Sunday, December 9, 2007

Violence Against Women

The level of violence against women in Zimbabwe is frightening. But what is even more chilling is the acceptance of violence against women in the everyday that is chilling. This morning a friend directed me to a Soros sponsored website Eyes on Zimbabwe and on that website I watched a video on torture and the severe beating of Grace Kwinjeh of the Movement for Democratic Change. This weekend women from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) a pressure group in Zimbabwe were arrested and presumably beaten for staging their ongoing demonstrations against the injustices facing the citizens of Zimbabwe. Violence in Zimbabwe has become an everyday occurrence and women are frequently the victims. This violence is politically motivated and I often wonder how much of this violence stems from a socially accepted norm.

In 2006 an MP from the MDC embarrassed the party when he vehemently opposed the passing of H.B. 9, 2006.

Said the MP Timothy Mubawu:

"It is against Gods principles that men and women are equal....It is a dangerous Bill and let it be known in Zimbabwe that the right, privilege and status of men is gone. I stand here alone and say this Bill should not be passed in this House. It is a diabolic Bill. Our powers are being usurped daylight in this House." (Debate on Domestic Violence Bill persists)

The MDC minister with these words exposed a side of Zimbabwean culture that has fed and condoned the type of violence that is visited upon women be it on the political arena or in the home. When I was growing up there was a woman in my neighbourhood who was chronically abused both physically and emotionally by her husband. It was not a secret that she was being abused because her sick husband would beat her, then take her to hospital and nurse her back to health until the next beating. The women in our neighbourhood, my mother included, condemned the man's behaviour but negated that condemnation by asking what she (the woman) had done to provoke, the broken limbs and bruises that she was forced to parade through the neighbourhood and town. The men pretended not to see her bruises and continued to praise and admire the husband. Young women in the neighbourhood despised the wife and were constantly making themselves sexually available to this man.

The violence between this couple started when they were still high school sweethearts. The rumour (never confirmed but most likely true) was that they lived next door to each other and the parents on both sides knew of the violence. When the woman was at boarding school it is said that one day she came back to school late after a visit to town and she found her beau waiting for her. Before she could even say hello she was slapped and kicked while her schoolmates watched in horror and only saved when a groundskeeper chased the boy away. We'll take this story with a grain of salt it has never been confirmed. But the couple lived across the road from my house, and we watched in silence as she paraded the bruises of his handy work and never once did anyone step in to say a thing or even offer her a safe haven.

If in a small suburban community where everyone knows each others business no one stepped in and helped this woman who eventually died in 2002, how can we expect anyone to defend a domestic bill that will protect women across the nation? How can we expect anyone to bat an eyelid when women in political movements are beaten and raped by agents of the state? I am looking forward to the reconstruction of Zimbabwe and I truly believe it is coming soon i.e. the next 10 years, but I am also worried about the gender question. Where do women stand in this opposition movement? Yes there are many women who are occupying prominent positions in the opposition movement but the inclusion of women in this era smacks of the same co-opting and coercion of women of the liberation struggle. The Gender Question is often lipservice, but the real issues are that of democracy, free and fair elections, and regime change. Women's issues: an end to violence, better healthcare, land rights and inheritance, choice, education, and full inclusion in the political process are being lumped in one package and put on the back burner.

It seems men want women to help them win the fight against this current regime with no real guarantees that the gender question will be a priority in the new Zimbabwe. But women are in a catch -22. We also want a regime change, we want food, education, and healthcare for all Zimbabweans, but why are we made to feel guilty for asking for equal rights for women at the same time? Does asking for equal rights under the law truly undermine or dilute the call change? How do we ensure that this time round women's rights are truly included and protections garnered in the new Zimbabwe? I am often criticised by men and women from Zimbabwe for being too westernised and that this call for equal rights and my calling myself a feminist (even if I put post-colonial first) is merely a western induced idea and thus I am a sell-out. Often I am told "you cannot live in Zimbabwe", "you are too white" is it really western, white and sellout-ish of me to demand that women enjoy the same freedoms and protection as men regardless of where I am living?

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