By Francis Maingaila
Human rights campaigners in Zambia have expressed concern over soaring levels of violence against women and girls, including sexual harassment and spouse battering in the country.
Zambians feel the vice has continued to rise despite progress in the promotion of gender equality, health, education and legal rights for women.
On July 1, several Zambian women held a peaceful protest organized by local rights groups under the theme, “Stop Violence against Women and Girls”.
The protest was held to condemn a gruesome attack on a defenseless woman who was not only raped but was also assaulted by a group of people known to her. Later, a video of the crime was posted online.
In remarks made during the protest, Women and Law Southern Africa board Chairperson Priscilla Chileshe said: “We are concerned on this continued attack on women and girls. These attacks are done by people known to victims.
“Although, we have laws, they seem to serve no purpose because violence against women has alarmingly increased in the recent [months]."
According to Chileshe, the laws of the country itself were a problem and held it responsible for the spread of violence against women.
“In our view, non-application of the law is a serious form of violence against women and girls. That is the reason why we are demanding for the full application of the law against perpetrators of these violent practices; unfortunately, some of them are spouses and close relatives of victims,” she said.
Bayani Choolwe, an academician from the University of Zambia, told Anadolu Agency in an interview that traditions such as levirate were also acts of violence.
According to Choolwe, levirate, which is a traditional that requires a widow to marry a man from among relatives of the deceased spouse, end up hurting the women.
“Since certain traditions, including levirate have become socially acceptable among 73 ethnic tribes in Zambia, women do not question violence towards them. And as a result, women are unable to fight back,” he said.
He urged women to speak out not only against harmful traditional practices but any restrictive custom that subdues them.
“Some customs still consider women as tool of childbirth. This doesn’t only disadvantage women, but also creates a fertile ground for violence.
“As long as the vice remains unchallenged violence against women will continue,” he added.
Over 40,000 cases reported
Over 40,000 cases of violence against women have been reported countrywide between 2013 and first quarter of 2016, according to the Young Christian Association.
Acting National Director for World Vision Zambia Chikondi Phiri told Anadolu Agency the rise in violence against women also indicated that more women were now open to report abuses to local authorities.
“The campaign against violence against women has for a very long time been concentrated in urban areas. In rural areas, the vice is unfettered. In these areas, many girls and women suffer sexual slavery.
“If all cases were reported, the number could go slightly higher than the one captured by the YWCA [Young Christian Association],” Phiri said.
Phiri added poverty in rural areas was forcing young girls to be with men, some old enough to be their grandparents, for sex.
Police require training
Advocacy against Child Abuse and Gender Based Violence Executive Director Bellion Chola also pointed at lack of training among authorities to deal with crimes against women.
“In some cases, police are not properly trained in the required standard operating procedures in gender-based crimes,” Chola said.
He called for a new course in police training curriculum to expand the scope of violence against women beyond rape and for the involvement of all stakeholders, including, doctors and public workers in the fight for women rights.
“Raping of under-age children, especially, is our major concern. We tried in vain to curtail these vices, but it still continues to elude our efforts. If stakeholders get involved, we can defeat the vice.”
According to a report issued by the police chief’s office on June 7, out of the 4,998 reported cases in the first quarter of 2016, 703 were cases of child defilement, 701 cases concerned girls while two cases concerned boys.
Also, only 720 cases went through to the courts, out of which just 113 resulted in convictions; there were eight acquittals and 91 cases were withdrawn while 508 remain pending.
Victims call for awareness
Former victims of gender-based violence told Anadolu Agency they hope no one ever went through what they had experienced.
Zelipher Lungu, 26, who suffered abuse when she was teenager at the hands of her own uncle, said: “I don’t wish this horrible experience to be experienced by any other women in future.”
Kafunya Mbololwa, 30, said she had no idea that police or anyone could get involved to help victims like her.
Mbololwa, who endured an abusive marital relationship, said “If I knew I had the option, I would have left a long time ago.
“[But] I found out I could leave my abusive husband only after he tried to kill me. By that time I realized, I was in hospital.”Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.