MEMORY Dube (not her real name) of Madondo village in Chivhu suffered a miscarriage after her customary husband had beaten her.
BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
When she almost lost her second pregnancy to the same predicament, she returned to her mother’s place as she could no longer shoulder it.
But her mother encouraged her to soldier on.
“If you stay here, we will be the laughing stock of this village and you cannot raise a fatherless child,” her mother reasoned with her. “Your husband will change with time. You have to go back to him.”
She did, but nothing changed. Beatings and insults from her ever-drunk husband continued.
Someone then advised her to report him to the police. As helpless as she was, she complied. But when her in-laws heard that their son was to be taken to court for domestic violence, they ordered her to withdraw the charges or they would disown her as a daughter-in law.
Caught in between the prospects of losing her home and going back to her parents who would not accept her, she chose to withdraw the case. But her husband beat her even more.
That is when she decided to stand on her own and fight back, marking the beginning of continued violent fights between the couple.
Not only Dube, but many other rural women, who had been restricted by the patriarchal societal values to speak and act independently on gender-based violence (GBV), have resolved to disregard their feminine physiques and stand on their own to fight abusive husbands.
A legal assistant with the Women and Law in Southern Africa Miriro Mazango, who is based in Chikomba said in most domestic disputes where women are determined to fight back, the consequences are fatal because the victims would have endured for long in the abusive relationships.
She said women who are barred from resolving marital disputes by their own desirable ways nurture bitterness and as a result when they are overwhelmed by emotions of hurt, they burst and they decide to retaliate. Such disputes, she said, often result to fatalities or serious injuries.
“Women are mostly victims in cases of domestic violence. They endure abusive relationships more than men can do. However, when they fight back, they are pushed by overwhelming emotions which have not been discharged for a long time, which result to fatalities. In most incidences in the rural set up, women depend on other people to make well-informed decisions on issues affecting them,” Mazango said.
She added that low literacy levels on legal issues were also a major barrier for rural women to attain justice on domestic violence issues.
In separate domestic violence incidences which occurred in Chivhu in November alone, two women reportedly killed their husbands. In both incidences, the women killed their partners using the weapons which the victims had intended to use on them.
In another suspected domestic violence case again in Chivhu, a woman beheaded her four daughters. She claims that she was fed up of being insulted by her husband for failing to bear male children.
This year, Zimbabwe joins other countries across the globe in commemorating 16 Days of Activism against GBV, a global campaign that seeks to raise awareness on domestic violence, under the theme, Orange the world: Fund, Respond, Prevent, and Collect.
Research has also shown that the structural, cultural, socio-economic barriers compel impoverished rural women to concentrate with the burden of taking care of children, and as a result they are deprived of minding their own needs and protecting their rights.
The International Organisation for Migration’s 2012 research on Rural Women and Migration states that rural women constitute 25% of the world’s poorest population and also the bulk of the world’s illiterate population.
Due to low literacy levels, according to the research, rural women face increased difficulties in accessing information which empowers them to make independent decisions.
Mazango said women in the rural areas feel that the due process of the law is long and tiresome, so most of them give up before the cases, in which they are victims, are finalised at the courts.
Statistics released by WLSA show that not all women who come to seek legal advice at the courts willingly participate throughout the court hearing process, but may ignore the cases at some stages.
“Twenty percent (20%) of the reported domestic violence cases are withdrawn before they proceed to hearing and on those which are heard at the courts, most victims take long to be cognisant of the fact that they have to participate willingly in the hearing process,” Mazango said.
“The government recently set up a Special Anti-Corruption court but it is also worthy if a similar court on GBV is set so that the cases are expedited and women are assisted legally in accordance to their special circumstances on domestic violence.”
She urged government to improve awareness campaigns amongst the rural folks on the importance of the country’s legal system in resolving disputes.
In its 2013 report titled Policy Options on Domestic Violence, Unicef says most of GBV victims continue to stay with perpetrators for various reasons which include keeping children and family together or for other dependencies such as income or accommodation.
Unicef implored authorities to consider victims in such circumstances in developing immediate or long-term policies on protecting GBV victims.
A survey conducted by NewsDay shows that rural women seek counsel on domestic violence issues from their families, mostly in-laws, traditional leaders and church elders who are locally available in their proximity.
According to short interviews conducted, rural women believe that the entire responsibility on whether their marriages stand or collapse lies in the wife, which results in them enduring abusive relationships to avoid societal blame on failed marriages.
They also believe that taking the legal route on marital affairs results in the breakup of family ties more than it resolves the disputes.
Four of the five women interviewed by NewsDay revealed that they make efforts to have their marital disputes resolved amicably from local counsellors and family members who ultimately urge them to stay in the marriages.
“By telling me that I should endure in the abusive marriage, I feel like they are taking the side of the perpetrator, and I am left with no sympathiser,” Dube said.
“In future, I don’t bother seeking advice from anyone with regards to my marital affairs.
“During counselling, church elders even open doctrines which support the idea that marriage is a sacred union which cannot be terminated anyhow, hence it’s difficult for me to make the first initiative to give up the marriage.”
Traditional leader Chief Mutekedza said although cultural values encourage women to keep their marriages intact, men who beat their wives were deemed weak in communities.
He said: “Moral values do not encourage divorce neither do they condone domestic violence. Morally, upright men head their families with wisdom and strive to keep their wives and children happy. In a traditional set up, men should prove their masculinity by their ability to fend for their families. Fighting with a woman is considered a weakness and men who beat their wives are usually excluded in traditional councils.”
Alois Nayamazana, director of Fathers Against Abuse (FAA), a voluntary organisation with the aim of engaging men and boys to end GBV, said men should be included on issues to do with domestic violence. “Women are more of victims in domestic violence issues than they are perpetrators, but there are also some men who are also being victimised by their wives. Men however do not openly declare victimisation because social construction on masculinity discourages them. There is limited involvement of men on GBV issues but active participation for both men and women is crucial to end domestic violence.”