Statement by the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) in commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
STATEMENT ON 16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM AGAINST GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
The Law Society of Zimbabwe joins the nation and the rest of the world in observing the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
This is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December the International Human Rights Day.
The 16 days were set aside for states to re-affirm their commitment and efforts towards eradicating gender-based violence.
It is used as an organising strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
The 2021 theme, “Orange the world: End violence against women now!!” is apposite. It calls for the immediate eradication of violence against women in all its forms.
Gender-based Violence (GBV) is a violation of human rights. This is reflected in international conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women (The Maputo Protocol) whose provisions have been heavily domesticated in Zimbabwe’s legislative framework.
As the world continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, gender-based violence has been reported to be on the increase as communities’ capacities to fend for themselves have been drastically minimised as a result of restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The pandemic hit Zimbabwe while in the midst of economic instabilities and this has heightened disharmony in communities resulting in the surging incidents of domestic violence.
Law-based NGOs which are accredited to the Law Society have documented incidents that have pointed to an upsurge in gender-based violence cases exacerbated by the COVID-19 and the trend is worrisome the need for immediate action to forestall the prevailing situation.
In the same vein, child marriages are another form of GBV prevalent globally, regionally and particularly in Zimbabwe where in July 2021 a 14-year-old child bride was reported to have died at a religious shrine due to complications while giving birth. Zimbabwe has an inadequate and conflicting legal framework on the minimum age for marriage.
The constitution does not expressly prohibit child marriage, and a number of laws effectively condone it, for example, the current marriage laws permit the marriage of a 16-year-old girl or younger.
In addition, the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act criminalises “extra-marital” sexual intercourse with a minor below 16 years creating a defence of marriage for potential offenders.
The LSZ is cognisant of the fact that child marriages are outlawed through the Domestic Violence Act whose definition of domestic violence includes child marriages.
This Act has however been rarely applied if at all, to curb child marriages as the focus is mainly directed to physical violence and other forms of domestic violence.
The obtaining situation calls for immediate action to curtail any existing legal gaps within the existing legal framework.
While there have been efforts put in place to curb GBV, it remains a societal scourge cutting across economic, cultural, and religious and age boundaries.
It may be regarded as another form of a community pandemic that needs to be eradicated as its effects are far-reaching and leave communities disjointed.
The eradication of gender-based violence goes beyond mere pronouncements denouncing the scourge. It requires a deliberate move by the state to take practical measures that improve and wholesomely implement a robust legal policy framework that combats all forms of gender-based violence.
In addition to enhancing the legal framework, the state needs to comprehensively address the continuous economic meltdown currently being experienced which is causing a surge in poverty within communities and in turn exacerbating domestic violence.
Equally important is the need to tackle harmful cultural practices that impede gender equality as well as the participation of women and girls in all spheres of life.
For this, there is a need to shift from the stereotypes and attitudes that shame survivors while normalising or excusing perpetrators.
As we join the world in commemorating this year’s 16 days, we urge the government of Zimbabwe to;
- Compressively tackle the current economic challenges in order to reduce poverty levels within communities and create a more cohesive and peaceful society.
- Ensure that adequate resources are committed in the national budget to fight gender-based violence.
- Promote the implementation of existing laws against GBV and plug any existing gaps as well as barriers in the implementation of the GBV legal framework.
- Expedite the passing of a compressive set of laws dealing with children and remove any existing legal gaps, expressly set the minimum age of marriage at 18 and outlaw child marriages.
- Above all, expedite the legislative realignment process for improved protection of vulnerable groups from gender-based violence.