By JOWIT SALUSEKI -
GENDER Based Violence (GBV) in Zambia has been pronounced among adult women, but recently, a new trend has emerged in which children – particularly girls – are increasingly becoming victims.
Many of the GBV cases go unreported due to stigmatisation, culture barriers, discrimination and social economic status of the victims.
The 2013-14 Zambia Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) notes that 43 per cent of women aged between15-49 have experienced physical violence at least once with the age group of between 15 and 37 experiencing physical violence within the 12 months prior to the survey.
Overall, 47 per cent of the married women aged from 15-49 reported ever having experienced physical, sexual and emotional violence from their current or most recent husband or partner and 31 per cent reported having experienced such violence in the past year.
On April 22, 2016, the Government adopted a national strategy to end child marriages, joining a growing list of countries thinking long–term about how to address a practice that disadvantages millions of girls and women each year.
This is because addressing GBV cases is a progressive core development issue.
Gender equality enables both men and women to fully participate in all social, political and economic aspects of life.
It is also a precondition for social cohesion and solidarity.
However, gender disparities and discrimination against women and girls affect this development.
Unequal power relations and the related negative social norms are the root causes of GBV and gender inequality.
There are many factors that exist within communities that contribute to GBV; chief among them is poverty, alcohol or drug abuse, socio-economic status coupled with power imbalance.
Local cultural and socio norms shape gender roles and unequal distribution of power between women and men where the former has economic and decision making powers in the household.
These gender inequalities affect women’s ability to contribute to national development.
GBV in general and child marriage in particular is in most instances perpetuated under the pretext of culture and tradition.
Due to the diversity of the Zambian culture, addressing GBV calls for a multifaceted approach.
Negative social vices entrenched in traditional practices continue to fuel the practice of GBV and child marriages.
Although the practice is more prevalent in rural areas, it generally affects poor families in both rural and urban areas.
In response to the above situation, the State, through the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs and other stakeholders, have been working with traditional leaders in taking up the responsibility of social transformation by becoming change champions.
Stakeholders had realised that traditional leaders’ participation as change champions in social development endevours can positively influence changes in social norms that disadvantage mainly women, girls, men and boys.
It is envisaged that traditional leaders, as change champions, are key in driving the necessary change.
It is with background that the Government, in consultation with traditional leaders and representatives from the House of Chiefs – through the guidance of the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs – has developed the traditional leaders’ engagement strategy to harmonise the approach and standardise engagement of traditional leaders in ending GBV, child marriages and HIV at different levels.
Through this strategy, traditional leaders will be vested with the capacity to establish integrated networks to address GBV and child marriages in the country.
It will be a mechanism for monitoring trends of equality between men and women, boys and girls in their chiefdoms.
The strategy will provide guidance on prevention efforts, management and community referral system for GBV, child marriages, teen pregnancies and access to HIV related services.
It will also be a platform for traditional leaders to network for peer support for resource mobilisation, advocacy and create a critical mass of support towards prevention and access to services for GBV and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
In the course of this approach traditional leaders will be vested with the capacity to establish integrated networks to address GBV and child marriage at community or village level by initiating more discussions with their subjects on the importance of violent free relations, the value of education and other alternative livelihoods and recreation activities.
It is against this backdrop that chiefs from different provinces recently met in Ndola to come up with a uniform strategy to fight GBV and child marriages in their respective chiefdoms.
The traditional leaders were selected as champions of social and cultural change in the fight against GBV and child marriages and share the information to be added in the traditional leaders’ engagement strategy on GBV for 2018 and beyond.
Zambia Center for Communication Programmes (ZCCP) executive director Jahans Mtonga informed the engagements meeting that his organisation was working with the chiefs to help curb GBV and child marriages.
Mr Mtonga said the engagement of the chiefs had been successful, because traditional leaders were closer to the people.
“We have called you to discuss issues on GBV and child marriages. We want you to share the experiences and teach each other how we can address GBV,” he said.
He explained that the organisation had already engaged seven chiefs drawn from five provinces.
The chiefs are key in changing social and cultural norms in chiefdoms.
Senior Chief Nkula of the Bemba speaking people in Chinsali, Muchinga Province, said he introduced punitive measures for drunkards and reckless parents who did not pay for their children to go to school.
The traditional leader said some of the measures were put in place to curb GBV and child marriages among his subjects.
He said the punitive measures were introduced to make parents and guardians responsible towards the upbringing of their children.
“In a bid to fight GBV and prevent child marriages in my chiefdom, I noticed that some parents are drinking beer a lot and are not responsible because they fail to pay for their children’s school fees.
“I make them drink a certain traditional beer the whole day without resting until they are fed up; then I order them to cut trees as a form of punishment,” he said.
Chief Nkula said because of infighting, GBV and child marriages, he had also established committees for the protection of young children in schools and villages.
Chief Mban’gombe of Katete in Eastern Province said he had established eight committees in his chiefdom to help spread information on the dangers of GBV and child marriages.
The Government through the Ministry of Home Affairs will work to specifically enforce the law, protect citizens as well as raise awareness on the provision of the law regarding GBV and child marriages.
Respective chiefdoms shall work together with the police service to provide guidance on laws related to child abuse, GBV, sexual offences and property grabbing, to mention just a few.