by Tendai Ruben Mbofana
I have always believed that the most effective way of solving a problem is to fully understand its cause.
As one popular Zimbabwean singer, Oliver Mtukudzi once sang: tanga waziva chaita kuti musoro uteme.
In other words, for one to properly cure an excruciating headache, he first has to know what is causing it.
Merely taking a paracetamol (as a pain killer) will not help much, especially when there is a deeper issue, for instance, a cancerous tumor.
The effective cure will be to have the debilitating growth identified and removed.
Resorting to pain killers may provide temporary relief – and a false sense of healing.
However, in the process, the tumor will be developing and likely spreading until it is too late to save the person’s life.
This same principle applies to every facet of human life and the various problems we encounter.
As the world commemorates ‘16 days of activism against gender based violence’, there is also a focus on protecting children.
This is indeed a noble cause – since the prevalence of gender based violence, particularly against women and children, has, over the course of history, been a huge cause for concern.
The effects of this violence – which ranges from physical and sexual to emotional and psychological – have had a profound adverse impact on the fabric of society and, as such, need to be stamped out.
Nonetheless, in spite of the commendable strides made over the past decade or so in fighting this scourge, there is still a very long way to go.
There are numerous reasons why progress has seemingly been slow.
I do not think there can ever be just one or two factors contributing to this apparent lethargic pace.
One of these was the resistance in embracing this message, particularly by those largely regarded as the perpetrators (and, as such, beneficiaries) of this abuse.
In most cases, this violence had been sneaked into various cultures – albeit deceptively, as the abuse of women, children, men, or any other members of society has traditionally been frowned upon in African societies.
In actual fact, historically, women and wives were awarded the utmost honor and respect not only by men or their husbands, but also by society at large.
That is why ‘lobola’ or ‘bride price’ is, in most cultures, paid to the wife’s family – not the other way round.
Similarly, in-laws from the wife’s side – such as her mother (ambuya) and father (tezvara) – have always been viewed as more important than those of the husband, whose respect borders on fear.
This meant that any man who mistreated his wife or children was not only regarded with the utmost disdain and as a shameless outcast but punished at the traditional court.
Another factor was the twisting of religious teachings – be it deliberately or out of ignorance – whereby the concept of ‘submission’ was misinterpreted to mean ‘subservience’.
Such bastardization of scripture resulted in women being subjected to unspeakable abuse and subjugation.
Yet, the term ‘submit’, in its original biblical sense and language (Hebrew and Aramaic), never had the connotation of ‘subservience’ or even ‘obedience’.
It simply meant ‘to humble oneself’, or ‘serve, respect, or attend’ to someone.
Furthermore, based on the same biblical scripture related to submitting, husbands are compelled to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.
How then does one abuse someone he loves – especially in the same way as Jesus loves us?
In both the above-mentioned instances, the solution would be to educate the people on the truth – whether as pertains to culture or religion.
We then move on to the third factor stifling progress in fighting violence against women and children – more so the latter.
Not facing indisputable scientific facts.
The issue of the abuse of children has justifiably been topical for some time now.
Be that as it may, the focus has largely been on men who sexually abuse the girl child or sodomize the boy child.
That all is truly well and good.
Granted, according to statistics, children are more likely to be sexually abused by a male – in most cases, who is known to the victim – although the abuse of boys by females is also prevalent.
It is tragic, though, that reliable statistics on the sexual abuse of children in Zimbabwe are not easily and readily available.
Nonetheless, based on figures by Childline, 4,239 children were sexually abused in 2019 – with 3,920 of them being girls.
Of course, the major perpetrators were male.
Nevertheless, there is another very important type of child violation we seem not to talk about that much: physical and emotional abuse.
As stated before, statistics are very sketchy for Zimbabwe.
However, facts are that females are more likely to be convicted of physical abuse and the maltreatment of children than males.
Who can forget the 2020 case of a Chivhu woman, Emelda Marizani, who murdered her four children – after first poisoning them, then slitting their throats with a knife – who was sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2023?
Due to the unavailability of statistics on Zimbabwe, I had to resort to those of the US, which are easily accessible and more reliable.
In 2021, there were 233,918 children abused by women, as compared to 213,672 at the hands of men.
In fact, the single largest demographic of abusers of children are mothers!
The US Department of Health and Human Services states that 71 percent of children killed by a family member were killed by their own mother.
In addition, 1,452,099 were abused and neglected by their mothers, with 1,704 fatalities – as compared to 661,129 abused and neglected by men with 859 fatalities.
Indeed, the fact that mothers and women are usually the primary carers of children who spend more time with them plays a significant factor in them being the likely abusers.
However, it is disturbing that these statistics are never talked about.
As such, this has dire consequences for the fight against child abuse.
There is no way this can be won if the abuse meted on children by their own mothers or other women is swept under the carpet.
Yes, let us make noise about very young girls being sexually abused by men – like Anna Machaya, the 14-year-old child who died whilst giving birth in 2021 in Marange.
Nonetheless, let us not turn a blind eye to the other side of the coin.
According to Childline Zimbabwe, they received 25,000 cases of abuse of children in 2018.
The sexual abuses accounted for 26 percent, physical abuses were 20 percent, neglect 17 percent, emotional abuses 17 percent, and the rest 20 percent.
How can this disturbing issue be addressed when such a huge demographic – of physical, neglect, and emotional abuse – is not factored into the equation?
Who is going to speak and stand up for the multitudes of children being abused by their mothers?
We need to talk about these issues and admit that females can just be as abusive as men.
This will be a very good starting point.
As long as our activism is only skewed against one gender then the cause is lost before it even starts.
Once this ‘fight’ ceases to appear as one-sided – with just one group fingered as perpetrators – then we can finally make progress in addressing this scourge.
● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: email@example.com, or visit website: http://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/