2013: Place of safety opens in Mansa
By Betty Chella Nalungwe
MANSA, Zambia – Sexual abuse, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) is a problem which affects every country, every culture, and every community. Wherever you look the scandal of GBV raises its ugly head.
Everyone has the basic human right to live in safety, a right reflected in major international human rights treaties, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The gap between these rights and the reality for millions of women and children is stark, and this does not exclude the communities of Zambia’s Mansa district, near the country’s northern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Gender based violence can take the form of emotional or psychological abuse as well as physical assault and these threats and denigration may, in certain cases, be as harmful as actual violence,” said Dr. Iyorlumun J. Uhaa, UNICEF Zambia’s Representative at the ceremony to officially open the Place of Safety. “We all know just how hard it is for an abused woman to give evidence against her abusing husband and how hard it is not to give in to his violent pressure on her – and perhaps her children, too – to withdraw that evidence. It is disheartening to realize that behind the closed doors of homes everywhere, in the place where women have the right to feel most safe, horrific abuse is a daily reality.”
Indeed it was a day of celebration from both men and women in Mansa in January when the House of Safety was officially opened by the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health. The Mansa Men’s Network group marched ahead of the Boys’ Brigade band and sung songs of praise to the Government and its cooperating partners for making the Place of Safety a reality. A place of safety provides temporary shelter and protection to survivors of gender based violence who are not able to go back to their communities where they have been abused.
Many residents explained that they were aware about the negative effects of GBV through the advocacy of the UNICEF-supported One-Stop Centre that had been established at Mansa General Hospital in 2010. A One-Stop Centre is a place where all support services are centralised for survivors of gender based violence. These services include; medical, counselling and legal support, and victim support through the Zambia Police.
UNICEF partnered with the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) through the Ministry of Community Development Mother and Child Health (MCDMCH) to try and ensure that the lives of those that have been victims of abuse are secured. UNICEF provided over US$335,773 to renovate and furnish the Place of Safety building.
This building will serve as a secure shelter for all those who are victims of GBV, child sexual abuse, and also human trafficking.
Beatrice Kabaso Kashitu a 46-year-old, survivor of GBV and now a counsellor shared her story with me during the launch in which she narrated her sad past experiences and now her happy days at home. “Trouble for me started when my husband took to alcohol. Every time he would collect his salary he would go on extended drinking sprees and upon his return home, there would be no end to our fighting. He would beat me up for no reason. He beat me so much that sometimes I would be shut-in the house because my eyes would be so swollen that I could not see anything or even talk to people.
“Unfortunately my husband’s drinking habits did not stop and his anger also extended to our grandchildren who have been victims of his abuse. I cried day and night fearing that one day I would lose my life at the hands of my husband until I was advised to visit the One-Stop Centre at the General Hospital,” said Ms. Kashitu. “During my visit to the One-Stop centre, I met a counsellor who talked to me and also requested to meet my husband and engaged both of us in serious counselling. I can say that the counselling worked wonders in our home because as I stand here today, I can claim to say that I am a free and happy woman. There is total peace in our house and no more fighting. My husband is always encouraging me to help and guide other couples who are still fighting to go to the One-Stop Centre”.
“I have truly found healing and would like to encourage couples to seek counselling from the One-Stop centre in order to avoid what I went through. I am now a trained counsellor working with other peer educators at the One-Stop centre and my joy comes from seeing other women liberated from violence. I want to sincerely thank UNICEF for bringing about this program which is teaching us how to look after our lives and mostly for prolonging my life,” she said.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony, the Minister of Community Development Mother and Child Health, Hon. Dr. Joseph Katema, MP, said, “The government is acutely aware of these problems and is working hard to tackle them. It is important that the international community and the United Nations continue to help and support us. It is vital as well that the prevention of violence against women ranks high on national public health, social, and legal agendas of the government, NGOs, and donor communities.
“We are seeing the power of women to change societies for the better. By giving them the protection needed, by enabling them more easily to find the justice they deserve, this impact for good will be enhanced and our societies become stronger and healthier for everyone,” said the Hon Minister.