THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

New law set to bring hope to abused women
Plus News
January 10, 2007

HARARE - 2006 ended on a good note for many women's groups and activists in Zimbabwe, when the House of Assembly finally passed legislation aimed at stamping out growing levels of domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Bill, which now awaits President Robert Mugabe's signature to become law, generated energetic debate throughout the country. Perhaps most controversial were statements made by opposition parliamentarian Timothy Mubhawu, who urged the national assembly not to pass the "dangerous" bill because women were inferior to men.

In the wake of disclosure by gender and women's affairs minister, Oppah Muchinguri, that over 60 percent of all murder cases in Zimbabwe were linked to domestic violence, his remarks sparked spontaneous protests.

Activists had grown frustrated by the continued delays in getting the bill, first mooted a decade ago, approved. "The Bill's progress has been rather slow," said Varaidzo Munyika, a counselling programme officer with the Musasa Project, an organisation addressing violence against women. "For all the noise that has been made, [it] still seemed to be dragging."

At least one in four women in Zimbabwe has been beaten up by her partner, while one in five has been threatened with physical violence, according to studies by the Musasa Project.

"The bill has created a platform where domestic violence is brought to the fore," said Sithokozile Thabethe, a programme officer with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers' Association (ZWLA). "If we didn't have it, we wouldn't take the time to reflect on problems caused by gender-based violence (GBV), and strategies to combat it."

Many Zimbabwean women have come forward to share their painful experiences of domestic violence - among them Tendai Muboko (not her real name), now in her thirties. She participates in a support group for domestic violence survivors, run by the Musasa Project, where she talks matter-of-factly about how her husband has constantly beaten and threatened to shoot her if she left the house during their 10-year marriage. "I am married, but it's just a title," she added calmly.

Tendai finally obtained a court order, also known as a peace order, against her husband, who has now stopped physically abusing her. Her four-year-old son died of an AIDS-related illness in January 2006, and she is also HIV positive, so she still lives with her husband because she relies on him for financial support.

Economic dependency often forces women to stay in abusive households. Cultural dynamics, where the extended family is used to solve domestic disputes, are another barrier to leaving an abusive relationship. "Women never want to use the law - they will exhaust all other social avenues to resolve their differences. We are not going against culture, but we are saying these women, as a last resort, should be able to use the law," Munyika commented.

Nearly 60 percent of Zimbabweans living with HIV are women, and Munyika hoped that when the Bill became law it would spur discussion on the role of violence in raising the risk of HIV infection in women.

"You don't talk about the violence and you don't talk about sex, therefore, you don't talk about HIV. But there is no thin line between violence and HIV; you just can't separate them," she said.

Although Tendai was optimistic about the effect the new law could have, she expressed concern at the harassment women often suffered at the hands of police officers, when reporting cases of gender-based violence. "Women officers tend to be very patronising and unhelpful," she said and called for awareness campaigns in the police force.

ZWLA's Thabethe said there was a need for more consultation with the public, and for the complex legal language of the new law to be made more accessible to people.

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.