Vukoxa ‘washing’ away violence in Chokwe
Roselyne Sachiti Features Editor
Domestic violence knows no age, profession, gender or nationality. It is a challenge that has left many societies in the developing and developed world looking for the best solutions to end it. But like the legendary lochness monster, the solutions are sometimes elusive and many victims live in the cycle of emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse among others.
The challenge is worse in rural and marginalised African communities where most women depend on men for their livelihood.
The concept of lobola, a customary or cultural practice in some SADC countries, like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi and South Africa among others where men pay bride price to a woman’s family has also resulted in domestic violence especially when the woman is at fault due to adultery or bareness.
Cases where girls as young as 15 fall on the marital bed have also resulted in an increase in violence against women.
Pregnant women, too, have faced a form of domestic violence in their lifetime resulting in complications or even death.
A recent visit to Mozambique revealed that the country has not been spared from the scourge.
The flood prone area of rural Chokwe in Gaza Province about 230km north of the country’s capital Maputo is a hotspot.
Noted for its tomatoes and other agricultural activities, Chokwe is also known for the Limpopo River, which becomes angry and bursts its banks flooding any building in its way, the hospital included, every rain season.
The river swells around the same time many women, whose husbands work in neighbouring South Africa, would be back home for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Yet, there is also no peace in homes around this time of the year, as cases of violence against women soar.
This is no laughing matter in a country where most women are not educated and marry as early as 15.
Mozambique, too, has the seventh highest rate of child marriage in the world with almost one out of every two girls married before she reaches her 18th birthday, and one out of 10 girls is married before 15.
The country is also ranked 125 out of 146 countries on the gender inequality index. Seventy percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas.
In Chokwe, the women pray for the mighty Limpopo River to wash away their problems, but the river fails them each year.
Instead it always takes with it their belongings leaving them to start all over again after each season.
But, today, there is some remarkable change.
An intervention that involves all facets of society is slowly “washing” away the violence.
There are now fewer incidents of domestic violence since the launch of Vukoxa, a Pathfinder International-funded project.
The project aims to reduce gender inequality, violence against women especially during pregnancy and its effects through a concerted multi-sectoral effort.
The Pathfinder International project also provides contraception, reducing unsafe abortion through providing “safe” abortion at the hospital.
Vukoxa members include a community tribunal judge, elderly and young activists both male and female, police and students.
Each week they meet at a house where they discuss various issues around gender based violence and how they tackle it.
They also demystify some cultural beliefs that left women vulnerable to abuse in the past.
Police representative Latifa Uncaxa said there are high levels of acceptance of violence in Chokwe and most women justify it.
The violence, she said, comes in many forms including physical, emotional and financial among others.
“Of late, violence against women has been closely related to health issues as pregnant women are being abused by their husbands.
“Some fail to access health services and are assaulted. Some who would have tested HIV positive at the antenatal visits are afraid of revealing their status to their husbands as they would be assaulted,” she explained.
In this area, according to Uncaxa, the only death recorded by police as a result of domestic violence involved a man who was poisoned by his wife.
“The South African-based husband returned home for the Christmas holiday and the wife found ARVs in his bag. She became angry on why he was taking them secretly and poisoned him,” said Uncaxa.
Uncaxa revealed that many women did not report cases of violence because of various reasons.
“Women, especially those with husbands working in South Africa are afraid of losing their source of income if their men are arrested,” she pointed out.
But, there have been success stories as many of the reported cases have been prosecuted successfully as the Mozambican law does not allow women to withdraw cases of violence.
She also said a man who received the highest sentence for domestic violence in their area got an eight year imprisonment.
Vukoxa chairperson Samuel Joseffa Silica concurred with Uncoxa saying financial dependency on men in the area resulted in increased cases of domestic violence cases.
“HIV is a major cause of violence against women. Most are assaulted for confronting their husbands who take ARVs secretly. As a man, this is a major worry for me.
“We should protect our women but after cheating on them, we also assault them yet we would have infected them with HIV. This is the main reason I joined Vukoxa so that I can educate men,” he said.
Silica said there is need for more men to take part in such community projects that denounce all forms of domestic violence.
“Some men do not participate because of work commitments. Others just do not care. There will be lesser domestic violence if more men take part in such programmes as they are usually the perpetrators,” he said.
Another Vukoxa community worker Zaida Maibage said more people are getting the message of zero tolerance to domestic violence.
“We move around telling them the negative effects of violence. It has a terrible effect on maternal health, can result in increased transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as women would not be able to negotiate for safe sex. Children’s participation in school and their general wellbeing is also greatly affected by domestic violence,” she said.
In this part of Mozambique, some women have been assaulted for taking family planning without their husband’s consent.
In an interview on the sidelines of the Partnership for maternal, newborn and child health recent meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, Youth Family Planning Ambassador under the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and a Youth Advocate with the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage (Girls Not Brides) Yemurai Nyoni said there should be no space for domestic violence in our communities.
He said there is need to empower women so that they do not become too dependent on their abusive husbands.
When empowered, he said, women will not be afraid of reporting abusive husbands.
“We need to look deeper. It’s good that we have laws but we need to look at issues of economic empowerment and that starts with ensuring that women have access to secondary tertiary education which is an entry point to meaningful and gainful employment. When we do that then we can talk about rights and women can easily send their abusive husbands to jail,” he said.
Women Deliver chief executive Katja Iversen said there was need to educate and economically empower more women.
“Around the world, we see that when women start making money, their value in the family and their negotiation power and respect will increase,” she said.
She added that while there has been important progress made in preventing and responding to violence against women worldwide, much more work should be done to ensure that all girls and women — everywhere — can live long, healthy lives.
“Violence against women is a difficult issue that results from complex root causes, such as gender inequality and discrimination, and it comes in many forms — from child marriage to gender-based discrimination.
“Families, communities and governments must treat all forms of violence against women as the human rights abuses that they are. If we work together to address these deep societal challenges, we can — and we will — end violence against women once and for all,” she said.
She also said the link between violence against women and reproductive health is simple.
“When girls and women face discrimination and violence, their family planning choices are often compromised. They may not seek the reproductive health services they need, such as condoms or other contraceptives, due to stigma or the threat of further violence.
“But when girls and women experience equal rights, they are empowered to choose the family planning methods they want — and need — to lead a long, healthy and productive lives,” she added.
According to the World Health Organisation factsheet, seven percent of ever-pregnant women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were beaten at least once during pregnancy, of which 38 percent reported being punched or kicked in the abdomen.
In Namibia, six percent of the ever-pregnant women interviewed were beaten during at least one pregnancy. Of these women, 49 percent had been punched or kicked in the abdomen. For 27 percent of the women beaten during pregnancy, the physical violence started when the woman was pregnant. The remaining 73 percent were also beaten before pregnancy.
The WHO Multi-country Study Globally states that the proportion of ever-pregnant women physically abused during at least one pregnancy exceeded 5 percent in 11 of the 15 settings. The lowest figure was 1 percent in Japan, and the highest was 28 percent in provincial Peru. Between a quarter and half of the women who were physically abused during pregnancy were kicked or punched in the abdomen.
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