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Promoting a Meaningful Response Towards Ending Gender Based Violence Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by mbonisi zikhali, Zimbabwe Dec 12, 2005
Human Rights   Opinions


The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence that have just gone by are a reminder of a necessary lifetime commitment to the protection of women against a widespread and brutal human rights violation. It is a movement whose own success should see it eventually fade away completely, because inevitably the need to constantly force society to respect women should cease. With a significant change in attitude, societies can begin to understand that it is to their detriment to violate women, and thus act once and for all to promote and sustain equality and understanding between women and men in all spheres of life.

The 16 Days of Activism strategically commence on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th (2005), and end on International Human Rights Day on December 10th. The reason for this is to show the symbolic link between violence against women and human rights – that gender violence is a violation of human rights. The campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. The 16 day period also puts into the spotlight significant dates like the World AIDS Day and December 6th, which marks the anniversary of the Montréal Massacre.

In this era of HIV and AIDS, gender based violence has aggravated a woman’s susceptibility to contracting the virus. The more that the patriarchal nature of most societies continues to fall under scrutiny in modern times, the more adamant and convicted some men seem to become regarding a woman’s position when compared to men. This affirmed resistance finds expression in the physical, sexual and psychological abuse that women and girls continue to endure, despite intensified global efforts to pressure governments to implement comprehensive policies to end violence against women. When women cannot actively defend their sexual and reproductive rights, they fail to protect themselves against infection and their access to critical health services like testing and treatment is compromised.

According to a UNAIDS Fact Sheet (August 2004) based on the United Nations Secretary General’s Task Force on Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa, violence against women, especially wife-beating and rape, is widespread in Zimbabwe. In spite of victim-friendly courts for rape survivors, adequate facilities and shelters that respond effectively to the needs of domestic violence and rape survivors are still lacking. Economic dependency also forces these women to remain in abusive relationships for lack of more secure options. In this context therefore, the likelihood of women negotiating condom use is extremely low. This taskforce recommended the strengthening of legal, medical and counseling services for survivors of violence, effective enforcement of the Sexual Offences Act (2001) to protect women’s rights and the enactment of a Domestic Violence Bill, which would make wife-battering a punishable crime.

Violence against women also takes other forms like sex trafficking, and harmful traditional practices like virginity testing. However, coercive sex is key to HIV transmission in most southern African countries. Abrasions and cuts are more likely to be sustained, through which a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV is contracted. The fear of violence itself is enough to force some women to compromise their concerns regarding their sexuality. For example most women, even when aware of their partner’s infidelity, are afraid to negotiate safer sex. When they become infected with HIV, they fear informing their husbands as this might provoke a violent response. They also lack the means to visit counseling and testing services without their partner’s consent and therefore continue lacking the knowledge they need to live positively and prevent further infection.

The 16 Days of Activism come at a most opportune time as they precede forthcoming key international fora like the five-year review of the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV and AIDS in mid-2006, and the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada. These and other regional and national fora can be utilized as strong avenues for advocacy in ensuring that not only governments, but the hearts of societies in general respond and understand the consequences of gender based violence. The theme for World AIDS Day 2005 is “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.” Governments and individuals alike need to understand that a promise without commitment is meaningless.



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