MOSES ZANGAR, Petauke
Francis Nkhoma used to beat up his wife so badly but after a series of gender-based violence (GBV) awareness training, his behaviour and attitude towards her changed.
“My involvement in the GBV One-Stop Shop campaign has taught me that there are many ways of solving domestic disputes without having to resort to violence. I now preach the anti-violence message,” the 41-year-old farmer of Kanyenye village in Petauke says.
Mr Nkhoma is now a recognised anti-GBV advocate and heads one of the rural neighbourhood watch teams set up to reduce domestic abuse in his community. Zambia is one country with the highest prevalence rate of 90 percent gender-based violence among five countries in the-Southern African region, according to a recent study by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Women constitute 51 percent of Zambia’s nearly 14 million people but men still dominate the political landscape, and the issue of violence against women and girls is of great concern. Activists say socially and culturally constructed norms and roles have shaped gender relations, leading to unequal power relations. Women have substantially less access to health care and education services than men and are vastly underrepresented at all levels of government.
Aiming to tackle these issues, a programme sponsored by the Government and the UN in Zambia, led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has been working with communities to raise awareness and engage men in gender issues and promote ‘positive masculinity’. The programme encourages men to be loving, caring fathers and partners who are supportive of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Rolled out in 2014, in the villages of Misolo, Kafuba, Kakwiya and Kanyenye, the village-led One-Stop Shop initiative forms part of a four-year US$15 million multi-sectoral approach funded by the Irish and Swedish governments. The initiative, which initially aims to reach 18,000 villagers in Zambia’s Eastern and Central provinces by 2016, will be replicated countrywide.
Supported by UNDP, local communities in these districts have so far trained 1,200 men and women on community engagement, gender and human rights issues and methods for working with men to combat GBV. Those receiving the training then transfer their skills and knowledge to village groups – each with up to 40 members.
Once trained, advocates disseminate success stories and work with traditional leaders to end violence against women through yard meetings and other community gatherings. They also advocate with religious leaders to spread anti-violence messages during weekly prayer services.
Armed with awareness materials, bicycles and mobile phones, community members create forums for men and women to discuss issues that contribute to GBV such as alcoholism, gambling, domestic violence and polygamy. The approach uses personal stories of change to help men in the community work towards non-violent and more equal relationships with women and girls.
Mr Nkhoma and the men in these groups work as “community police” or neighbourhood watch teams. They meet often and talk about local reports of domestic violence and how to deal with them. They also engage with known perpetrators about the negative effects of GBV. In some cases, they apprehend perpetrators and turn them over to the police.
“It’s a good idea to involve us [men] in fighting violence in our homes because we have the power to change our own attitudes by talking to and counselling each other,” he says, vowing to encourage more rural men to become campaigners for women’s rights in order to end traditional harmful practices such as child marriage and invest in the well-being of girls and women in their communities.
In Misolo, Kafuba, Kakwiya and surrounding villages, where anti-GBV men’s groups have been set up, the programme is already paying dividends. Amon Mashewa, 36, secretary of the Misolo Community GBV One-Stop Shop and a member of the men’s group, says cases of domestic violence have dropped sharply since the programme began.
“Our villages are now more peaceful. Men are now generally ashamed to be violent because they have been made aware of the negative effects of doing so,” Mashewa says.
Local communities and traditional leaders including Chief Nyamphande of the Nsenga people have embraced the scheme and there is a gradual change of men’s behaviour toward their wives. Most men have now understood the causes and costs of GBV and the benefits of non-violent behaviour and are making positive changes in their own lives.
Most women we are happy with the changes in the attitudes of their husbands. “My husband used to be physically and verbally violent towards me. I am happy that he doesn’t do that anymore,” Evelina, the wife of Francis Nkhoma, joyfully said.
“The men and women of Misolo are not only proud of what they have achieved for their own lives but they want to share it with others. It is my hope that this transformation can be replicated in more communities, right across Zambia so that we can eliminate gender inequalities that hold back the development of our communities and nation,” says Janet Rogan, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Zambia.