Do We Really Matter? - RAU Report
A women’s advocacy group has published a new paper highlighting the lack of progress made on women’s rights under the GNU.
Entitled “Do we really matter? Women’s voices on politics, participation, and violence”, the report is the result of a series of focus groups held by the Women’s Programme of the Research & Advocacy Unit to garner women’s opinions on their place within society, and the challenges confronting them.
RAU was particularly interested to establish whether the GNU had taken any steps to address the 2008 election violence and form policies to protect women in future – particularly in view of election campaigning due to begin in the near future.
It found that there appears to be no political will to bring the perpetrators of political violence to justice, despite Article 1816 of the GPA stating that this must be done. In fact, many women reported that violence is on the rise again.
“In my area there is a perpetrator who was arrested and given life in prison for burning down a homestead and killing the owners, leaving the children orphans. However, in 2012 he was released as a beneficiary of the presidential pardon”.
“He is now free and threatening the orphans and the family members looking after them,” one participant said.
The discussions also found that, because women are in the majority but physically weaker, they are more frequently targets of political violence than men.
“One day I was coming from church and we were forced to go to a base. I saw some men put a plastic bag over a woman’s head to stop her from breathing. They didn’t let her die, but they tortured her for a long time like that,” said one participant. The groups also reported that, even during “peacetime”, there is violence in homes, at schools, and in other public spaces. “It would be naive to believe that the perpetrators are non-violent people during peacetime and suddenly become hooligans when party politics are at play,” the report states.
The report argues that it is important to tackle violence during peacetime, and ensure that any reports of violence are investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted and sentenced if found guilty, as this sends a strong zero tolerance message to all community members.
However, cultural and religious beliefs mean that violence against women is tacitly accepted in all sectors – including the police and the judiciary. As one participant put it: “Our society in general does not respect women; you only need to pick up a newspaper to see this.”
Respondents said women need special protection under the law because they experience forms of violence, such as sexual abuse, differently from men. They also noted that women are often blamed for being raped, and that husbands tend to abandon their wives if they are raped.
The women agreed that it can be difficult for men to understand their wife’s perspective, but said: “if you are hurt by the knowledge that your wife was raped, imagine how she feels having gone through the ordeal and then been rejected by you?”
The report found that domestic violence against women is supported by lack of economic empowerment, as well as the women’s self-worth. Older women in the focus groups encouraged the younger ones not to depend on their husbands for everything.
Unfortunately, women’s empowerment efforts go largely unaided by Parliament, and the participants believe female MPs are not doing enough to support existing programmes. “When women get to the top they forget the other women at the bottom who voted them into those positions,” said one participant.
In all the focus groups it was clear that most women are suffering in silence, and have lost all faith in the police.“Policemen no longer care about their work. You can report a case of domestic violence and they will tell you to go bring the man that beat you. Is it realistic to go and say come to the police station I have reported you?They can even ask what political party you support before they attend to your case,” said one woman.
The report concludes that without addressing the issue of violence against women there is very little chance of legislation having much effect. Even if legislation requires 50/50 representation in parliament, most of the participants did not think women would participate.