Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Crisis in the State and the Family: Violence against Women in Zimbabwe [1]

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Crisis in the State and the Family: Violence against Women in Zimbabwe [1]

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Since the early 1990's, Zimbabwe has been enmeshed in a major economic crisis that has seriously eroded the status of women in that country. For the past three years, the economic crisis has been joined by a political crisis which marks the first major challenge to the Mugabe regime since independence. In addition to the very harsh toll that the economic and political problems have had on poor and low-income African women in particular, especially those involved in subsistence agriculture and the micro-enterprise sector, black women in Zimbabwe have also experienced an escalation in violence committed against them, by both individuals and the state. Such violence cannot be solely understood as physical abuse, but as a phenomenon that takes on a myriad of forms, including the economic and the psychological. Domestic violence and rape have deeply-rooted structural explanations in Zimbabwe linked to the long history of colonialism and white minority rule, political transition, economic crisis and adjustment, changes in expected gender roles for women and men, and the political crisis that emerged in the last few years. Under such circumstances, many men perceive that their power and position in the broader society, as well as within the home, have come into question and unfortunately, all too many men have directed their anger against women. In the midst of this crisis, though, two non-governmental organizations have attempted to address the issue of violence against women--the Musasa Project and the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Center and Network. Although the limited resources of these NGO's restrict what they can accomplish, they, unlike the state, are path breakers in the empowerment of poor and low-income women.

INTRODUCTION

Over the past two decades, domestic violence and rape have been major concerns of the feminist movement, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. Wife beating and rape are significant violations of human rights around the globe despite the fact that The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and signed by over 160 nations. "CEDAW recognizes gender-based violence as a form of discrimination against women which impairs or nullifies women's enjoyment of their human rights including their rights to life and to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health." [2] While several international organizations, such as the UN, international conferences and many local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have begun to focus their attention on the incidence of violence against women in the South, little work has been done by social scientists within sub-Saharan Africa. [3] The few studies that do exist suggest an increase in violence against women over the past decade. [4] It is now estimated that a woman is raped in South Africa every 26 seconds and more than 20 women are assaulted daily by their spouses in Zimbabwe. [5]

This paper marks the beginning of an exploratory study to examine the increasing incidence of violence against women in contemporary Zimbabwe through a sociological lens. In a conference on "Gender, Justice and Development," at the University of Massachusetts (January, 1993) Peggy Antrobus then Director of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) stated that there clearly seemed to be a relationship between the adoption of structural adjustment programs in the South and an increasing incidence of violence against many poor women in these societies, who were disproportionately carrying the burdens of adjustment. The critical importance of this issue was later emphasized in an international conference on "Gender and Development" in Harare, Zimbabwe (1999) where women ministers and leaders of NGOs in South Africa discussed the escalation of violence against women in that country, particularly since the transition to majority rule in 1994. The problem seems to have become more entrenched with the election and appointment of black women to positions in the legislature and the cabinet respectively. …

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