Hope for Fighting Gender-Based Violence in Zambia

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The African Impact team in Zambia is working together with the Girl Empowerment Alliance for Change to take on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as part of our on-going commitment to gender equality and to raise awareness of the International Day of The Girl Child.

During my time as an intern in Zambia on African Impact’s gender equality initiative, The Girl Impact, I was asked to write about something I was passionate about. It came at a time when the team here started to plan for International Day of the Girl Child (happening on the 11th October 2018), with a theme that focuses on empowering girls before, during and after conflict. It seemed a natural fit to write about something relevant to what we were doing with the girls and women we work with here in Livingstone; to write about gender-based violence.

What is gender-based violence (GBV)?

GBV is any verbal or physical act that results in bodily, psychological, sexual, or economic harm to somebody just because they are female or male. It is possible for men to experience GBV, however most GBV is directed at women and girls.

It is one of the greatest social problems in the world and happens regardless of cultural and religious belonging, ethnicity, sexuality, social belonging, or age. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by a man in her lifetime. More than 20% of women are reported to have been abused by men with whom they live, and every 10 minutes, one adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.

Gender-based violence in Zambia

According to the United Nations, Zambia has one of the world’s highest rates of intimate partner violence in the world (UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs, 2010; UN, 2010), with almost half of all women having experienced physical violence from the age of 15.

Factors contributing to GBV include sexual cleansing rituals, initiation ceremonies, women’s financial dependence on men, socialization of boys and girls at home and in school, inadequate laws on GBV and domestic violence, as well a lack of law enforcement on intimate partner violence (DHS, 2007). However, this is not a problem isolated to rural Zambian communities I work in every day. Around the world, like here in Zambia, unemployment, poverty, and alcohol abuse are major contributors to GBV.

During my time as an intern in Zambia, I met a woman called Sara (not her real name). Sara is a participant in The Girl Impact program and works closely with African Impact staff and volunteers. She agreed to speak to us about her story and experiences of GBV.

Sara is 32 years old, married and has four children. At 15, Sara was raped and fell pregnant with her first child, which resulted in her dropping out of school. She explained that she couldn’t report it to the police as nobody believed her. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me to hear that Sara does not believe true gender equality is possible.

Why GBV goes largely unreported

Research has shown me that help-seeking behavior is negatively affected by barriers such as dominant social norms, lack of self-confidence, inadequate services, a lack of resources and strong, reliable, legal, and social systems. People usually speak to others in their communities and hope that someone will take them seriously. A lot of women do nothing at all because they feel powerless, like Sara.

But, it is not uncommon for crimes of gender-based violence to go un-reported. In a study on college-aged victims of sexual violence in the US, it was found that only 20% of female student victims aged 18-24 reported the crime to law enforcement.

Reasons why victims don’t report GBV

The following table highlights the top reasons that 4 out of 5 victims of sexual violence on a US campus did not report their incident.

Reasons victims cited for not reporting Percentage of students
Other reasons 31%
Believed it was a personal matter 26%
Had a fear of reprisal 20%
Believed it wasn’t important enough to report 12%
Did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble 10%
Believed police would not, or could not, do anything to help 9%
Reported it, but not to police 4%

Source: Rainn

GBV is a hindrance to economic and social developmental goals that experts put in place globally, but much more importantly, it is simply wrong. A woman exposed to GBV is put at risk physically and mentally, and can suffer from broken self-esteem and the belief that the situation cannot be changed.

But, what if it can? What if there was hope for Sara, the 18,540 women who reported gender-based violence to the authorities in Zambia last year, and the countless others who didn’t?

Fighting for gender equality in Zambia

Sara is just one of the women who participate in African Impact’s pioneering gender empowerment program, The Girl Impact, which is now working across three countries in East and Southern Africa and impacting the lives of over 300 girls and women.

While Sara felt powerless to report her rape to police, she now benefits from an extraordinary support system that bonds local women, offering them skills development and income-generating opportunities. A system that helps spread female empowerment and encourages positive role models that young girls can aspire to.

But, it is not just women we work with. Since July, African Impact – together with Girl Empowerment Alliance for Change – has held Gender-Based Violence workshops in a total of 12 schools, impacting both girls and boys between 8 and 35 years old. Approximately 2,000 students have been reached, with the goal of influencing behavior at a young age.

Involving men in the conversation

Gibson Sai, founder of the Girl Empowerment Alliance for Change believes Zambia has already made a lot of progress. As a man, he is extremely influential in changing the behavior of the boys and girls he meets along the way. He is a figurehead that young boys are aspiring to, and actively believes that a girl can do whatever a boy can. He tells me there is no doubt that girls and boys, and men and women, will be equal one day.

Gibson Sai also says that empowering women and educating men is the way to equality and this can only be done through continued education.

On a national level, Zambia National Women’s Lobby has also been promoting male involvement in the fight against GBV through its Men and Boys Network. The lobby’s national board chairperson, Beauty Katebe, says male support for gender equality is critical. The lobby is creating awareness that men, in partnership with women, could play a significant role in ending GBV.

Further, the Ministry of Gender has been coordinating a joint program between the government and the UN on GBV, which has a multi-sectoral approach and involves enhancing access to health services, legal services and social protection systems for survivors of GBV. Work is being done for a full implementation of the anti-GBV law in Zambia, which also would include construction shelters for survivors.

Looking to the future

Gender-based violence is a serious, global problem, with no one solution that fits all. But, on this International Day of the Girl Child, we’re asking for your help to impact the lives of girls and women we are able to reach here in Livingstone, Zambia.

The Girl Impact and the African Impact Foundation are currently building a community center in Livingstone for over 150 local girls and women. This will provide a private, safe and secure space to expand the already successful and extremely impactful workshops to additional community members. This will create more income generating activities for local women, but most importantly, create a safe, encouraging space for girls to be empowered and speak freely.

Our staff, intern, and volunteer team in Zambia have already completed their Run for Equality fundraiser to help raise awareness about GBV and absolutely smashed the $10,000 target. But, every penny donated towards this incredible cause will make an enormous difference.

This community center is expected to impact the lives of at least 350 community members, who will get to participate in The Girl Impact’s girl’s and boy’s groups, men’s and women’s groups, adult literacy classes, health talks, income-generating workshops and more.


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