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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: A very good law
    Bornwell Chakaodza
    October 19, 2006

    I salute the Government of Zimbabwe for coming up with this eminently progressive piece of legislation, previously unthinkable.

    I equally acknowledge that since independence in 1980, a deep evolution has taken place in terms of the laws that have advanced the cause of women in both urban and rural areas.

    Clearly, the story of women in this country has been one of significant momentum. In the past, women of Zimbabwe were not supposed to own anything; neither did they have the bargaining clout to insist on anything. But at least now they have a real choice, real power over their destiny.

    Indeed, gender-based violence can and does happen to anyone, irrespective of either female or male but it is women by and large who have been on the receiving end of this barbaric thing. Because of the way women have been socialised into our societies from childhood, boys grow up believing that it is their right to beat up women as a way of disciplining them.

    Perhaps the real problem is not men as such but rather a particular form of masculinity which invariably wants to oppress and subject women. Many a time, the passive role which women are diffusively socialised from childhood can get to bizarre levels, for example, accepting to be battered as if it is something natural in the context of dubious cultural values and norms.

    Obviously, there is no such thing as violence in the name of local culture. But women do generally sell themselves short in these things. In the area of public speaking for example, how many times have men got up in public meetings to ask questions of dubious relevance or stunning banality with great self-confidence.

    Women, on the other hand, will tend to come up privately afterwards and preface a perhaps much more penetrating and perceptive question with "I hope this isn’t too silly a question …" or "this may not be relevant, but…". Oh, woman, come on woman, there is nothing silly or irrelevant about your question—just ask it!

    Even well-educated, able, competent women are often rather reticent about voicing their opinions confidently. Sometimes, a civil war breaks out in their stomachs and they have to rush to the toilet many times before finally plucking up Dutch courage to stand up and speak. How sad that, as a result, women under-estimate their own abilities and often under- achieve accordingly. By doing this, women fail themselves and their causes—big time!

    On the other hand, for a woman to be opinionated and assertive is to cease to conform to the female stereotype and to be liable to be branded as brash and unfeminine. And I dare say that many women with strong, well thought-out views and opinions are still impressed by this kind of put–down. What a hard life for the women of this world!

    That is why at least in one of the critical areas of concern for women (and men as well) namely domestic violence, I see this proposed bill in a much more positive and favourable light. This bill, which seeks to provide protection and great relief to victims of domestic violence in this country is some kind of watershed in their own history and that of this nation.

    It will never be the same again for the bastards who derive pleasure from battering women.

    What a wise decision to rein in perpetrators of domestic violence under a specific law that deals specially with this issue. This proposed law has broken new ground and the gender-insensitive Mubawus of this world will not sleep easily whether during daytime or at night.

    Thankfully, these dinosaurs like Timothy Mubawu are a dying breed. Actually, they now belong to a dead zone and rightly so. Believing in equality between men and women should no longer be an issue in this day and age but negative public attitudes die hard, of course.

    This is the tragedy.

    However, while by and large there is very little that is offensive about this bill, the point must be made that the State has no right to go into the bedrooms of this nation. We all abhor domestic violence. But it does seem that the institution of marriage is at risk from the legal consequences from the issue of the denial of conjugal rights.

    Clause 3 of the bill which delves into what is reasonable or unreasonable denial of conjugal rights as part of psychological and emotional abuse detracts from the broad consensus and from what is essentially a very good law and introduces a needless controversial issue. Who is to define what is unreasonable and what is reasonable?

    These are sensitive matters and one man’s meat is another man’s poison. True, a certain solidarity is emerging around this bill about the need to confront domestic violence head-on but for those of us who care passionately about this issue are deeply unhappy that the State can sit in judgement of what is essentially a private and sensitive matter. This will have huge implications on the moral fabric of the Zimbabwean society.

    It is important that women, in their just national struggle to achieve equality, men became allies rather than formidable adversaries. As the revolution in their expectations continues, the importance of women and men standing shoulder to shoulder cannot therefore be over-emphasised. Men must play a very crucial role in all of this.

    I do not want to dramatise the issue but I must say that I find it quite worrying that the State finds it necessary to negotiate, on behalf of couples, terms of entry into whatever! The idea of the State playing the role of advocacy or coercion in these matters is totally repugnant to me —and naturally all Zimbabweans—but perhaps not to Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

    "There cannot be any worse psychological abuse than denial of conjugal rights. I have seen people in this condition on the point of almost going berserk," opined Chinamasa last Tuesday in Parliament amid roaring laughter from the floor of the house.

    Yes, you might have seen that Chinamasa but what has that got to do with you? Going berserk or not, what is your business in that Patrick? For you Chinamasa to get involved in conjugal rights on behalf of the State would simply be in effect to endorse a monstrous invasion of personal privacy of couples to no good purpose. It is not as if there are any consideration of public interest to justify State involvement.

    There may be an interested public but there is no issue of public concern. For the State to get involved would satisfy only prurience. It will be an example of what I would describe as Peeping Tom journalism that would uphold no principle, meet no legitimate public requirement and do no good to the public reputation of the State and your own reputation Chinamasa as the pilot of this bill.

    By way of conclusion, I want to underscore the fact that this has been a much-awaited law. Sustainable development begins and ends with women. Measures and laws to empower women through, for an example, education, employment, health, economic opportunity, human rights, poverty reduction and tackling domestic violence in a serious way must be introduced and implemented on a continuing basis. That will ensure that equality for women throughout the Zimbabwean society becomes utterly irreversible.

    The very nature of reality is that of change. The days of dinosaurs sheltering behind culture are dead and buried. It makes good economic and demographic sense to invest in woman – in all areas of endeavour and in all walks of life.

    *Bornwell Chakaodza can be contacted by email:

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