Q&A with Washington Jiri of Bantwana Zimbabwe on Ways to Prevent GBV

December 9th, 2021 | Blogs


As the world marks the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), we caught up with Washington Jiri, an expert in this field and Child Protection Program Specialist with Bantwana Zimbabwe. He has seen GBV’s toll on girls and women, families, and communities, and talked about how Bantwana Zimbabwe is working to prevent and treat it.  

Washington started his career as a social worker with the Government of Zimbabwe, where he worked for more than 10 years before entering the world of nongovernmental organizations. But his work—and goals—have remained the same:  improving and supporting social protection services to survivors of sexual and GBV and other vulnerable people.

How much of a problem is GBV in Zimbabwe and why should people pay attention to it?

GBV is a huge problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UNFPA, about one in three women ages 15 to 49 in Zimbabwe have experienced physical violence, and of those 15 and older, about one in four has experienced sexual violence. While the rates are similar in other sub-Saharan countriessuch as South Africa and Kenyathis is not an African problem only. It is the same story across the world.  

What are some of the root causes of high GBV prevalence in Zimbabwe?  

The Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey and other studies have shown that the most prevalent form of GBV is intimate partner. The root causes are complex and linked to harmful cultural practices, gender inequality including preferential treatment of sons, poor economic conditions, and limited employment opportunities. But these are not unique to Zimbabwe. The underlying causes of GBV are similar across the continent. 

How do we solve a problem that is rooted in cultural norms and poverty?

Start at the grassroots level. We must understand the cultural norms and values, immerse ourselves in the culture, build trust with the communities, and then start a conversation about changing gender norms. Changing a norm that is embedded in a community or society requires more than providing information and facts: it takes time. This is why many programs fail. The task is immense—we essentially need to convince a community to change the way it sees certain things. And for change to take hold, we need wide community buy-in of the proposed solutions. I cannot stress enough the need for community participation, not just in implementing solutions but in formulating them. At Bantwana Zimbabwe, our role is to facilitate that process and perhaps provide guidance, but not to impose a preconceived intervention.

GBV touches many other areas and therefore cannot be solved in siloes. You cannot end it, for instance, without providing equal access to economic opportunities and education to girls and women. So building strong partnerships with other stakeholders —including the government, other civil society groups, and communities themselves—is extremely important. A single organization cannot do this alone.

Walk us through the process of supporting GBV survivors in, say, a remote community in south western Zimbabwe.

Survivors get support through the National Case Management System, which links them to critical services including post-GBV care, HIV and other sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and psychosocial support. 

When a survivor is identified and reported into the system, she is linked to a volunteer community case worker (CCW) who is part of the Department of Social Development (DSD) in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. (By the way, Bantwana introduced this cadre to the Ministry years back and it has been formally recognized as part of the government’s social welfare workforce.) The CCW then liaises with district-level social workers who are responsible for further case management. Once a case file is opened, referrals are made to services including police, justice system, clinical and psychosocial care, and safe shelter if the perpetrator is in the community.

Through the DSD, we provide support such as vouchers so that survivors can access free transport to the district social welfare office and/or to a facility for urgent post-violence care.

GBV primarily hurts girls and women, but it also harms families and communities at large. What is the role of men and boys in mitigating GBV in Zimbabwe?

The role of men, including young men and boys, is central to preventing GBV. The misguided belief in one gender’s superiority promotes GBV. Therefore, to eradicate it, men must commit to changing their attitudes and practices. This includes being accountable to themselves and each other. Men and boys must be engaged in gender norms change processes and trained in positive masculinity. Influential men in communities should be identified and engaged as champions to promote and model positive masculinity. Social media is another way to communicate positive masculinity, especially among younger men. Parenting groups should include both men and women in discussions about how gender inequality and harmful cultural practices perpetuate GBV.

How is COVID-19 affecting the prevalence and prevention of GBV in Zimbabwe?

COVID-19 lockdowns led to the confinement of families and children in their homes. Coupled with limited access to employment opportunities and the closure/reduction of GBV and HIV services, this led to a spike in GBV cases, especially in remote areas. A study by SAFE Zimbabwe last year found a nearly 40% increase in reported cases of violence against girls and women during the first two months of the lockdown than before it. The same study reported that physical violence increased by 44%; emotional violence by 80%; and economic violence by 42%. There is no question that the pandemic has worsened the situation.

In response, Bantwana Zimbabwe rolled out a community-run early warning system (EWS) to not only prevent GBV from happening, but also to provide an appropriate response. The EWS encourages trusted community and welfare committee members to conduct door-to-door surveillance of households with adolescent girls. Our response also involves supporting communities to identify safe spaces and shelters, and deliver mobile “one-stop centers” that bring services and information closer to  the people who need them.

What else do we need to prevent GBV?

Coordination with the government is key. To illustrate this, consider that COVID-19 has increased the prevalence of substance abuse, which we know is a factor of (increased) GBV. You cannot prevent and treat substance abuse, however, without coordinating with the government to identify entry points of harmful substances in the country so you can stem the source rather than just treat the symptoms. We also need to improve inter-sector coordination, ideally through a common platform, so that all actors can continuously discuss and resolve the underlying issues that arise. To end GBV, it is imperative to integrate risk mitigation across all response sectors.

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