Covid-19 has brought with it an increased number of gender-based violence (GBV) cases around the globe.
Defined as violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex or gender identity, GBV includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.
Since Zimbabwe’s lockdown in March, cases of all forms of GBV, especially those perpetrated by intimate partners have been reported to the police and other development partners offering emergency and support services to victims and survivors.
While before the lockdown, cases of women confined to violent family environments were plenty, being confined to home with either abusive partners or relatives made the situation worse as some essential services were beyond their reach because of restricted movement. With post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for rape victims supposed to be administered within the 72 hours, some women and girls, who did not have information on where to get services were left in need of this critical intervention.
The coming of Covid-19 was a loud cry for a more integrated approach, women’s rights, social issues as well as critical information on GBV in communities.
On Thursday last week, in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence period the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government of Zimbabwe with the support of the European Union (EU) launched a treatment and support centre for survivors of GBV also known as a “One Stop Centre” where services will be provided in one place.
Located at Bindura General Hospital in Mashonaland Central province, about 100 kilometres north of the capital Harare, the One Stop Centre was launched under the European Union supported Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls.
This alone shows Zimbabwe’s seriousness in achieving one of the commitments the country made during the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Summit in Nairobi last year.
At the summit, Zimbabwe was represented by the chief director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Robert Mudyiradima, where the Government committed to “Invest resources to provide comprehensive multi-sectoral services for survivors of GBV and to strengthen key institutions.”
Last week’s event was indeed a huge step towards further strengthening the country’s key institutions.
At the event, the European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, said: “One Stop Centres are essential assets in the fight against GBV because they ensure survivor access to all the necessary services in one location, provided by appropriately trained and sensitive personnel.
“This is very relevant in this era of the Covid-19 pandemic. I am proud to say that we are playing our part in this fight, through our support to the Spotlight Initiative, and in line with this year’s 16 days’ campaign theme, ‘Orange the world: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’.
“I would like to call upon the Government of Zimbabwe and other stakeholders to dedicate more resources to tackling this scourge.”
The One Stop Centre will provide services such as medical care, counselling, police and legal services all under one roof.
It remains important as it has been reported that often, police stations and hospitals do not provide an appropriate atmosphere to report GBV.
In many communities, services are often located in different physical locations, thereby inhibiting rather than facilitating timely and efficient responses for survivors.
The One Stop Centre was officially opened by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, who acknowledged that one entity alone can never be able to effectively address GBV.
“Gender-Based Violence requires multi-sectoral stakeholders to respond with various services that complete the package for GBV essential services,” she said. “We note that gender-based violence is a very traumatic experience which requires specialised services like health services, legal services, police services and psycho-social support including counselling.”
UNFPA Zimbabwe country representative, Dr Esther Muia said violence against women and girls has increased since the beginning of March, with the Covid-19 crisis creating a “shadow pandemic” of GBV.
“As we are officially opening this One Stop Centre, we are grateful to the European Union Spotlight Initiative for allowing us to expand access to services for survivors, at our time of greatest need as a country,” she said.
“We are very pleased with the partnership that has allowed us to fight this shadow pandemic for the protection of women and girls.”
GBV remains a huge problem in the country.
According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey for 2015 (ZDHS), at least one in every three women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 while 27 percent of women 15-49 have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives.
Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni said the One Stop Centre model was one of the promising models for GBV response which has been implemented since 2009.
“The One Stop Centre model effectively demonstrates the multi-sectoral response mechanism to GBV. The concept is aimed at increasing access to comprehensive multi-sectoral response service needs of adult and child survivors of GBV,” Dr Nyoni said.
“The beauty of the One Stop Centre model is that it facilitates the provision of all these specialised services under one roof thereby affording the victim privacy as well as limiting their exposure to further victimisation.”
To date, there are five One Stop Centres in Harare, Gweru, Gwanda, Rusape and Chinhoyi, with further plans to expand to other areas. They were established with the broad aim of strengthening the multi-sectoral response to GBV. Following the successful implementation of the model and lessons learnt from the pilot project in Makoni District, the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community Small and Medium Enterprises Development in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, scaled up the model to other provinces.
The theme for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence is “End Gender Based Violence: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”