Campaign to end gender inequality, GBV intensifies

*By Bishow Parajuli 

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The global campaign to achieve gender equality and end violence against women and girls is intensifying, rightly so as a basic human rights.

One of the major global platforms is the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This is an international campaign which takes place each year from 25 November, which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day commemoration to cast the spotlight on the pervasive and devastating human rights violation.

The UN welcomes the decision in Zimbabwe that this campaign is seen as a 365-day of activism against GBV. For sure, this is a scourge that needs to be addressed every day until no one becomes a victim as a result of their gender.

Gender Based Violence is a grave violation of human rights, deeply rooted in gender inequality and gender-based discrimination.

As UN we believe that when Gender Based Violence and gender inequalities are eliminated more children go to school, families are healthier, agricultural productivity improves, incomes increase and nation’s economy grows.

As such, as we commemorate 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, we know we must to do more than gather to remember and to reflect.

Some say the numbers of cases of abuse, especially against women and girls are going up in Zimbabwe, others say that is only because reporting is getting better. It does not matter. There are still many thousands of cases of gender based violence cases reported across the country – and we know that even one case, is one too many.

Zimbabwe Republic Police records from January to September 2016 alone show that over 40,500 cases of domestic violence were reported. According to UNICEF led latest report on Zimbabwe: 1 in 3 girls in Zimbabwe experience sexual violence before they turn 18; some 78% report that their husband or intimate partner is the perpetrator; and less than 3% of these girls accessed professional help.

In addition, women are in a worse position than men in terms of literacy in Zimbabwe despite being the majority: 48.7% of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education compared to 62% of their male counterpart. Representation in Parliament stands at 35%, and this has only been made possible due to special measures provided in the constitution. 

Women are disadvantaged in terms of health; the maternal mortality ratio is high at 614 per 100,000 live births and the HIV prevalence rate among women aged 15-49 was 18% compared to 12% among men according to the latest Zimbabwe Health Demographic Survey. 

The latest UNDP Human Development Report reveals that the Gender Inequality Index (GII), which reflects gender-based inequalities in three dimensions – reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity – stands at 0.62. The ideal index for the GII is zero.

Child marriages, according to the domestic violence bill, are also considered a form of gender-based violence in Zimbabwe. Statistics, in this regard, show that in Zimbabwe: 33% of women aged 20-49 are married before age 18 while for men, this is less than 2 percent. Data also shows that the level of education and wealth has an impact on first marriage: When girls have no education, their average marriage age is 17.8 years, whereas when girls have more than a secondary education, their average age at marriage is 23.4 years.

We have seen the enormity of the challenge. So let us take a hard look at what needs to change, to make this possible. The UN System in Zimbabwe has been at the forefront of efforts to end violence against women and girls through supporting the national strategy which focuses on prevention, protection and provision of services as well as addressing social norms that perpetuate such violence.

The political will demonstrated by the international community in adopting SDG 5, which includes targets on ending violence against women and girls, is a bold, positive step. It now needs resources and our collective urgent action to achieve it.

To protect and ensure the rights of girls and women and reap the benefit from engaging more than half segment of the population, a deliberate policy, strategic focus and action should include:

First, ensuring equal access to quality education and skills development. I cannot overemphasize on the importance of having better education opportunities for girls especially in secondary and tertiary education. It is clear that policies designed to boost enrolments would particularly help poor women and girls and thus make a direct contribution to poverty reduction in income and non-income dimensions.

Second, women must be drawn into the economic mainstream. The consequence of decline in women’s relative or absolute economic status has both ethical and long-term economic implication. Any process of growth that fails to improve the welfare of the people experiencing the greatest hardship, broadly recognized to be women, has failed to accomplish one of the principal goals of development. In the long run, the low status of women would translate into slow economic growth.

Third, increased participation of women in governance and political decision making at all levels including holding elective offices on a 50-50 representation.

Fourth, we must scale up the “one stop center” initiative which provides essential and quality medical and psycho social services. It is known that a survivor of GBV requires many different types of services: police services, health care, legal service and psychosocial support.

As we join forces to end gender based inequalities and violence in Zimbabwe, I would like to conclude with quote from the message of the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon on the day, “We are seeing the world lit up in orange, symbolizing a bright future for women and girls. With dedicated investment, we can keep these lights shining, uphold human rights and eliminate violence against women and girls for good.”

*Bishow Parajuli is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe