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Zim women's struggle 'costly'
July 25, 2007

Harare - At the same time as the government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is taking steps to protect women from domestic violence, its security forces are raining down baton blows on women activists, one female victim said on Wednesday.

Grace Kwinjeh, a 33-year-old mother of three, was one of four women in a group of opposition supporters, including Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was badly beaten by Zimbabwean police on March 11 for trying to attend a prayer rally. Sixty-four-year-old Sekai Holland was another.

Images of the two women's battered legs, arms, buttocks were circulated widely in the aftermath of the attack, fuelling international outcry about the state's crackdown on the opposition.

"We just had the Domestic Violence Bill enacted (passed by parliament at the end of 2006) but at the same time state violence against women is increasing," said the soft-spoken journalist-turned-activist.

'Able-bodied men flee abroad'

After being beaten by police using batons and iron bars - first together with other detainees and then later in a police cell - Kwinjeh suffered dizzy spells, vomiting, heavy bruising and could "hardly walk".

"It's all meant to humiliate you so that you lose your self-confidence. It sort of diminishes you as a person. But when you're a leader you have to keep pushing on," the MDC's former representative in Brussels said, swallowing hard.

Dozens of female activists, including several members of the rights group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza), have reported being subjected to beatings while in police custody, global rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Women who are often left shouldering the responsibility for feeding the family as able-bodied men flee abroad in search of work, are badly treated if they protest government policies, the report found.

For example, women's rights activists were barred from buying the staple maize grain from the state-run Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the country's sole grain seller, it said.

'Raped while crossing the border'

"The Zimbabwean government needs to address the underlying economic and social problems that are motivating women to protest - rather than attacking them and criminalizing their legitimate activities in defence of human rights," said Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty.

Sanitary towels are now a luxury, even for middle-class women. A box of tampons cost her almost as much as the rent on her apartment in Harare, she said.

As women run out of options for survival, more and more women are joining the men in trying to jump the three-deep border fence into South Africa, leaving their children behind with family.

But protesting with your feet is as dangerous as protesting on Zimbabwe's streets. A farmer in Musina on the South African side of the border told of finding a woman naked, nearly dead, after she was raped while crossing the border. - Sapa-dpa

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