By Lynette Manzini
The government of Zimbabwe has been urged to take the security and safety of young girls from Gender Based Violence (GBV) seriously in the COVID19 response initiatives during the twenty one day lockdown.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the government among other measures has instituted a 21 day total lockdown with the aim of slowing down the spread of the virus. During this time essential services such as the medical services, food retailers and local authorities will remain operational.
To date seven positive cases and one death have been recorded in the country.
However, no information regarding reporting mechanisms and support services for victims of gender based violence has been outlined by the COVID-19 Response Taskforce comprised of cabinet ministers.
According to UNFPA Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.
Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death.
In an exclusive interview with RadioVOP- the director of Shamwari Yemawanasikana- Ekenia Chifamba appreciated the work currently being done by government but argued it fell short in as far as ensuring safety of young girls against gender based violence is concerned.
“Our concern now is on security and safety of our young women and girls during this time. In majority of the high density surburbs many of these young women stay in rented rooms were it’s just two rooms for the whole family inclusive of fathers, uncles and brothers.”
“Another issue that was not planned for was the issue of sexual reproductive health rights and if we are not careful after the lock down we going to have a lot of COVID-19 babies (unwanted pregnancies) amongst our teens because some are from families renting in one household making it difficult to really quarantine them,” she said.
In 2019 the Childline helpline statistics recorded 4239 children who were sexually abused with majority of perpetrators being trusted close family members.
Chifamba added that government should set up one stop centres that will comprise of a victim friendly units as well as experts from organisations that offer psych-osocial support counseling and legal advice stationed at the corona virus response centers.
She deplored the gaps created by exclusion of a comprehensive GBV response in the national lockdown preparations as it enables perpetrators to get away with impunity.
” Majority of the times when we conduct case follow ups or escort police they do not have enough resources or vehicles to ferry the victim or the perpetrators, creating an avenue for perpetrators to take advantage of the loopholes and end up running away.”
“With the lockdown it will be difficult to trace offenders in the event they run away so it is going to be a huge challenge for victims to get redress.”
The Adult Rape Clinic (ARC) Co-director Memory Kadau acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a difficult time for everyone but availing information and awareness of the essential services available during the lockdown was important.
“I think the measures taken by government are good but there is more that needs to be done in terms of improving awareness for example just having a list of essential services to avoid working on presumptions,” Kadau explained.
She added that the lockdown aggravated chances of abuse as well as making it difficult for victims to access medical care and support services for victims.
“I think the current lockdown is obviously more likely to make it more dangerous for women and children living in one space, because if you look at what we deal with everyday, more than 70 percent of the cases presented at ARC are perpetrated by known people.”
“Even in a normal situation the home is not safe and when its then lockdown you can imagine what is happening in that home,” she said.
Kadau added that victims of abuse would have to seek consent to leave the home from the perpetrator making it difficult to access medical care within the stipulated 72 hours especially for rape victims.
The adult rape clinic and the victim friendly unit are offering services during the lockdown.