Conjugal rights or marital rape: That is the question


ONE of the most important features of a marriage are the unlimited conjugal rights that each of the parties to the union enjoy.

Cliff Chiduku


Conjugal rights may be defined as the rights that a husband or wife is entitled to in a marriage — the right to be intimate with his or her spouse.

It is, however, not unusual to find a spouse being denied the right for various reasons.  The denial of conjugal rights by either party may create tension between couples. This can be the basis for divorce.

The media is awash with stories of married couples fighting, with some fights ending tragically, after the other has been denied conjugal rights.

Some of the devastating effects of these battles for conjugal rights manifest themselves like when tragedy struck a Kuwadzana family last year when a toddler died upon admission at a referral hospital in the capital after being crushed by a sewing machine which fell on her when her parents were fighting over this issue.

Eyewitnesses say the couple was at each other’s throat after the wife refused to be intimate with her drunken husband of three years, whom she accused of bedding several other women.

This tragic incident clearly demonstrates how not to handle conjugal rights in marriage. This case is just a clip in a series of complex marital situations that many couples go through.

Marriage counsellor Maud Nyashanu says there are several reasons why a spouse can deny the other the right to intimacy.

“A party may deny the other their right to sex because, either they don’t want to expose themselves to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or expose their partners to STIs in case no protection is being used. It is a criminal offence under the Sexual Offences Act to knowingly infect someone with the HIV virus.”

Nyashanu added that a spouse can refuse to be intimate because s/he is not in the mood or the environment might not be conducive for the act. She urged spouses to respect each other’s choices.

“Every man and woman has a right to safe and satisfying sex and when there are no barriers sex can be enjoyable.”

In the event a spouse is denied intimacy for whatever reason, in most cases the husband can resort to forcing his way on his wife — a case of marital rape.

Whose rights are conjugal rights? defines marital rape, also called spousal rape, as an act of sexual assault by an intimate partner.


It can also be defined as non-consensual sex in which the perpetrator is the victim’s spouse. As such, it is a form of partner rape, domestic violence or sexual abuse.

To one whose sex advances were spurned it is a right denied, but to the “victim” it is a case of marital rape. It brings to the fore the question: Whose rights are conjugal rights?

Though there are several international conventions that criminalise it, marital rape is still widely condoned and has been accepted as a spouse’s privilege.

For many, marital rape could mean anything, from yet another violation of human rights to a bedroom matter, which should remain private. They see bedroom matters as contentious issues that should be dealt  with within the four walls of the inner house.

Sixty-three-year-old Wiston Mungure does not believe in the concept of marital rape. He said he does not see how engaging in intimacy with one’s own wife can be rape.

“Can an apple farmer be charged for plucking a fruit from his plantation?” he asked.  Mungure said even if a husband is forcing himself on probably his sick wife, he still does not see it as rape. “A wife is obliged to look after her husband’s needs in and out of the bedroom with a few exceptions.”

Tatenda Nyika, a married father of two, finds it difficult to understand the marital rape concept.

“Having sex with my wife is no crime. This is an alien concept which goes against our cultural norms as Africans. Besides, it is only the two of us, so who decides it is rape?”

Emillia Supia (30) said even though sex is a vital component of a marriage, which serves more purpose than to please each other, she said she can’t force herself on her husband no matter what circumstances.

“I have not experienced it and I doubt if I will in my lifetime. I doubt it is common as some people want us to believe. He is my husband, for the sake of the marriage I have to let it happen without necessarily saying yes.”

However, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association legal officer Isabel Mapingure Palasida said marriages should be built on mutual respect.
“First, marriage is not about sex and sex is not marriage. If we are getting into marriages for sex, then we are heading for disaster.

Marriage is premised on mutual respect, love and partnership,” she said
Palasida added: “Second, rape is any form of sex which is non-consensual.

If she says no, regardless of her reason, it’s rape, even if you’re married. The fact that the man made dowry payments to his wife’s parents do not mean she (wife) is now his property. Spouses should respect each other.”

However, Palasida said it is unfortunate many women are afraid of reporting marital rape cases.

“After all, marriages are all about compromise. Sexual rights should be negotiated and forcing oneself onto the other, especially a husband forcing himself onto his wife, constitutes marital rape. Many women face marital rape, but they cannot report because it is socially accepted and it is difficult to press charges when the husband has paid money as lobola.”

Gender mainstreaming organiSation, Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum national director Kelvin Hazagwi said there are better ways of seeking redress in the event that a partner is denied the right to sex rather than resorting to violence.

“Conjugal rights are a very important component of marriage. Both men and women are expected to be always available for their partners in times of such need. However, this does not mean that a partner should always submit to the other’s sexual advances always. There are times when one partner, due to a number of reasons, may not want to have sex and the other should respect his or her right to say no to sex.”

Hazagwi urged couples to communicate to avoid tension in the event that one is not in the mood for the bedroom activities.

“There is need for couples to communicate openly on sexual matters so that when one is denied conjugal rights, he/she will understand the reasons and take positive action to address the situation. Effective communication provides an opportunity to talk about problems and come up with non-violent ways of solving them. Violence does not solve anything; instead it creates more problems, for the couple, their children, family members and  society in general.”

In November last year, Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development minister Oppah Muchinguri was quoted telling female legislators attending a conference on ending sexual violence that many women were being raped by their husbands and partners.

“All of you in this room who are married or have a partner have been raped at some point,” Muchinguri said.

Most Zim women have been victims of GBV


Though statistics of marital rape are difficult to ascertain, a study by the Women Affairs ministry in conjunction with Gender Links revealed that at least 68% of women in Zimbabwe have suffered from gender-based violence perpetrated by men.

Twenty-six percent of women experienced violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the period 2011-2012.

Thirteen percent of men in the country admit to perpetrating some form of violence against their intimate partners during a similar period.

Marital rape is enshrined in the Domestic Violence Act. It is also listed as one of the forms of domestic violence in the 1993 United Nations Declaration for the Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women which Zimbabwe ratifies.

The Act reads: “Domestic violence constitutes any act of omission of
a perpetrator which harms, injures or endangers the health, safety, limb, or well-being whether, mental or physical of the victim or
tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse.”

However, Peter Nharo — a member of an apostolic sect said: “We are creating problems for ourselves by making marriages more of a legal affair. Everything is now being subjected to the law even where not necessary.

“In the end, we will have unstable families, with children lacking parental love and care because of breakups and the end society suffers with un-cultured people.

“If we still want the marriage as an institution to remain intact, we should not allow it to be made a legal affair.”

Social commentators argue that the patriarchal nature of society often made it difficult to enforce legal provisions against marital rape.
The fact that most women are economically disempowered and dependent on their husbands for survival discourages them from reporting cases of marital rape — many are likely to suffer in silence.


  1. Dangerous.The moment one party indicates unwillingness to be intimate..for whatever reason,amicably find reason,sort it out and enjoy or be enjoyed.If no solution is found on two or three attempts,hey,ziva rudo rwatama.

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  2. This marital rape thing makes it necessary for each man to have at least two wives like what they do in Mwenezi. If one wife is not in the mood one can move on to the next one. Now I admit that King Solomon was really wise. He had a thousand alternatives. The probability of comitting marital rape approaches zero as the number of wives tends to infinity. I must start accumulating them before it is too late.

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  4. The problem is its only referred to as rape,when you force a woman not when man has bn forced,this is a legislation to punish man,most pple who work in those ass have no husbands,why can’t we have married chaps as ministers of gender and other organisations,than to have devocees who are just there to revange for her past,we know some man are abusive and so are other lds so we need neutralism

  5. @tracy, God forbid. Mwari vakasika MUNHU nemufananidzo wavo. Munhu zvinoreva murume kwete imi vana Tracy. Muri vabatsiri vemunhu so you cannot serve two masters at any given time. Kana basa rawandisa pa company kunotsvagwa vamwe vashandi kwete kuremedza vashoma varipo.

  6. As much as marital rape is a criminal act, the law should also criminalize denial of conjugal rights. Marital rape only happens, when one is denied his rights. It is therefore prudent to deal with the causes of the crime and nip them in the bud.

  7. Lets stick to our cultural values and forget about this foreign adopted concepts which destroy our Africanism.

  8. Chakafukidza dzimba matenga. It takes two to tango. On tis subject there are no hard and fast rules it dependence on how the two get along. In life you cannot get all you want so one has to understand at times

  9. Be careful ,the devil is after the institution called marriage.Some of these so called gender activists are a frustrated lot as they are either divorced or not marriage material.Wives submit to your husbands and husbands love your wives like Jesus loves the church,so says the bible.Put this together you will enjoy marital sex.Sex is all about LOVE and does not start in the bedroom.Maybe these are the lessons we are supposed to get.Women are sensitive so if men jus impose themselves there becomes a problem.i would resemble them to a diesel engine…vanobviwa navo kure like spoiling them during the day,helping them with chores,saying sweet lovelies all day,praising them wholeheartedly of course and eventually foreplay.kwete kuita seunikwira bhasikoro – ndosaka vachigara vachiramba.we should also be prayerful as there is a devil called spiritual hubby or wife.It is one of the main reasons for denial.

  10. as far as m concerned …when ever you being forced to have sex thats rape be it u ar married or not….whenever ther is Love ,i dont think someone can be that selfish to force sex…… Those cases are mostly happening to those who does not know the purpose of marriage….vanhu vasingazive mwari ndo kazhinji….

  11. The moment you consent to marriage you are consenting to sex. It is true marriage includes many issues including sex although sex & marriage are different . This is the reason why we forbid sex outside of marriage, but for one to think of rape in marriage is problematic, worse if this is criminalized. If one feels that s/he does not want to engage in sex in a marriage framework why marry or get married? It is not a crime to remain single neither is it a crime to demand your rights in a marriage set up. Having said that l agree that there are times when it may not be possible to engage in sex even in marriage, e.g. when one is sick, etc, besides that there is no reason to refuse.

  12. If she won’t put out, then I kindly invite a sweet sweet 16 to my bed and kick her out until she wants to. I won’t rape her.

    But woe to whoever or whatever law tries to stand between me and my right to seek satisfaction elsewhere!

  13. well how can you listen to a failure who now tries to make for
    the past by being a gender activist.being a so and so does not make you wiser than anyone.No matter how much law you put it will never bring true love.True love springs from God,a never-ceasing fountain that flows from the Godhead.Jesus is that fountain.Now God is love.So if love is getting diminished go back to the source and drink of that FOUNTAIN that will never can’t dispute this you need a refilling if your reserves are getting low but if Jesus is your heart then you will always love one another.Love each as husband and wife with no limits just fear the LORD.

  14. These complaints should be solved in the cultural and family context. Marital rape should not be in the statutes as the Gumbura type of rape, gang rape and or child rape. It is my humble submission that it be redefined.

  15. Zimbabwe is a sexmania country as demonstrated by our use of totems as emblems of sexual prowess. Here is what I mean. Vaera Gumbo- Chitovanedzevamwe-mng they are kings of extramarital affairs.
    Vaera Garwe Tsivo- Mbwetete Ngonya vehotakota-meaning they are experts at having sex from behind. And
    Vaera Dube Mbizi- Mazvimbakupa mng its always erect and ready to be shared. This pattern repeats itself across all totems. We are sex made all of us.

  16. …..Lastly look at our cultural dances from across the country they are all suggestive of how sexually capable we are or promise to be all of them have traces of libidinous gyrations and arse shaking that is very arresting, those of contemporary choices are heavy consumers of pornography and sex enhancing drugs.

  17. …..Lastly look at our cultural dances from across the country they are all suggestive of how sexually capable we are or promise to be all of them have traces of libidinous gyrations and arse shaking that is very arresting, and blue tooth linking to most pants.

  18. Are we then to say a man must serve in prison for bonking his wife who in true Zimbabwean tradition was taught to display a little unwillingness towards sex overtures as a masterstroke of foreplay. What women goes into marriage without being equipped with a yellow duster? What was chimbwido’s duty in the war? What does it mean to be a First Lady? What is the oldest profession?

  19. ivo vanhu kadzi havanyatsofunga sure vangagadzirirwa mitemo yebonde nemunhu asina murume ini wangu akaramba ndinoenda ndonorara newekubhawa asi chirwere chinobata tese

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  21. Usually couples who deny each other conjugal rights may be going through some deep seethed marital problems. These need to be dealt with first so that sex can be a very enjoyable experience
    between couples. Veduwe chokwadi sex is just good zvayo when done properly. Also variety of styles is needed otherwise sex becomes boring! Kwete zvokubatana chibharo.

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