By Joyce Mukucha
HARARE – Deaf Women Included (DWI) continues to foster collaboration among Government, Civil Society Organizations(CSOs) and women with disabilities oriented- organisations as it strives to ensure that Gender Based Violence (GBV) against people with disabilities (PWDs) with main focus being on women and girls with disabilities(WGDs) is curbed.
The organisation is thriving to elevate the voice of women as well as ensuring pathways for women and girls with disabilities to access justice, raise their voice and highlight gaps in service provision especially Sexual Reproductive and Health Rights(SRHR).
Speaking during a virtual Roundtable on GBV on the 9th of September 2021, DWI Director, Agness Chimdimba said during these unprecedented times of the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic, women and girls with disabilities were facing increased danger of experiencing GBV and their access to support and services was limited.
Chindimba said there was need for engagement, collaboration and mainstreaming disabilities targeting and building inclusive and responsive policies to tackle GBV in all its forms.
“In the situation like these of Covid-19, there is greater risk of human rights violation. Women and girls with disabilities are more vulnerable to physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence and vulnerable to neglect entrapment and degradation yet there is limited disability accessible GBV service and transport.Difficulties on accessing sexual and reproductive health care is largely due to negative provider attitudes and cost care.
“Therefore it is important to establish space for in the ground collaboration among government institutions and CSOs to help raise the profile of issues affecting girls with disabilities and ensure their participation in peace building and other processes. There is need to promote accessible accountability mechanisms to ensure access to justice for WGWDs who experience rights violation including GBV,” said Chindimba.
She indicated that it was significant to outline efforts to ensure disability accessibility including provision of information in accessible format such as Braille,easy to read and ensure that sign language interpretation is available.
Chindimba highlighted the need to facilitate the involvement of WGDs in planning and designing of Covid-19 and ensuring that GBV programs and response services and social support are accessible to all women and girls including WGDs.
“It is important to ensure that health care including SRHR and anti- gender based violence supports are accessible and usable to WGDs. Women with disabilities are not just in need of ‘special protections’ but can meaningfully contribute to the society’s post pandemic development.”
The Chairperson of Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum who joined the meeting from Zambia, Ms Clare Musonda said efforts were being made by Member States to ensure that the Model Law on GBV assist the work of the Caucuses.
She said the Model Law will enable national legislators to amend and replace some policies which do not adequately contribute to capacity building, engagement and communication of GBV issues.
It is the role of Parliamentarians she highlighted, to make sure that GBV victims especially WGDs receive assurance and support.
Regionally, she said, SADC recognises GBV as a critical area of concern thus , the Model Law ought to emphasizes the need to address all forms of GBV.
“The proposed process of drafting a Model Law on Gender-Based Violence in the SADC region initiated by the SADC-PF is in response to the prevailing shortfalls in legislation on Gender-Based Violence and the chronic implementation gap across the region. The SADC PF Model Law is yet another indicator of the commitment of SADC PF to gender equality, inclusion and human rights. In particular it seeks to set standards for the SADC region in the manner matters of GBV are handled.
“There is need for Parliamentarians to exercise their duty for the benefit of the community by ensuring that the Model Law on GBV has effective laws and development by Member States policies. The model is a useful tool which guides national laws and legislations, support Government when dealing with GBV issues.
“It helps all SADC States to ratify international and regional treaties and instruments that contain important provisions relating to eliminating gender-based violence. It encourages member states to domesticate and implement key aspects of the model legislation at the national level. The model law also assist states to address all relevant areas in GBV legislation where they have gaps or where existing legislation needs reform,” said Ms Clare.
She added that other specific provisions of the Model Law include protection, prevention and intervention measures, capacity building and awareness amongst other general issues.
“The GBV Model Law incorporates protection, prevention and intervention measures as espoused in international, regional and continental instruments and recommended strategies by protagonists oi order to enable Member States to tackle GBV efficaciously.
“It endeavours to provide for training of relevant public officials (Judges, police officers, socialise worker and immigration officers)for effective GBV detection, prevention, investigation, prosecution, protection and awareness of GBV.”
The model law is still under consideration and currently undergoing consultations. Stakeholders are free to make written submissions which will be taken into account as the model law is finalised.
Ms Musonda said it is hoped that the Model Law will be adopted by the Plenary Assembly of the SADC PF at its 50th Session, tentatively scheduled to take place around early December 2021.
A Member of Parliament for Mutasa North Constituency who is also the Chairperson of Women Affairs, Community and Small and Medium Enterprises, Honourable Chido Madiwa said WGDs were living in difficult situations of experiencing GBV thus the need to strengthen efforts aimed at reducing their vulnerability.
She said a lot still needs to be done to make sure that survivors of GBV receive the support they need highlighting that members of Parliament and CSOs should work together in creating a better environment for WGDs.
Government, she pointed out, was making concerted effort to protect the rights of PWDs.
“Even though men and women experience GBV, girls and women with disabilities are 10 times abused than men. Societies practice GBV on women and girls through marriage restriction for PWDs, restricting them to report cases of GBV and this increase the their vulnerability for they end up being stuck in the same situations.
“Though a lot still needs to be done especially in increasing One-Stop Centres for GBV survivors, Government has taken many steps to address these challenges through adopting Conventions such as the Beljing Platform to protect the rights of PWDs. It is the duty of the state to protect PWDs including WGDs from all forms of exploitation and ensure that there is change in ad much as gender roles stereotypes are concerned.
“MPs and CSOs are key to changing attitude therefore they must work collectively. They are vital in offering counseling services, fund, facilitate and support full participation of WGDs so they should work together in research and crafting effective and practical laws,” said Honourable Madiwa.
She added that it was imperative for the society to change perceptions and see WGDs as people who can positively contribute to the development of community and the nation at large.
Other participants pointed out that an escalating issue to the abuse of people with disabilities was poverty hence the need for more skills training projects for sustainance in order to curb this challenge.
Some highlighted that, “The model law for GBV is a good move to standardise approach to GBV, however I think in terms of the punitive measures in the Model Law I recommend that where a victim is a PWD, the punishment must be stringent.”
Participants also stressed that laws that criminalise GBV must be strengthened so that they act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators whilst others said culture of impunity can only be tackled by strong legal frameworks and be accompanied by continued awareness and sensitization.
The Director for Musasa Project, Ms Precious Taru said survivors were being tested for Covid-19 at the nearest clinic before admission.
“We have isolation centres before admissions. Our counselors are trained on interacting in sign language. However more can still be done to ensure the services are too notch to meet the needs for everyone,” said Ms Taru.
By Joyce Mukucha