Sekai Mawoko (not her real name) puts on a brave face as she goes about her work. She teaches at a secondary school in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, about 30km south of Harare, where she also lives with her husband.
The 35-year-old mother of three is an angry, frustrated woman but feels trapped in a prison she cannot escape. Because this prison is her own marriage, she believes that for the sake of her young children aged 13, 10 and 6, she has to stay and put up with her husband’s unbecoming ways.
“My husband is a violent man,” she says in deep thought. “But he has not always been like that, no.”
Solomon Mawoko, to whom Sekai has been married for 13 years, was “crippled” by the retrenchment axe that hit the manufacturing concern he used to work for in the Workington industrial area of Harare after the company had scaled down operations following the dollarisation of Zimbabwe’s fragile economy in January 2009.
Now he spends the day at home, drinking cheap opaque beer with his “drifter” friends at “Gomba”, as the Zengeza 4 shopping complex is popularly called in local lingo.
“Month-ends, when I buy the family’s groceries, are particularly bad,” says Sekai.
“It’s like it means I’m now the ‘man’ of the house and he doesn’t take it kindly. Of course he doesn’t say it openly, but you can pick out the signs. ”
According to the Domestic Violence Act, passed by the Zimbabwe government in 2006, domestic violence, mental, physical, emotional and psychological, is a criminal offence punishable at law.
Sekai says she is aware of the existence of this legislation, but as an African wife, reporting her husband to the police is taboo.
At one time she complained to her mother about it, but was told in no uncertain terms that as a wife, she should expect that and pander to her husband’s every whim with her lips tightly sealed.
Many women suffer silently in abusive marriages as reporting their husbands to the police can result in consequences they may not be able to bear.
For some, reporting the husband to the police and having him incarcerated would mean losing the breadwinner.
For others, the fear of family reprisal sees them cowering into silence.
Nettie Musanhu, the director of Msasa Project, an organisation that deals with issues of domestic violence, says with the Domestic Violence Act, which was passed amid pomp and fanfare, still has serious challenges in enforcing it.
The reasons are as diverse as the number of women who continue to suffer from the ravages of domestic violence in the silence of their homes and culture.
Addressing a media workshop in Harare last month, Musanhu however said they had noted an increase in the number of reported cases of rape and domestic violence between 2008 and 2010.
“Women are coming in to report,” she said.
“On average, 30 women come in every day to report cases of domestic violence. This number is high, and very worrying.”
Increase of cases of violence in the home, she adds, can be attributed among other things, to “depressed incomes”.
Social commentator Partson Masiya says although the dollarisation of the economy in November 2009 had brought reprieve to the country’s comatose economy, it also had its downside.
“Because some companies could not afford a huge salary bill, they had to retrench,” says Masiya.”
Many employees in government and the private sector earn less than $300 a month, which is hardly enough to cover all family expenses.
According to consumer rights watchdog, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, the low-income urban earner’s monthly budget for a family of six for January 2011 is pegged at slightly over $500.
Masiya says men raised in a patriarchal society are schooled through the years into a mindset that as the men of the house, it is their obligation to “bring the bread home” and when the tables are turned, serious social repercussions are bound to be experienced.
Since the dollarisation of the economy, in a desperate bid to appease the demon of inflation that had haunted the Zimbabwe economy for a long time, fewer companies have been hiring new workers, with most embarking on retrenchments as part of streamlining operations.
“With job cuts looming in most industries, we do not see a better future for job-seekers this year,” says Memory Nguwi, an industrial psychology consultant.
According to Unicef, there is a close link between role change between the sexes and gender-based violence.
“A combination of an inflexible approach to cultural and traditional practices; an economic downturn that has seen women become the chief breadwinners as men are made unemployed; together with odious beliefs on HIV and virgins has meant gender-based violence is frighteningly common in Zimbabwe,” says the organisation on its website.