By Clayton Masekesa
MUTARE – The journey to hell and back for Kim Murembwe had begun during the second period of the COVID -19 induced lockdown, where his husband an informal trader stopped going to work following the lockdown restrictions by the Zimbabwean government.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 5th January this year directed a renewed lockdown in the country aimed at preventing the spread of the corona virus.
While it is helpful for curbing the spread of the virus, the lockdown has impacted negatively on women and young girls who have suffered gender based violence (GBV).
Murembwe (25), a mother of two vividly recalls the night of January 22, 2021 when his husband Maxwell Mutani (30) came back home intoxicated with alcohol.
As she opened the door for him, she was heavily slapped on the face for allegedly delaying to open the door in their one-room rented house in one of Zimbabwe’s oldest suburbs in Mutare, Sakubva, in the famous Macgregor’s section.
Moments later she was accused of preparing what he deemed a poor meal for him that consisted of boiled vegetables and sadza.
“He pushed me into my knees. He put one hand around my throat and squeezed. I was able to break away and l ran to the door. He caught up to me as I tried to open the door to safety. He pushed me to the floor and started punching and kicking me severely.
“The neighbors heard my cries for help and came to my rescue. They took me to my sister’s place and he fled from the scene. After two days he followed me to my sister’s place and smashed all the windows demanding me back saying he had paid lobola for me. He fled from the scene after my sister started calling the police,” narrated a teary Murembwe.
Murembwe is a victim of GBV and she is currently living a GBV-free life after surviving the worst assault by her husband after she was admitted at a safe haven in Mutasa district.
A safe haven is a housing unit that assists victims of GBV with temporal shelter and reprieve from perpetrator while their GBV cases are looked into.
Murembwe was admitted at Mutasa Safe Shelter through the assistance of FACT Zimbabwe with support from UNFPA through the European Union sponsored Spotlight Initiative.
The Mutasa Safe Shelter has been supporting victims of GBV dealing with trauma, preparation for legal processes, economic and vocational empowerment to equip survivors with the necessary skills to lead independent and dignified lives.
FACT Zimbabwe Executive Director Gertrude Shumba has called on communities to unite and fight against GBV.
“Let us respond and prevent to any forms of violence towards women and girls. As communities, we have to work together to ensure that violence is eliminated,” said Shumba.
And Murembwe believes that many victims of domestic abuse lack the appropriate support to enable them to have assistance.
“The safe house has helped me so much. I have benefitted from the support and sharing of experiences. Through counseling, I have done some violence recovery and self confidence courses.
“My advice to others is, do not be afraid to ask for help, even if you have to swallow your pride. Believe in yourself, do not give up and use the chance to change your destiny.
“Everyone has the right to live in dignity in their own home free from fear and harm,” Murembwe said.
The Zimbabwean minister for Women’s Affairs Stembiso Nyoni said the Parliament of Zimbabwe was responding to GBV through enacting domestic violence legislation.
Said Nyoni: “Parliament is responding to GBV through enacting domestic violence legislation and pushing increased budget funding to address GBV.”
Nyoni said her Ministry was setting up one stop centres for survivors of GBV.
“We are also establishing safe houses and training of district stakeholders on mainstreaming GBV on humanitarian action.
“It is important to put in place rehabilitation programmes for survivors to recover from the trauma and contribute towards the development of the nation,” said Nyoni.
Rotina Mafunga-Musara the Advocacy and Communications Officer at Musasa Project said there was need to establish more safe houses or shelters to protect women who are facing life threatening situations at home.
Musasa Project is an organization that deals with issues of violence against women and girls. It provides relief to survivors of GBV.
“Due to the sanctioned lockdown, perpetrators take advantage of the situation knowing that a woman cannot willingly travel to the next clinic, police station or relative’s house.
“Without a safe shelter within reach of women, some cases of GBV become fatal. The loss of life, grave injuries and untold suffering will continue to happen to women who have nowhere to take refuge.
“As Musasa, we acknowledge the importance of having these shelters across the country as our experience in the shelter programme has shown that so many women who have been housed have been empowered to take a stand against GBV and have been protected from physical, emotional and sexual harm,” said Mafume-Musara.
The ZRP National Spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi has urged the public to shun violence.
“Police urges members of the public to shun resorting to violence as a means of solving disputes. They should not take the law into their hands, but report to the law enforcement agencies or approach third parties for assistance to resolve conflicts,” said Nyathi.
The United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Guterres describes violence against women and girls as, “A menace which takes many forms, ranging from domestic violence to trafficking, from sexual violence in conflict to child marriage, genital mutilation and femicide, and does not only harm the individual, but also has far-reaching consequences for families and the society.”
The United Nations estimates that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, which may not even include emotional, financial and verbal abuse.