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Survivors of gender-based violence need access to services in times of crisis, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns

ZIMBABWE—Life-saving services for survivors of gender-based violence will continue to be offered during Zimbabwe’s COVID-19-related lockdown, such as those offered by Bubi Shelter in Bubi district. This provides not only shelter for survivors but has also helped improve the reporting of cases.

An increase in gender-based violence (GBV) is expected as an indirect consequence of COVID-19 infection prevention measures, including the restriction of movements, increased demand and limited access to public services and basic commodities.

Self-isolation and limited mobility due to a lockdown are likely to impact women and girls’ ability to access basic family resources, such as water and food, which may increase tension within the household and lead to an increased risk of intimate partner violence.

As part of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, UNFPA Zimbabwe is working closely with civil society organizations and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Community and Small to Medium Enterprises Development (MOWACSME) to ensure the continuation of GBV services. CSO partners include Musasa, Adult Rape Clinic, Family AIDS Counselling Trust, Family Support Trust, FACT, ZAPSO, ZICHIRE and World Vision.

These efforts include equipping all supported GBV facilities – static and mobile one-stop centres, shelters and safe spaces – with COVID-19 infection, prevention and control (IPC) supplies. IPC supplies include masks, gloves, thermometers, temporary isolation tents for GBV survivors with suspicious symptoms, and extra transport support as alternatives to limited availability of public transport for survivors being referred to higher levels of care.

These measures are critical to ensure that survivors receive the services they need, while also mitigating against the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Shelters play a vital role in the GVB response

As a safe haven, Bubi shelter has become a beacon of hope in the community. It shows what can be achieved when there is solidarity against the crime of violence against women and girls.

 

 

The facility brings together religious leaders, councillors, and men and women from the community to discuss how to end GBV against women and girls in the community, explained Ward Councillor Mbizo Siwela.

We are very happy and grateful for the shelter as it is doing a good job in checking and supressing GBV.

 

“The shelter has helped bring to light the plight of the girl child through community forum meetings, where issues relating to prevention of and response to gender-based violence are shared,” he said. “We are very happy and grateful for the shelter as it is doing a good job in checking and supressing GBV. The shelter has helped improve reporting of GBV cases.”

Currently housing 15 survivors and 4 accompanying minors, the facility shelters women and girls who have experienced GBV, mostly at the hands of those who are supposed to love and protect them.

Enduring this type of violence is not an easy experience, said Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, during a recent visit to the shelter.

We must  ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and that this leads to convictions.

“We must never allow this to happen, as a community. We must also ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and that this leads to convictions,” she said. 

Integrating SRH services and disability into GBV response

The majority of GBV cases registered at Bubi shelter involve adolescent girls. The facility has also emerged as a strong link in the referral system, ensuring that survivors get a comprehensive package of care.

Bubi equips the survivors with skills and knowledge on how to deal with GBV, thus training them to become community ambassadors ready to help others who might potentially experience violence.

“The shelter has incorporated livelihood activities as a sustainability mechanism, through poultry [farming] and gardening. Both survivors and local members have also been helping with conservation agriculture, as skills capacity building, to enable them to be self-reliant once they leave the shelter,” said Precious Khumalo, Musasa Programme Officer responsible for Bubi shelter.

“Through the support of UNFPA, the shelter has renovation plans to make it disability friendly, for easy access by survivors who come to the shelter to seek help,” she said.

The model used by Bubi shelter brings together partners that are key in the response to GBV, from community members to health workers, social services, the police and judiciary. “As UNFPA, we are excited to be part of this initiative,” said Dr. Onabanjo.

Dr. Onabanjo appealed to community members to ensure that young people stay in school. What is worrying, however, is how many young people are not able to make choices regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights, in order to fulfil their potential, because they are either not in school or, as girls, they are experiencing violence and being abused, she said.

- Derick Nyasulu