GBV? Are there no improvements at all? Are we wasting our time raising awareness and campaigning?” The answer is that efforts are noticed and action is being taken but cases are under-reported due to fear, taboos, social norms and so forth.
If every person works towards the goal of achieving generation equality and ending GBV, then all the drama will end. Gender-Based Violence has no boundaries. This means that women of all socio-economic backgrounds can be affected, at home or at work, children can be affected and then become perpetrators in the future, students can also be affected which undermines their capacity to excel.
Violence is costly. It is estimated to cost countries up to 37% of their GDP. In Zimbabwe, about 1 in 3 women aged 15-49 experienced either physical or sexual violence; 35% of lifetime physical or sexual intimate partner violence; 32% of lifetime non-partner sexual violence and 32% of child marriages. If these problems are not addressed, then there are higher costs for the future.
Every individual should be reached and we should all STAND against GBV. SDG #5 recognizes that Gender inequality is the foundation for a “peaceful prosperous and sustainable world” and that includes a world free of GBV. SDG 5 call for the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls be it in the private or public spheres.
Let us all be involved in the interventions against GBV, let us work towards achieving generation equality, let us do stakeholder engagement, community-based activities, research and educate others on GBV. Let us work on providing health care, psychosocial support and aid to survivors.
Let us find justice for our innocent women, strong chains of justice, A REALITY FOR WOMEN. Most of all, let us share our stories, let us not be intimidated rather let us help a society to live free of violence against women.
“I want more people to learn what I have learned here today, perhaps together we can contribute to the breaking of structures that limit us women and to end violence against us once and for all,” a woman had said after listening to Rutendo’s story.
The above statistics are not actual they are estimates.
Article by Cynthia Rumbidzai Charewa
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