Zambia: High Rates of Domestic Violence Continue to be Underreported
Thursday, May 26, 2011 11:10 AM

The prevalence of domestic violence in Zambia remains as a serious threat to the safety of women. In 2009, the Zambian government released the Demographic and Health Survey, which documented the prevalence of intimate partner violence and defined domestic violence as “physical, sexual, emotional, psychological [and] economic” abuse. The survey found that over 50% of all married Zambian women are victims of physical abuse beginning at the age of 15. Supporting these rates, a local policeman said that he “get[s] about six or so cases of wife battering in just one day.” This survey also documents that this violence against women is usually perpetrated by intimate partners, including boyfriends, partners, or husbands of the victims.

While this survey begins to document the prevalence of domestic violence in Zambia, the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey also acknowledges that the data gathered was hindered by “cultural silence.” Cultural silence is a social phenomenon that causes women to believe they deserve to be abused and, thus, prevents them from reporting abuse and seeking help. Some scholars, such as Counselor Irees Phiri, believe that cultural silence results from “social and cultural processes […] that make women feel inferior.” 

When surveying the presence of cultural silence in Zambia, this survey found that over 60% of all surveyed women believe husbands are entitled to beat their wives “for at least one of the following reasons: burning food, refusing to have sex with him, arguing with him, going out without telling him or neglecting the children, according to the government survey.” Mary Chileshe, 24 years old and a victim of domestic violence, says, “there is nothing wrong with [my husband] beating me because we have been married for five years and a few months and I still have not given him children. I think I deserve the beatings." Moreover, up to 41% of women never report the abuse, and of the 46% who do report it, less than 1 percent see a doctor. Mary explains, “I cannot take [my husband] to the police. I love him, and he loves me." 

Fortunately, advocacy groups within the Zambian society are working to reduce violence against women and counteract the social phenomenon of silence. As Women’s eNews explains, “radio programs, educational workshops, school discussions and support groups” are common. Nongovernmental groups are also fighting violence, and Youth Vision Zambia sets a perfect example. This NGO offers “sexual and reproductive health information and services to young people,” and trains traditional counselors on issues concerning gender so that they will in turn be able to assist their female clients. "Traditional counselors from all parts of the country must be educated on gender-based violence because these people interact directly with young women who are about to get married and those who have reached adulthood," the executive director of Youth Vision Zambia says. Simultaneously, the Parliament is also considering an anti-gender-based violence bill. If passed, this bill will encourage the creation of shelters for female victims of abuse and institute protection orders for women who have survived violence.

Compiled from: Zambian Women Accept Marital Violence, Women's eNews, (1 May 2011).