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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Index of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill

  • Domestic Violence Bill: 2007 and beyond
    Fungai Machirori
    January 18, 2007

    For many women's groups and activists, the perfect end to 2006 would have been the enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill into law. Reports earlier in that year revealed that as many as 60% of murder cases heard in the country's courts are attributable to domestic violence, an evermore-pervasive problem in Zimbabwean society.

    The Domestic Violence Bill was gazetted into the second session of Parliament, which began in July. When Parliament re-opens for the new year in 2007, the Bill will be with the Parliamentary Legal Committee for final deliberations. Following this stage, it would be passed into law by the President. "I feel the Bill's progress has been rather slow," noted Mrs. Varaidzo Munyika, a counselling programme officer with Musasa Project, an organisation that offers counselling for survivors of domestic violence. "For all the noise that has been made, there still seems to be dragging of it."

    A public hearing was held for the Bill in September where organisations and individuals were given the opportunity to voice their sentiments about the Bill as well as offer input in order to improve its provisions. Significant column space has been dedicated to discussions about domestic violence in the Zimbabwean press and thus far, the Bill has been the only one to be published in the print media, clause by clause, in this session of parliament.

    "The Bill has created a platform where domestic violence is brought to the fore," noted Mrs. 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 the strategies to combat it."

    Domestic Violence is universally believed to be the most pervasive form of GBV. Women and children suffer more acts of this form of violence due to the lower status that patriarchal societies tend to afford them. Included in the Bill's definition of the scope of domestic violence are physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological and economic abuse. As the Bill currently reads however, only physical abuse constitutes a criminal offence while the latter forms of abuse are subject to counselling as a remedy. Recently, the Bill was amended to include as domestic violence, any abuse perpetrated on a complainant's disability.

    In the process of publicising the Bill, many Zimbabwean women have shared their painful experiences of domestic violence. Some have carried with them blood-soiled clothes as reminders of their ordeals. But Tendai*, a woman in her late thirties, does not have such gruesome reminders of her own experiences. In fact, her contended smile and smart grey suit mask the many physical and emotional wounds she harbours. She visits the Musasa project every Thursday morning as part of a domestic violence survivors' support group. She calmly tells of the many times over the last decade that her husband has beaten her and threatened to shoot her if she left the house. "I am married, but it's just a title," she confides calmly.

    She only breaks down when she talks of the four-year-old son she lost earlier last year. "He became a cripple at nine months and died of AIDS in January." After a long pause, she tells how her husband did not support the child - she had to sell her old clothes to finance his clinic check-ups. Tendai too is HIV positive and believes that her husband's promiscuous behaviour is the cause. She has a peace and maintenance order against her husband, which means that he has stopped physically abusing her. She continues to live with him because she fears becoming a financial burden to her own family. She has no steady income, and job skills, and is wholly reliant on her husband for financial support, except for the money she makes from the HIV and AIDS testimonials she occasionally gives.

    Mrs. Munyika believes that such cases of economic dependency explain why many women, particularly of the older generation, are less likely to leave abusive households. "I know that many intellectually and financially independent women of the new generation would not stand for such abuse", she said. But she added that for many other women, a lack of financial autonomy and cultural dynamics in which, the extended family is greatly valued for the solving of familial disputes, are factors that prevent them leaving abusive relationships. "Women never want to use the law. They will exhaust all other social avenues to resolve their differences. We are not going against this culture, but we are saying for these women, as a last resort, they should be able to use the law."

    Tendai is optimistic about the Domestic Violence Bill. "I think it will help women understand economic abuse much better," she says. "Far too many of us are not aware of it." However, she voices concern at the levels of harassment that she says women suffer at the hands of police officers, when reporting cases of gender-based violence. "Women officers tend to be very patronising and unhelpful," she observes. "After all, the people who remove us from our homes are other women." She would like for sensitisation campaigns within the police forces in preparation for dealing with domestic violence cases. And while she agreed that the Bill had been much publicised, she called for even more campaigns to get the Bill out to remote areas of the country.

    Mrs. Thabethe echoed the same sentiments. "Arguments still show uninformed views," she noted. We need to engage in more information dissemination, distribute more legal literature and conduct more consultations with the public. She also noted that complex legalese language needs to be simplified and that the Bill had to be translated into all local vernacular languages. "This Bill needs to be taken to the people, especially in the rural areas. They need to know its exact provisions and be allowed to ask as many questions as possible", added Mrs. Munyika.

    While the Bill seeks to protect both men and women, it seems to be creating yet more antagonism between the sexes. This was epitomised by the statement made late last year by Timothy Mubhawu, a local parliamentarian, that the Bill was diabolic, and that the powers of men were being "usurped in broad daylight". After making these utterances, many women's groups held demonstrations against Mubhawu. "Men are quite against this Bill as evidenced by Mubhawu," noted Mrs. Munyika. "This implies that there are a lot of abusers who feel threatened."

    But Padare/ Enkundleni, a men's organisation advocating for social movement towards a gender-just society aims to challenge these views. "We acknowledge that GBV is an existing problem and that men and boys are being socialised into patriarchal beliefs," noted Tapuwa Manyati, the organisation's Information Officer.

    As to the general negative male sentiments around the Domestic Violence Bill, he said he believed that these most likely stemmed from a male fear that their sphere is being taken over by women. "But it's just ignorance," Manyati said. " There is no culture or religion in the world that tolerates violence against women. There is no excuse for it."

    He also noted that some men are responding positively to the Bill and that through Padare, many have sought clarification on some of the clauses that they found difficult to understand. One such was the controversial clause stating the unreasonable denial of conjugal rights as a form of emotional and psychological abuse. The clause has since been deleted as it was agreed that it would be a difficult aspect to enforce and monitor.

    Manyati also said that it is time to acknowledge the use of culture and religion as means of abusing women. "As Padare, we see it as a challenge to educate our peers and challenge male stereotypes perpetuated in all spheres of society." And they are doing this through many programmes including their annual schools' galas where young boys come together to discuss issues around gender, youth and sexuality as part of a resocialising process. They have also worked on recordings with adult males in which discussions focus on building the capacity of men to end domestic violence and GBV.

    On announcing the tabling of the Bill in parliament, the president, Robert Mugabe, defined traditional practices such as wife inheritance and child pledging as retrogressive. "Apart from delaying national efforts towards gender equality, such abhorrent practices also run counter to efforts to prevent the spread of the HIV and AIDS pandemic," he said. These practices, as well as forced virginity testing and genital mutilation, have since been outlawed in the Bill.

    Domestic violence has serious implications for the spread of HIV and AIDS. Inability to negotiate safer sex, for fear of violent retaliation, is a major concern. Current figures estimate that nearly 60% of Zimbabweans living with HIV are women. "This is not even about negotiating for safer sex, " pointed out Mrs. Munyika however. "It's about negotiating for sex!" She believes that the Bill, when enacted into law would serve as a starting point from which to then discuss issues to do with HIV and AIDS. "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."

    The hopes for 2007 remain the same as those of the past year - a legislative framework to finally deal with the issue of domestic violence and its many implications. "Women are sleeping in toilets for fear of their husbands," noted Tendai. "Children are being traumatised by seeing acts of violence. This is why we need this Bill so much."

    * not her real name

    *Fungai Machirori is a trainee media professional with the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS). She can be contacted at

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