Koliwe Majama

Digital Rights and Policy Specialist

In 2011, the High Court received a total of 1 551 divorce cases, a 21% increase from the 1216 cases received in 2010. It took me ‘bumping’ into a friend’s astonishment at the statistics on her Facebook status; and some rather insensitive comments that followed, to realise that divorce – no matter the circumstances – remains an abomination in our society.

Zimbabwe, and indeed many Southern African countries, are largely Christian nations who view a failed marriage as the ultimate sin. This unfortunate trend is the total opposite of their rank-and-file conservative Christian counterparts in the European nations who have woken up to the realisation that divorce may be the solution to the disintegration of a marriage. Some prominent church leaders get divorces and continue to lead thousands of Christians in their ministries.

Another statistic

As a 32-year-old professional Zimbabwean woman, mother to two children and going through a divorce, I will undoubtedly be ‘another’ statistic this time next year. I view divorce as evidence, in part, of women’s empowerment of their legal rights and power to walk away from a violent or an unfulfilling relationship. That is not to say that it is only women who walk out of the marriages, nor are these the only reasons why people walk. NO!

In fact, throughout my own marital and legal battles I have observed the vast number of women of various ages and classes sitting side by side on the creaky benches in the glum and dreary offices of the Harare civil court. All of them want either protection from a violent partner, to escape unhappiness through a divorce or get some man to realise that he needs to feed and clothe the baby she is carrying on her lap. It is an indication that indeed, Zimbabwean women are more empowered and resilient than ever before.

Self-awareness

Women in Zimbabwe now realise their legal and social rights; the need for education and have more awareness about self and the world around them. This self-awareness coupled in some instances with financial independence reduces the probability of women staying in a relationship out of sheer necessity and obligation.

The trend seems similar in South Africa where statistics indicate that in 2010 alone, women initiated 49,3% of the divorces recorded. Women from the black African population group had a lower proportion of plaintiffs compared to white female plaintiffs.

The comments on Facebook reflect the gender stereotypes still prevalent in our society. One (a male contributor) states that divorce is “centered on pride, arrogance and equality” and that there is need to “… think of our children and AIDS.” Among others the comment reflects the naivety of regarding marriage as a safe haven against HIV and AIDS. The Zimbabwe’s National Aids Council points to the fact that married women constitute the largest number of those infected by the virus.

The other comment (shockingly by a female contributor) reads: “The problem is equal rights. Equal rights mean no submission, no compromise, no competition and more. Biblically the MAN is the head. Once we modernise marriage, then there is a problem. Even if the woman earns ten times more than her husband, she is not the head.”

Great personal cost

In African societies, women are expected to marry and ‘stay married’ even at great personal cost.

Marriage in African societies is followed by the cultural expectation to procreate. This means that – no matter the battering, sexual abuse or deprivation; multiple concurrent partnerships that can expose a woman to HIV and AIDS – she has to endure all forms of abuse to protect her reputation in society and “hold on” so that the children can have a “father”.

Women’s empowerment; the change in social and family structure due to globalisation; increased communication and access to information on marriage, sex and sexuality; smaller nuclear families; work pressure, and a declining trust in the institution of marriage are slowly changing these norms. The changing status of women in society is undoubtedly central to all of these.

This article was first published on the Gender Links News Service.

For me the most provocative aspect of Robert Mugabe’s presidential run-off campaign this time around is the abuse of word empowerment and its simultaneously use of women — particularly in adverts that are inserted in mainly the State media.

I am particularly revolted by an advert in support of Robert Mugabe’s ‘empowerment’ policy or stance (whatever you may call it) inserted by a group who I am hearing of for the first time, called the Young Women Movement (YWM). The advert is set on a very femininely pink background, has an image of a fairly middle aged woman (who to me represents the minority class of Zimbabwean women who have managed to maintain such a fair facial skin, albeit sunken eyes) and has a headline that screams, “Enough is enough! Zvakwana! Sokwanele!”

On first sight of the advert, I thought to myself, ‘At last someone has finally found the right words to summarise the pain that we Zimbabwean women have had to go through and maybe sought to encourage us to stand up for something worthwhile’; but alas the advert proceeds to read:

“Women of Zimbabwe, enough is enough, there have been too many lies and demonisation of our country. Zimbabwe has done a lot for us (that is when I began to blink!!!) Age of Majority Act, Equal pay for equal work, Maintenance Act, Domestic Violence Act. Women can and now own land, businesses…” (There I thought, well, Okay!) Then the advert goes on to say…”On 27th June, vote for the consolidation of women’s empowerment.”

I cannot believe that a sincere women’s movement would utter such nonsense! To a Zimbabwean woman, empowerment is not defined by a couple of Acts that are not supported to ensure that the woman is able to benefit from them.

To us empowerment means being able to walk into a supermarket, or stand at the counter of the kiosk at the corner in the township I live in, and being able to buy pads or the basic cotton wool — and not to be told the price has gone up or that they have run out. Or being able to walk into a pharmacy or local clinic and get contraception of my choice! Empowerment means being able to take good care of my bedridden HIV positive relation at home because I have running water at the house; and not that water becomes so scarce I cringe every time my two year old son requests to use the loo. Empowerment means being able to get equal pay to my male counterpart if I even make it through college. And not this thing of fees being topped up every semester such that I have to ‘fundraise’, because it is obvious that my parents salaries are way below the monthly expenses of my siblings — and grandparents who by the way are still in the same reserves they were in during the days of Ian Smith (so much for land empowerment). I do not know of a single ‘ordinary’ woman who worked on the Baas Jones farm, who during the land resettlement programme got a portion of the land that she had toiled on for so long. But I do know of a few prominent female ‘liberators’ who went on to take over that land.

Empowerment to us means being able to stand up and speak on issues that affect us and being heard. And not to be shut up in prison when we do — like Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, the Women of Zimbabwe Arise activists arrested while participating in a demonstration on May 28, 2008. Or being slain in front of our children like Abigail Chiroto, Wife of Harare’s newly elected Mayor, who was abducted and found dead on June 17 for being married to the wrong man. Empowerment means having a roof above my head and not being classified ‘dirt’ (Operation Murambatsvina) in a clean-up campaign that seems more important than that I have a home.

My take on the adverts being placed by YWM is, “Enough is Enough!” We are tired of being used by politicians when they realise they have run short of a political gimmick. And woe to the woman who thinks that she can speak for the women of Zimbabwe, without even consulting them.

The average woman in Zimbabwe stresses throughout the day about how the hell to run a household, raise children and care for the ill in this crazy economy — not to mention worrying about her family’s safety because of her own or husband’s affiliation. No one has a right to speak on behalf of the Zimbabwean women unless they can stand up and wholly identify themselves with the majority of us angry, stressed, hungry mothers and wives itching for change and true, not theoretical empowerment!

First published on Walking the talk

Blog
Appearances
Portfolio
In the Press
Socials
Contacts