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Gender-based violence increased during lockdowns

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THE outbreak of Covid-19 and the attendant restrictions which resulted in most businesses stopping operations triggered a spike in gender-based violence (GBV) as experts continue to count the cost of the pandemic, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) has said.
BERNARD MPOFU
The Covid-19 pandemic and steps taken by governments to tackle the spread of the virus, including lockdowns and movement restrictions, have had a range of impacts on GBV around the world.
 Reports of domestic violence, child marriage, violence by state officials and armed guards, online abuse and other forms of GBV have increased globally and regionally during the pandemic, and Zimbabwe is no exception to this trend.
According to its latest annual report, the ZCC established a multi-disciplinary expert facility (MDEF) to manage a helpline and handle psychosocial support issues. The team comprises social scientists, lawyers, medical experts and counsellors.
“Through the Helpline platform, ZCC received and handled over 100 psychosocial support (PSS) and gender-based violence (GBV) cases. ZCC capacitated Helpline Counsellors through procurement of smartphones for facilitators, provision of airtime and data bundles for communicating, and fuel for commuting to and from victims,” the ZCC said.
“The operating environment was characterised by deepened economic and humanitarian crises, social fragmentation, political polarisation, and lack of constitutionalism. The advent of Covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation thereby exposing citizens to more vulnerabilities.”
The campaigns through multimedia platforms have helped increase awareness on Covid-19 in the targeted communities, the ZCC said.
“This has resulted in improved adherence to the Covid-19 prevention regulations of social distancing, hand sanitising and wearing of masks in the immediate term, which is a milestone in curbing the spread of the pandemic,” the ZCC said.
“Livestreaming of over 25 church sermons was also conducted on these multimedia platforms. Pastors shared messages of hope and gave strength to church members during Covid-19 period. Church members felt theologically strengthened despite not being able to congregate physically due to the Covid-19 regulations.”
The ZCC, in collaboration with the ministry of Health and Child Care, has trained a total of 970 ecumenical health champions in six provinces, namely Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland and Manicaland.
The trained participants have been actively involved in cascading of behavioural change messages within their communities. This has resulted in improved adherence to the Covid-19 regulations on social distancing, wearing of masks and hand sanitisation.
Zimbabwe reported its first Covid-19 case on 21 March 2020. Schools and international borders were closed and on 30 March 2020 the country entered a national lockdown. In January, the country also enforced another two-month lockdown after the second wave of infections.
Experts say while restrictions have slowed down the spread of the pandemic, these responses had immediate and long-term consequences for women and girls who faced disruptions to their education, livelihoods, food security and access to services including GBV support and sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH).
Lockdown restrictions mean that women and girls are forced to spend time enclosed with families, trapping many at home with their abusers. Violence also manifested in public places.

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