Why the world must pay attention to violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has been under the world’s microscope as the country held its first election following the ousting of autocratic Robert Mugabe.
The divisive victory of his former ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was met with great civil unrest and bitter dispute from opposing political party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Six people were shot dead and many more injured in protests that immediately followed the results. With an uncertain future ahead of it, more violence is expected in Zimbabwe.
This unrest points to a wider, deep-rooted vein in the nation. Violence is not confined to the public sphere and is directly mirrored in the personal space, with women and girls a constant target.
“In the recent wave of violence post-election this year you found both men and women succumbing to violence and it resulted in the loss of life – and that’s a big concern,” said Abigail Matsvayi, director of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), an organisation helping women stand up to abuse. “Because of that acceptance that you find within private spaces, it permeates within public space.”
Data from Zimbabwe National Statistics Office indicates sexual assault is on the rise. From 2010 to 2016 there was a 42 per cent increase in rape cases. There was at least 21 people raped every day. Taking into account the fact that many don’t report sexual violence, this figure is likely higher.
Domestic violence continues to be a major issue, with 78 per cent of women who had experienced violence claiming it was at the hand of their husband or partner.
“I was abused by my husband for eight years of our marriage,” said Matilda Dube, a 52-year-old mother from Gwanda. “He beat me, insulted me, and he did all of this in front of my children. He drove me out of the home we had built together.
“My husband would use logs to beat me; he would also use his fists and kick me. One time he split my lower lip and I was covered in blood.
“I tried going through the traditional channels for these cases and I spoke to the village chief, but my husband wouldn’t listen to those traditional leaders, and nothing changed.”
The violence is not limited to adults. One in every three girls in Zimbabwe experiences sexual violence before they turn 18, according to the UN children’s organisation, UNICEF.