Source: GBV: Nation should address women’s vulnerability to men | The Herald November 25, 2019
Vadah Mashangwa Special Correspondent
As the nation prepares to commemorate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence under the national theme “Prevention, Protection, Participation and Services, End Gender Based Violence”, women continue to be reminded of their vulnerability to men.
This is not to say that men are not under the same threat but research has revealed that 99 percent of women are victims of Gender Based Violence compared to the paltry 1 percent of men.
Women are continually raped, sexually harassed, verbally, emotionally, psychologically and physically abused by men. In the book, “Intimate Intrusions”, it is highlighted that women devise means of minimising their exposure to the possibility of male violence by avoiding, for example, going out on the streets alone (and especially in neighbourhoods where there is no street lighting). Some buy cars so that they feel safer when they travel, some quit jobs due to sexual harassment by their male counterparts, some leave and divorce violent husbands, some even go to the extent of altering their lifestyles and appearance to avoid attention.
So, while it seems rosy for most women a lot is happening behind the scenes. Some have scars, both physically and mentally, of the after-effects of gender-based violence and this has spill-over effects in the manner they interact with their spouses, family members and the community at large later in life.
Gender based violence does not affect a particular group of women but can affect the old, young, the rich and poor, white and black alike, so no woman is immune to violence. Violence against women is inevitable too because of their subordinate position vis-à-vis men.
As children many women were abused by male relatives or by male strangers and at times some never had the ability to share their experiences up to adulthood and the scars have remained forever. On a number of occasions, adolescent women have to endure whistles, glances, admiration of how they are built physically and comments are made on how they are dressed. Some men go to the extent of making sexual advances to women in public places.
It is unfortunate that in all circumstances women blame themselves for such misfortunes and generally their comments are, “If only I had not gone there. If only I had not asked for a lift, if only I had stayed home.” It is high time men respect the women’s dignity. There is a tendency today to believe that women have achieved liberation but many of the struggles for autonomy and power are frighteningly similar. No wonder why women continue to occupy secondary positions and treated differently to men in employment and women are still the primary caregivers and child carers.
At times it is not about strangers. Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, own lovers, teachers, bosses, husbands, colleagues’ rape and torment women. The issue of pornographic material women and children are forced to watch and experiment all violates a woman’s inner self. In a society where male domination is pronounced all this take an illusion of normalcy. At times women’s experiences are obscured by the presumption of co-equal exchange. Such common sense continues to gloss over women’s experiences of male violence.
It is important to note that the Government enacted the Domestic Violence Act and set up One-Stop Centres through the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community Development, Small and Medium Enterprises Development across the country in order to assist survivors of gender-based violence hence there is no need for both men and women to suffer in silence but to use the law so that perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to book.
It is unfortunate that not all incidences of gender-based violence are reported to the police. But why the silence? This silence according to research does not mean acceptance. Silence is a declaration according to the book, “Intimate Intrusions: Women’s Experience of Male Violence”. Silence is a result (at times) of situational helplessness, fear and terror and concern for others, for example situations where the perpetrator is a close family member. At times it can be a result of immobilising depression. I t is, however, important to report all cases of gender-based violence.
If more women share their experiences, more women will learn to avoid similar incidences in their lives. For women to know more about incestuous assault, survivors must share their experiences. A nine-year-old girl who was sexually abused by the father kept it to herself until the mother realised that her grades were going down drastically when she was 11 years. Therefore, it is the role of all parents to ensure the safety and protection of their children.
Actually, there is widespread childhood sexual abuse and three out of four of these reported cases are committed by someone the child knows and trusts and 75 to 90 percent of such incidences are never discovered. It is high time men realise that women are by no means sex objects. This brings up the issue of consent. Lack of consent means doing something against the will of the other person. No means NO; it can never be a YES.
In another incidence a taxi driver raped an unsuspecting client orally, anally and vaginally under the threat of tightening the noose around her neck (his belt was tied around her neck like a snooze). In another example, a six-year-old is sexually abused by the father early morning when the mother was preparing breakfast. There are a number of such untold stories.
Therefore, there is dire need to interrogate social, economic and political discourses surrounding gender relations, for example in Africa, Asia and the Pacific women make up 15 percent of managerial and administrative posts and two-thirds of illiterate adults in the world are women. Above all, the majority of above 1,3 billion people in the world are living in poverty are women. According to the book “Language, Gender and Feminism”, the major cause of death for women between 15 and 44 years is male violence and 50 percent of murdered women are killed by their current or future partners.
As we commemorate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, we should remember many women and men who were killed or maimed due to gender based violence.
Vaidah Mashangwa is the Director Gender in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises and Development. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org