DIVORCE cases due to gender-based violence in this country are really high, says National Legal Aid Clinic for Women executive director Mandy Manda.
In an interview, Manda said although statistics from the recent Zambia Police Victim Support Unit indicate a reduction in GBV cases involving physical violence and assault, non-physical cases were still on the increase.
“If I look at the statistics from the Zambia Police Victim Support Unit, we see somewhat a reduction in the cases of GBV for the quarter but then of course these are cases involving physical violence and sexual violence such as assault cases, defilement and so forth. On the other hand, there are other forms of GBV that are non-physical such as emotional and economic abuse. During this period of the pandemic, NLACW has recorded an increase in cases of economic abuse as well as emotional abuse which are usually not reported to the police because victims seek civil remedies such as divorce as opposed to filing a criminal complaint. Divorce cases account for the highest number of cases reported to the NLACW annually,” she said. “Early this year we had written to the judiciary to get statistics for last year at national level and what we saw was overwhelming. The statistics show that in 2018, the country recorded 27,201 divorce cases from the Local Courts alone; 22,618 in 2019 and in the first quarter of 2020, 6,185 cases. The provinces which record the highest divorce cases at local court level are Lusaka, Southern, Western, Eastern and Copperbelt. The most common reasons given for divorce include infidelity, Gender-Based Violence, excessive beer drinking, threats of violence, failure to perform traditional norms and infertility. These statistics do not include cases of divorce in the High Court. What we have observed in a lot of GBV cases is that if the perpetrator is the spouse, the victim or survivor of GBV will usually opt to get out an abusive marriage as opposed to filing a criminal complaint.”
Manda said cases of economic abuse which include neglect to provide maintenance had particularly increased during the COVID-19 period.
“Of course we know that during this period, business has really gone down due to lock down measures and so forth but others have also taken advantage and are failing to provide financial support to their families even when they are still earning an income. What we should know is that although the pandemic has affected everyone, women are disproportionally affected due to their low income, social status and inequalities and the fact that they bear the responsibility of looking after other people. Cases of emotional abuse are also high and account for reasons for divorce,” she said. “I think it is important to develop strategies for dealing with mental health issues. There has not been much research done in Zambia on issues of mental health. If work has been done, it is not in public domain. We need to see how GBV impacts on mental health. A lot of resources have been spent on combating GBV. We need to constantly evaluate and interrogate why we still have high cases of GBV despite interventions. We know that there is a broad spectrum of issues such as harmful traditional practices, poverty and so forth but by and large it is also important that we see things from the other angle which is the mind of the perpetrator.”
Manda said although GBV victims include both women and men, women and girls are still the majority of victims.
“So in a particular situation where a woman commits a GBV related murder, you will find that the woman in most cases, had been exposed to GBV or had suffered a history of abuse and in that moment, she loses it or acts in what one would say, in self-defence. Whichever way, GBV is not acceptable and is a gross human rights violation,” she said.
NLACW which is a Project of the Women’s Rights Committee of the Law Association of Zambia provides legal aid services to women and children. Services include legal representation before courts of law; human rights education, and advocacy for policy and law reform.
And speaking after a media breakfast, Manda said NLACW was implementing a project titled ‘Promoting land rights for women’s social and economic empowerment’ with support from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).
“What we are trying to promote basically are women’s land rights. We have noted that in the last few decades, there has been an increase for land in the country as a result of large scale agricultural projects and also for other developmental projects, effects of climate change such as flooding and so forth. There have been communities affected by some of the ‘developmental projects’’ as communities have been displaced and relocated to areas where land sometimes is not suitable for their livelihoods,” she said. “Coupled with this, we note that of the 65 per cent of the Zambian population who live in rural areas, 72 per cent are said to be women who either depend on agriculture or are employed in agriculture. Despite these statistics however, very few women have control and ownership of land. This makes women more vulnerable to hunger, GBV and displacement.”
Manda said some traditional customs did not support women’s ownership of land as women’s access to the land was through the spouse or male relative.
“When it comes to inheritance of course if a woman is married into a particular tribe, she will settle there, cultivate the land and so forth and if a spouse dies, she has to vacate the land and go back to her village,” she said
Manda said the project therefore seeks to promote awareness and knowledge building of communities on the importance of land rights, particularly, women’s land rights. ‘
“We realise that a woman who has land has more access to earn an income and create wealth for the family – the family is more likely to be well nourished and healthy, the woman is at less risk of experiencing GBV,” she said.
Manda said the project also aims to increase access to justice for communities negatively affected by land displacements whether voluntary or involuntary as well as women negatively affected by land investments.
She said through mobilisation and advocacy, the project aims to mobilise people to participate and work together to influence policy and decision making for improved land management and administration.
“Through this project, we are aiming to advocate the adoption of the National Land Policy whose adoption by Cabinet, we hope will be soon as the policy seeks to promote inter alia, security of tenure not only for statutory tenure but also for customary tenure by supporting the issuance of traditional land certificates by traditional leaders,” said Manda. “We are mobilising communities for change, working with stakeholders such as the media to ensure that we amplify our voices in the communities to bring about the desired social change and then of course identifying the laws that need repeal, amendment, adoption of relevant policies and also implementation of such of the progressive laws that we have in place that basically promote women’s land rights.”