Domestic Violence – The Monster Society has Domesticated
It is well documented that least 1 in every 3 women around the world has been beaten, abused, or coerced into sex during her lifetime. It is unfortunate that despite anti-domestic violence activism and advocacy and a gender sensitive legislative framework, the Zimbabwean society is characterized by domestic violence which has seen, according to Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey, 1 in 4 women experiencing sexual violence and in 9 out of 10 of the cases the perpetrator is the woman’s current or former husband, partner or boyfriend; and 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 experiencing physical violence since the age 15. Statistics by a local gender organization Musasa Project shows an upsurge of these cases of abuse.
In most African societies, the institution of marriage is sacred and hence societal expectations point towards finding a matrimonial home from the age of sixteen onwards in rural settings and about eighteen in urban spaces. Society shuns singlehood and mostly associated with bad luck so if one is lucky enough to find a spouse, society experts the union to be permanent regardless of the circumstances. Even if women find themselves in abusive relationships, they remain silent and continue in those relationships because going back home is not an option at all. Society expects women to be resilient and older women instill the notion that marriage is not a bed of roses hence one has to stick it out and be resilient no matter what. They even say they went through the same hardships and still made it so the younger generation should emulate them.
A young lady Ivy from the high density of Harare, laments the manner her husband treats her – the beatings, insults and every other forms of abuse, but won’t leave him neither will she report him to police simply because she wants to keep her marriage. The moment she threatened to report the husband she was told that the union will end the moment she makes a police report. Thus for the sake of remaining married she endures the abusive relationship. Among her peers she is seen as having crossed the bridged from singlehood to the revered marital institution that they all dream and strive for hence every effort to maintain it even if it means living with an abusive spouse.
In some cases the payment of bride price becomes the source of abuse as women are treated as objects. The transactional nature of African marriages makes the woman vulnerable and she will be an object to the men she married who has the liberty to do whatever they want with their wife simply because they paid a bride price. If their daughter complains about her marriage her family is quick to advise her to do as her husband whishes and be courageous. This is all because they received a bride price from the son in law. The commodification of women through dowry compromises the status of women in society and makes them vulnerable to their spouses who abuse the fact that they paid dowry. To some men their spouses are no different from the household property they have in the house hence they can treat them whichever way they want because they paid for them. The transactional nature of marriage system is becomes a gateway for abuse.
Zimbabwe has commendably enacted a gender sensitive legislation. Gender specific pieces of legislation which are meant to protect the rights of women include the Domestic Violence Act and sexual offences Act. However, there is a rift between the reality in society and the legal and policy framework. While Zimbabwe celebrates a gender sensitive constitution, women continue being battered daily. Even if governments frame the legal landscape society that we live breeds and nurtures violence against women such that bridging the gap between reality and the legal and policy framework is indeed an insurmountable and daunting task. Men generally believe that they have the right to beat their spouses in the name of discipline as it is widely believed that real men know how to discipline their wives and men has to be feared by his children and wife. Hence violence has been embraced like culture and religion.
Sometime in 2011 one newspaper, The Sundaymail, carried a story in which an eighteen year old woman was arrayed before a traditional court by her husband for having failed to ‘correctly’ apportion the pieces of chicken while serving a meal. This failure resulted in the young woman being beaten. The traditional leader who presided over the case found the woman guilty of facility to treat her husband properly. She paid a fine for the offence and her aunt was also ordered to pay a fine as well for having failed to properly instruct and prepare her niece for marriage. In cases such as these, women would rather not report the case as the traditional courts are nothing more than the embodiment of patriarchy.
The feminization of poverty is one painful reason why women have remained in abusive relationships. Women especially in rural communities and high density areas in urban spaces are poor and rely on their spouse‘s finances. They are kept and remain in prison like marriages because they do not have the financial capacity to take care of themselves.
Activism against gender based violence is quite strong in Zimbabwe with organizations such as Musasa Project, Women ‘s , UN Women ‘s Trust are driving the anti-domestic violence agenda, however, the domestic violence is still rife hidden in the privacy of homes which are strongly embedded in the deeply entrenched patriarchal values. Our society is dominated by a sexist culture which reinforces the supremacy of men and vulnerability and inferiority of women.
Despite a strong advocacy base and a gender sensitive legislation, Zimbabwe‘s rate of domestic violence is staggering hence the need for different stakeholders to rise to the challenge and condemn this evil practice.
By: Hlengiwe Dube
Hlengiwe Dube is from Zimbabwe, and works as a Media Research Officer and Gender Focal Person at the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe. Her work involves media research and advocacy on gender issues. She compiles research reports on women in the media, media coverage of Gender based violence among other related topics. You can find her on twitter at: @hledubzz.