The problem of domestic violence appear to have gained significant prominence in recent times. Of course such problems have always been there, but they now appear to get more coverage as prominent individuals become entangled on them. We have for example seen in recent times' the sad death of Hon Mabenga's daughter at the alleged hands of her husband ('alleged' because case is still pending) and of course the famous saga involving Hon Mwamba. Without doubt, domestic violence, child abuse / trafficking and certain customary practices continue to be great evils facing our women. But how do we help them?
Certainly not through the empty talk recently exhibited by Non Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) chair Engwase Mwale when commenting on the failure to prosecute Kasama Member of Parliamentary who has previously admitted beating his spouse :
And Mwale said her organisation was disappointed with Mwamba’s wife, Chama, for withdrawing the case against her husband. Mwale said NGOCC had expected Chama to lead by example in redressing the rampant violation against women and children through this high-profile case. “She has once again lost an opportunity to give women an opportunity to resolve to seek justice at the hands of difficult economic, social and cultural situations,” Mwale said.
Its clearly irrational to expect Mrs Mwamba to act. Her actions reflect what most people would do - which is act in their self interest. Why should we expect her to bear the cross for every woman? Ms Mwale's highlights the flawed thinking of NGOCC. They do not seem to realise that any victim of gender based violence will always be in a weak position to act, regardless of their status in society. What NGOCC should be focusing on is to provide specific proposals that would help reverse domestic violence by relying less on victims. My policy suggestions are two-fold.
First, we need a new law relating to gender based violence that allows pre-court evidence to carry substantial weight in court proceedings. In the example above, it would mean what Mrs Mwamba said first time would have carried more substantial weight than what she then said after the husband and relatives pressured her. We can justify this change if we all accept that domestic violence is a crime not just against the individual but society - it demeans us all. While making that change, we might also explore other issues around "burden of proofs" and the possibilities of " financial penalties" paid into a "victim's fund".
The second change is the need for special domestic violence courts. It appears that our courts may not fully realise the special nature of some of these cases, especially the cultural and economic angles. We need to experiment with tailored judicial proceedings. The reason why many people do not take these cases forward and choose to suffer in secret is that the process is too long and unpredictable. If we can make the trials quicker we are likely to see more women come forward.
I will have a lot more to say on this issue in the future, but this is what NGOCC should be focusing on. Coming up with cost effective alternatives. Let us quit blaming victims like Mrs Mwamba and focus on how we can help them.