Written By FADZISO FADZISAI MAWUNGANIDZE, Katswe Sistahood – Programmes Officer

Imagine a young girl staying with the rapist for 24 hours a day outside of the freedom she used to enjoy when she went to school or to play with her friends. She is afraid to share what has been happening for fear of being chased away from home. The question is what happens to those girls and women who are raped by their fathers or relatives? Who will they report to during the 21 lockdown? The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus leaves a lot of young women and girls vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence and this has been not made easy by the Zimbabwean case of shared accommodation which makes young girls vulnerable to abusers for a whole 24 hrs.

According to Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019 at least 56.4% of women and girls have experienced assault at home in the last three years. A research by UNFPA on GBV in Zimbabwe, shows that about 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and about 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 in their home. This shows that in emergencies women and girls are likely to face more violence as they are restricted from escaping this abuse by using school or play.

There is a woman who endures abuse every night, and now she is stuck with her abuser for 24 hours and there is nowhere or limited reporting channels. How will such a woman escape marital rape? Will her bruised face be prioritized by police who would rather beat down those who defied the lockdown in the streets?

Restraint in movement usually results in increase in violence. Chikiti (2018) highlighted that sexual violence in homes happens due to family environment characterized by physical violence and conflict, poor parent child relationship and adherence to traditional and cultural gender role norms. This hows that this staying at home period affects everyone especially girls and women and whose escape and resistance have been heavily crippled. Huge concern is also on hand to mouth vendors who are mostly women feeding huge families.

How will they replace this source of income in such times and will their day profits last 21 days? COVID 19 will fuel cases of sexual gender based violence and some might be reported and some might not be reported due to fear of victimisation by the perpetrator or that the victims might end up not having places to stay. The Government of Zimbabwe has set up only four One Stop Centres which are too few and are not accessible to many people in the districts. Additionally it does not have enough safe shelters for abused women and girls. Women and girls will continue to be abused in their homes, suffer in silence and not speak out during this COVID 19 pandemic. Are the Victim Friendly Units where women usually report such cases even capacitated enough with preventative measures whilst handing cases during these times. A lot more needs to be done