Pregnancy and Childbirth: Joy or Despair? Women and Gender-Generated Crimes of Violence

Article excerpt

HEALTH AND DISEASE Julie Stewart, Ellen Sithole, Elizabeth Gwaunza, Tsitsi Nzira, Dumisni Mashingaidze, Theresa Moyo, Kebokile Dengu-Zvobgo, and Joyce Kazembe. Pregnancy and Childbirth: Joy or Despair? Women and Gender-Generated Crimes of Violence. Harare: Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust, 2001. 164 pp. Bibliography. Index. $24.95. Paper.

A team of researchers from the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust (WLSA) has published this book as part of their three-year study to document how women fare in the justice delivery system of Zimbabwe. The book focuses on the "gender-generated crimes of violence"-abortion, infanticide, concealment of birth and baby dumping-and tries to place these crimes in a larger social and economic context of gender inequality in Zimbabwe; it examines how women who have committed such crimes are reported to the authorities, charged, tried, sentenced, and rehabilitated. The book's conclusion gives concrete recommendations for improving the ways in which such crimes are handled, focusing on prevention and rehabilitation.

A critical reader of this book may point immediately to the lack of coherent methodology, inadequate data due to the secrecy of the topic (compounded by Zimbabwe's political situation at the time of the fieldwork), and conclusions that are not drawn from a rigorous analysis of empirical data or theoretical argument. However, despite the book's limitations, it holds merit on two levels. First, it raises difficult topics for critical analysis-issues that are not yet resolved, either judicially or theoretically, in contexts where gender relations are more egalitarian and institutionalized discrimination less common than in Zimbabwe. Second, it documents in honest and candid ways a process of social change on gender issues.

The crimes analyzed are "women-only" crimes and "survival" crimes-"crimes committed by women in order to remove a perceived threat to women's social, cultural and economic survival" (23). The authors are clear that they are not apologists for the women who commit these crimes, but instead seek to understand the social circumstances that produce such women as "criminals." Thus the book begins with an outline of the control of female sexuality by male relatives and Zimbabwean society at large, including restrictions on reproduction such as birth control or abortion. While most of the examples from women who committed such crimes indicate difficult social discrimination and extreme poverty, "a woman stands alone in the dock when criminal charges are preferred against her for abortion and other reproductive role related crimes" (28). …