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Traditional practices perpetuate gender-based violence
Moses Mugugunyeki, The Standard (Zimbabwe)
December 08, 2013

Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in observing the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) which ends on Tuesday as women in the country continue to suffer due to suppressive traditional and cultural practices.

It is running under the theme From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World, Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women.

Like any African country, Zimbabwe is riddled with traditional practices, rituals and attitudes which perpetuate the discrimination and infringement of women’s fundamental civil liberties.

In most societies, women are not able to inherit estates and property while unequal dominant patriarchal value system is the order of the day.

Gender division of labour is rife, especially in rural communities where women are placed in the “kitchen” while men do all the “macho” jobs.

Although gender sensitisation meetings with traditional authority structures have been done in the country with the aim of transforming rural communities to be more sensitive to women’s economic and social rights and gender equality, women continue to suffer at the hands of harmful traditional and cultural practices.

Gender-based violence is still a challenge in Zimbabwe, as one in four women have experienced sexual violence and in nine out of 10 of the cases the perpetrator is the woman’s current or former husband, partner or boyfriend.

Statistics also show that one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence since the age 15.

In its endeavour to create an enabling environment for the attainment of equity and equality between women and men, Zimbabwe has ratified various international conventions and declarations on gender equality Cedaw (1979), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the Sadc Gender and Development Declaration (1997).

At home the country has put in place various national legislative instruments aimed at guaranteeing women’s legal and constitutional rights these are contained in the new Constitution.

Despite these efforts to bring about gender awareness at various levels in the society, customary law has been allowed to prevail over these legislative instruments leaving women vulnerable to harmful traditional and cultural practices.

According to a local women’s organisation, The Women’s Trust, there is a need for continued involvement of traditional authority structures in gender mainstreaming activities.

“It is important to engage traditional leaders and democratise the institutions that they lead so that they play their roles in a more gender responsive manner,” said the Trust in its publication titled Policy Brief: Sexual Violence and Rape.

Most women lack information, education and access to the legal system. Women groups are going to the grassroot with the hope of transforming communities to be more sensitive to women’s economic and social rights.

While Zimbabwe has gone further by coming up with some legally binding system through enacting legislations that protect women from discriminatory laws, the conflict between formal and customary legal systems is frequently unaddressed.

This has left women at the mercy of the damaging practices.

The old Constitution of Zimbabwe was once described as the worst when it came to the promotion of women’s civil liberties.

It was riddled with clauses that discriminated women, unlike the new charter which fosters on women’s economic and social rights.

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