By Benhilda Chademana.
VISION 2030 of an upper-middle income economy will be achieved by all people working together and pulling in the same direction.
The contribution of our womenfolk is critical to the attainment of a prosperous Zimbabwe for all.
Sadly, the girl-child and women are being hindered from fully contributing to the development agenda as a result of physical and sexual abuse.
For instance, last year, in Matabeleland North, the police recorded 39 rape cases of children below seven years; 51 cases of children aged eight to 12; 85 cases of children aged 13 to 15 and 11 cases of children aged 16 to 17, giving a total of 186 rape cases.
This is just a tip of the many horrible cases of abuse of the girl-child and women across the country.
Stories like: ‘56-year-old Harare teacher rapes an 11-year-old learner during extra lessons,’ are filling up our media spaces everyday.
Women are equal participants in the country’s development agenda and the rise in rape cases is an ugly phenomenon threatening to derail the massive good works that are being recorded in the Second Republic.
Ours cannot be a country where women live in fear.
Recently, a man axed his wife and sister-in-law to death as the poor woman’s children watched.
Chief Masembura of Bindura has expressed anger over rampant cases of child rape under his jurisdiction.
It is scary to think, to imagine that there may be a number of other victims who are violated everyday, every week, every month and every year, who are not making it into the media and are suffering in spaces where they are supposed to be safe.
It is time relevant authorities and stakeholders come together and stem this tide threatening to engulf the female component of our society, said sociologist Cornilia Mashiri.
“It appears that safe spaces for women and girls have began to shrink. Every second, every minute, every hour, everyday, women and girls face disproportionate forms of sexual and gender based violence in the forms of rape, defilement and sexual harassment,” said Mashiri.
“One cannot help but ask what is going on? Is there still a safe space for women, with this incessant rape and murder? The audacity of rapists has taken new dimensions hither to uncommon with eight and nine-year-olds being impregnated.
“It is time, as a nation, we come together and get to the bottom of why perpetrators of these heinous crimes are getting bolder and defying the public outcry for an end to the horrible crime of rape.”
It is time to formulate stringent measures against all forms of violence against women.
Violence against women and girls cannot become a new norm, with reports of sexual violence committed on women, girls and babies as young as six months ceasing to shock us anymore.
Sadly, more cases of sexual violence/rape, gender-based violence go unreported as some families and communities practice a culture of silence or indifference to sexual violence/rape, leaving the victims traumatised.
Child sexual abuse has become a widespread problem, a horrible phenomenon that now has women living in constant fear and worry for themselves and their children, affecting their social well-being and capacity to fully deliver in their different spheres of life.
At home, we expect the parents and guardians to look after the children, while at school we place our faith in the teachers to teach and protect the pupils but in all these spaces, the young ones have become prey with the supposed protectors being the predators.
Who do they report to now since the girl-child is being abused by the same people they are supposed to look up to for help and protection.
It is time for some self-introspection as a people and do away with certain cavalier beliefs.
“ ‘She was drunk and asking for it’; ‘Boys will be boys’; ‘Women say no but mean yes’; ‘The way she dressed was asking for it’, are some of the statements that have been used to justify rape. These must come to an end as they will continually perpetuate the rape and abuse culture in our communities if we don’t stop them,” said Mashiri.
“Nothing justifies rape or woman battering! These are crimes which have devastating effects on victims.”
Child marriage has been identified as one of the main forms of child sexual abuse and UNICEF has stated that it represents perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of the girl-child.
Rape is a serious problem that can have lasting, harmful effects on victims and their families, friends and communities; there needs to be strong enforcement of the laws regarding sexual assault and physical violence.
The effects of child sexual abuse can include depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, propensity to further victimisation in adulthood and physical injury, among other problems.
The girl-child must report without fail whether the abuse is coming from the father, brother or any close family member to the police and they should be punished severely .
Our girls are God-given.
They are heiresses to Zimbabwe and must not be abused in any way.
Parents, guardians, teachers and everyone else has a role to play in protecting the girl-child.
Let us all protect the girl-child — Ini newe tinebasa; Mina lawe silomsebenzi!
It is also imperative to note that boys and men too are also victims of sexual abuse. Therefore, as everyone continues to advocate protection of the girl-child, we must also spare a thought for many men and boys out there who are suffering in silence.