In 2010, Zambian police recorded 8,673 cases of gender violence. Yet according to the 2007 Zambian Demographic and Health Survey, 47 percent of women have experienced physical violence in their lifetime and 33 percent in the previous year. Some quick maths. There are six million women in Zambia. So assuming not much has changed since 2007, two million would have experienced violence in 2010: 230 times more than the number reported to the police. The factor of over 200 rings a bell.
We have just put out a press release in South Africa calling on the government to conduct a nationwide gender violence prevalence and attitude survey, after the September 2011 South African Police Services (SAPS) report put the sexual assault rate in the South African province of Gauteng at 0.03 percent compared to the 7.8 percent rate that we found in a survey that involved administering an in-depth questionnaire to a representative sample of the population. That figure is 260 times higher than what was reported to the police. Clearly, police statistics across Southern Africa are not telling the true story.
I refresh my memory on the 2010 Gauteng research: half of all the women surveyed said that they had experienced violence of some kind during their lifetime (uncannily similar to the Zambian health survey) and 18 percent over the last year.
Later in the day at the Lusaka seminar, in front of over one hundred representatives of embassies, government ministries, law enforcement agencies and activists, Superintendent Tresford Kasale brings these kinds of numbers to life with his folder of gruesome images from the Victim Support Unit where he works. A prize winner at the annual Gender Links Gender Justice and Local Government Summit, he is a member of the Men's Forum - one of many male champions emerging in the fight against gender violence.
But it is the riveting first-hand account by Sophia Mwale, who speaks through an interpreter in Nyanja, that holds the most attention. After her first husband died in 2004 leaving her widowed with five children, she remarried a Mr Mwale who started beating her within two months of their union. Her graphic memory of dates and actions is like a living diary of the holocaust.
She relives the horror of itchy plants spread around her bed and being locked up without hot water to wash off the effects. She fights back tears as she remembers her clothes being burned with acid. She is understandably cynical about the six-month prison sentence he never served. She lives in fear that Mwale will find her at the shelter where she is taking refuge.
One of the reasons we argue for comprehensive indicators on gender violence is that the costs of such experiences do not feature in any data base. I find myself wondering what this is costing Sophia Mwale - in hospital fees; days spent away from work; the opportunity cost of not being able to better her life and that of her children while she lives as a virtual refugee in her own country. I remember that emotional violence features as the largest single category of violence in our survey, yet there is no such category in police statistics.
There are light moments, though. Keynote speaker and Sonke Gender Justice's Mbuyiselo Botha from South Africa has the audience in stitches when he observes that the only distinction between a man and a woman is the former's erect penis, yet for men his age even that is not a given! Seriously, he says, the problem in our society is that most men do not talk openly about the things they really feel. They are scared: of losing power, and of empowered women.
I think back to the findings of the opinion section of our Gauteng survey, that shows women increasingly aware of their rights; men starting to say the right things, but then contradicting themselves. So according to our study, titled 'The War at Home', 88 percent of the men surveyed agree that women and men are equal, but 86 percent men believe that women should obey their husbands.
At lunch, our Zambian field officer Faides Nsofu and I have an animated discussion with the director of the Zambia Gender in Development Division Christine Kalamwina on our ten Centres of Excellence for Gender Mainstreaming in local government (100 across the region) that we want to cascade to all the 74 councils of Zambia. We agree that the only way we will ever achieve gender equality is to work community by community. We want to prove this through conducting baseline surveys of gender violence in each locality, and then repeating these studies every five years.
Throughout the day I monitor a barrage of emails on my newfound blackberry from our offices across ten countries - marches being planned; technology being sorted for the daily lunch time cyber dialogues that we run during the Sixteen Days; bank accounts opened; transfers made; speakers found; donors met: the list is endless.
At the seminar, one of the panellists, Bishop Paul Mususu reads out an edited rendition of Amos 5:21-24 that helps to put things in perspective: 'I can't stand your meetings; I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fundraising schemes, your public relations and image making. Do you know what I want? I want justice - oceans of it. I want fairness - rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want.' Amen!
* Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO of Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on every day news.
By: Colleen Lowe Morna, GenderLinks