AN 18-YEAR-OLD woman from Insuza, Matabeleland North who pleaded with the court to withdraw assault charges against her 39-year-old husband apparently set a bad example for women who are struggling to get away from their violent partners during the ongoing global pandemic (coronavirus), as they can no longer access support services.
Sharon Dube from Village 18 decided to forgive her abusive husband after he pleaded guilty to severely battering her on 26 April 2020 while accusing her of infidelity.
Dube, who is seven months pregnant and still bears scars on her face said she was worried that if her husband is sent to prison she would suffer as he is the sole breadwinner.
“The time I made the report I was angry. I’m also seven months pregnant and have complications time and again. As a result, I am afraid that if my husband is given a custodial sentence I will suffer because he is the one who is taking care of me. He also showed remorse after he committed the offence,” pleaded Dube.
Her prayers were answered when her husband escaped a custodial sentence after Bulawayo magistrate Adelaide Mbeure fined him $1 000.
Dube’s case is not exceptional. It is a graphic illustration of how cases of domestic violence surged in the country during the coronavirus lockdown period.
Another grim reality from Dube’s case is that the response to Covid-19 showcases a long-standing disregard for women’s rights and well-being during crises.
It is also testimony that while abusers’ apologies may be convincing, it does not mean survivors are obligated to take it to heart and forgive.
This is because apologetic actions are simply not enough to erase the abuser’s actions.
Records obtained at the Bulawayo magistrates’ Court housed at Tredgold Building indicate that the courts reported double the usual number of domestic abuse cases in the first week of nationwide movement restrictions.
It’s worth noting that although, lockdowns have been one of the globally supported measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and mitigate its impact on public health, it has however, forced many women and girls to be trapped at home with abusive spouses, partners and family members with limited access to support services.
During the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, gender-based violence (GBV) victims especially from remote areas are having a more difficult time accessing safe physical spaces and resources, such as non-profit services, community and family resource centres and courts.
According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO) one out of three women in the world experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, making it “the most widespread but among the least reported human rights abuses.
With regard to domestic violence and Covid-19, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that global lockdowns have resulted in a “horrifying surge” in GBV.
Guterres however, called on governments around the world “to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic”.
“For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes. Together, we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat Covid-19.,” Guterres declared.
According to gender activists, being trapped at home with an abusive partner or father, women and children are in greater danger, during the coronavirus lockdown period, as they can no longer access support services.
In separate interviews they said the restrictions on movement make it even harder for victims of domestic violence to reach out for help.
Mrs Chelesile Nyathi of South Western Region Gender Network (SWRGN) said the lockdown has increased isolation and the vulnerable are living in fear.
“When people spend more time together, chances are high that they start having multiple incidents of violence at home. Victims may not feel safe to call for help. When there is added stress in the home it increases the frequency and severity of abuse. This in turn creates greater risk of domestic violence,” said Mrs Nyathi.
“Women are living in fear. They need assurance that domestic violence advocates will raise alarm on their behalf. In light of this, there is need for domestic violence advocates to be accessible throughout the lockdown.”
A victim of domestic violence, Senzeni, who did not want her last name used for privacy reasons confessed that she was indeed trapped between the deadly virus and a deadly partner as the fear of contracting the coronavirus is stopping her from seeking help after experiencing physical abuse.
She said as a victim of domestic violence the lockdown has undeniably isolated her from the people and the resources that could help her.
“The current crisis also makes it more difficult for me to seek help. In the best of circumstances, as a victim of domestic violence I already have a hard time being heard as I fear that if I leave the house, my husband will lock me out,” she said.