At 16, Fungai Moyo (not her real name) looks frail and vulnerable. She is among the expecting mothers at a shelter at Nyanga District Hospital.
The girl from Tanda Village, Nyanga district, Manicaland province has been housed at the waiting home so that she can be closer to a health facility to avoid the delay in accessing health care services when she is due for delivery.
While her peers are in school, hers is a different story. She was raped and impregnated by a man from her village who has since varnished. To compound her misery, she was not able to have her pregnancy terminated on time due to various obstacles.
Events of the horrendous incident she encountered early this year forced her to drop out of school, where she was doing Grade Six after she delayed enrolling for school.
To compound her misery, Fungai is carrying an unwanted child, who is a product of rape.
The Saturday Herald Lifestyle caught up with this expecting mother, who was not only robbed of her childhood but was also denied of her constitutional right to access legal termination of pregnancy following the rape.
“I was raped nine months ago by a man from our village on my way from school. On the day, I was coming from school and had just parted ways with my friends, so I was now alone on my way home and a man suddenly appeared, dragged me into the bush and raped me,” she chronicles.
Fungai said she managed to get home and narrated the ordeal to her family before reporting the matter to the police.
The man, who sexually assaulted Fungai is reportedly on the run since the rape incident while his family has also disappeared without trace from the village.
Unfortunately, Fungai failed to travel to Rusape as she had no financial resources to have the pregnancy terminated on time.
Now she is preparing to be a mother — a mother to an unwanted child.
Fungai is not alone in tolerating painful life situations. Even educated and economically empowered women are having to endure living with abuse in their marriages. Take Samantha (not her real name) for instance, who has been married for almost 10 years.
An accountant by qualification, working for one of the parastatals in Harare, the mother-of-two has been a victim of abuse for years now.
Her marriage seems perfect to the world because she hides all the scars and bruises she suffers with make-up because she wants it to be considered to be perfect.
Honourable Sithembiso Nyoni
She has lost count of how many times she has been physically assaulted by her husband. She has even been hospitalised because of the assaults.
“When we were dating, he slapped me once when we went out for drinks and some men passed some remarks and that irritated him. He slapped me after blaming me for leading him on and tolerating him.
“This should have been a sign of his violent nature but I forgave him. We got married and then the assaults became more intense.
“He can easily get irritated and angry and now everything seems to make him angry. He has beaten me several times and I have even moved out of our matrimonial home many a times and he always comes and pleads for forgiveness. He says I shouldn’t make him angry,” chronicles the 35-year-old Samantha as she struggles to hold back her tears.
It seems the church has socialised her to believe that divorce under whatever circumstances is evil and she believes it. Here is an economically empowered woman who has been abused several times but is still stuck in the marriage. She says she is keeping the marriage for the sake of her children.
“I’m so scared of him and now I have lost all affection and I struggle to be intimate. I don’t know if I can go through with divorce because the church says it is evil and I don’t want to bring a curse on my children.
“I’m also scared to be alone and to be labelled as that single woman who left her marriage,” she added.
She always finds several excuses to keep the marriage going.
Fungai and Samantha’s stories show the many ugly faces of gender-based violence happening both in the public and private space.
Their predicament, the lack of a safe space in the community is faced by several other women and girls across the country and their sad stories are some of the many ugly faces of gender-based violence.
The Istanbul Convention defines gender-based violence as acts resulting in “physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all societies.
Tomorrow, November 25 marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, which seeks to raise awareness on gender-based violence as a human rights issue while creating safe spaces for the vulnerable.
This year’s international theme is “#End Gender Based Violence in the world of work” and Zimbabwe has localised its theme to “#Creating Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”.
Zimbabwe has set up a number of legal frameworks such as the “Bill of Rights” enshrined in the Constitution, the Domestic Violence Act and provisions in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, all in a bid to protect women and men against gender-based violence.
However, despite the existence of good laws, sexual violence, harassment and all forms of gender-based violence in both private and public spaces continue to be rampant.
Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, Honourable Sithembiso Nyoni in marking the launch of the 16 Days of Activism emphasised that the (16 days of activism) was a necessary step to intensify efforts in raising awareness on all forms of gender-based violence.
“There will not be any development if we don’t end gender-based violence. We need to raise awareness on the negative impacts of GBV particularly the breakdown of the social fabric and disruption of development initiatives.
“These global commemorations also seek to strengthen work around gender-based violence and to provide a forum for sharing experiences, strategies and best practices in effectively addressing all forms of gender-based violence and to demonstrate solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence.”
Disability activist Soneni Gwenzi asserts that people with disabilities were not immune to GBV but rather vulnerable hence programming should not leave them out.
“Society must avoid to view women with disability as a protected member of group who are immune to GBV’s. They are at a high risk of being abused due to lack of or very minimum access of services such as legal protection, educational information, access to buildings where they can get help are among the myriad of challenges they face.
“This is compounded by language barriers such as lack of untrained personnel to speak in sign language to communicate with victims of GBVs; as well as other disability conditions which require specific needs for victims to be assisted within their spaces and privacy,” said Gwenzi.
Gwenzi further notes that GBV cases are very high in the disability communities in Zimbabwe arguing that the perpetrators who are usually caregivers, close family and friends were being protected.
“One in five women worldwide is a woman with a disability” — (UN Enable) Gender based violence cases are very high in the disability communities in Zimbabwe and people should stop protecting the perpetrators who could be caregivers, close family friends, family members or very influential social figures.
“Disability on its on receives a lot of stigma and being a woman makes one more susceptible to abuses such ‘direct violence’ as is physical, psychological and economic violence and ‘indirect violence is structural characterised by the norms, stereotypes and attitudes around gender and disability beliefs,” says Gwenzi.
She argues that women with disabilities who are intellectually challenged, those with autism, impaired hearing, visually impaired and those who have more than one disability need to be included in information and dissemination on GBVs adding that once someone is informed, they have an inner confidence to report or ask for help.
Zimbabwe Gender Commission chief executive officer, Virginia Muwanigwa believes getting the messages for gender equality, social inclusion into the mainstream space and into the centre of the society could help end gender-based violence.
“We need to come to a time where gender-based violence is not seen as an issue for women and girls but rather have it into the mainstream space. Messages against gender-based violence must not just come from women and girls but should come from each and one of us as Zimbabweans.
“We have no development to talk about if gender-based violence continue to find space in the society. Gender-based violence undermines opportunities for women and denies them the ability to fully utilise their basic human right.”
In its effort to end gender-based violence, the Government has continued to work with partners like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and have gone a step further, increasing availability and utilisation of gender-based violence services by survivors as well as reducing tolerance for GBV in communities.
United Nations-Women asserts that for far too long, impunity, silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to escalate to pandemic proportions with one in three women currently experiencing gender-based violence.