The media is a key player in influencing policy and debunking common myths and perceptions of Gender Based Violence, especially that perpetrated against women with disabilities.
This was the common thread running through a media workshop and news conference to update journalists on the results of a recent study of how GBV affects women with disabilities, conducted across Zimbabwe’s ten provinces.
The study was carried out by Deaf Women Included (DWI), an organisation that works with deaf women from across the country to empower them to access information, health services, education and employment and to influence government, the private sector and civil society to take the rights of deaf women into account in policy making as well as policy implementation.
Executive Director and Co-Founder of the organisation, Agnes Chindimba said according to the survey, 39 percent of women aged 15-49 years had experienced physical violence since the age of 15, while 11 percent experienced the violence in the last 12 months preceding the survey.
She also highlighted some common myths about violence against women, which include that assaults are generally done by strangers, and that women tend to exaggerate about sexual assault, religious and political violence.
Ms Chindimba said there is need for gender sensitive reporting as the media is powerful and can influence policy changes. She said it is important for the media to use disability friendly terminology and to avoid using derogatory language and sensational headlines when referring to persons with disabilities.
Some of the words which should be avoided are “deaf and dumb” when referring to the deaf, “crippled”, “chirema” and “zvirema,”when referring to persons with disabilities.
“You see a headline such as “Blind man rapes 45 year old woman”. What has the man’s being blind got to do with him being a rapist?” Ms Chindimba asked.
Speaking at the same event, disability activist and founder of Signs of Hope Trust, Samantha Sibanda, said many Persons with Disabilities reported experiencing more violence during the Covid-19 lockdown period. She said restrictions to movement during lockdown, especially for women with disabilities, also made life difficult for them.
She also decried the fact that in Zimbabwe there are only two senators representing PWDs and no representative in the lower house, which is the house of assembly.
“Both senators have physical disabilities, which means that they may miss out on other forms of disability in their representation”, Ms Sibanda said.
Principal Information Officer, Media Services Directorate, in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Mr Lenex Mandipaza, said as a ministry they are advocating for reporters on the field to come up with reports that address the core issues related to GBV.
“Most often the media reports in generic terms and does not address specific issues on disabilities. As the President said, no one is supposed to be left behind. The media should play its role in fighting GBV by contributing to an inclusive society that caters for everybody and promotes unity and safety for everyone.”
Mandipaza said the media should highlight issues of justice delivery for everyone, including persons with disabilities, citing how difficult it is for the deaf to report cases at police stations as there is no deliberate policy to have sign language translators at police stations.
Mr Mandipaza also said the media should also do coverage of how communities can help GBV survivors who have disabilities, thereby highlighting issues that can make a difference in the lives of persons with disabilities.
Videos of the lived experiences of PWDs were shown during the news conference which was attended by journalists from Zimbabwe’s different media houses.