A lot of women are raped by their husbands in Zimbabwe daily but the majority do not report such cases because they fear destroying their marriages, women’s rights activists have said.
REPORT BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Marital rape is any unwanted sexual act by a spouse or ex-spouse, committed against a person’s will, obtained by force, intimidation, or when a person is unable to consent.
The activists said cultural norms, religious beliefs and general low self-esteem contributed immensely to sexual abuse of women by their husbands.
Women and Aids Support Network (WASN) director, Mary Sandasi said many women were putting their health at risk simply because they wanted to protect and preserve their marriages.
“Marital rape is a complex issue as most of these women, in trying to safeguard their marriages, tolerate the abuse while they are being violated,” she said. “There is need to raise more awareness in the community and educate women about the available legal channels. There are many issues at play here: cultural barriers, low self-esteem and even religious dictates.”
Social commentator and talk show host, Rebecca Chisamba said most women were not empowered enough and called for a radical shift of mindsets on the subject which she said had been neglected for too long.
“Too many things are happening between spouses. People must speak out so that we all know,” said Mai Chisamba, as she is popularly known.
But Sandasi disputed the assumption that it was only “poor women” who tolerated the crime for fear of losing financial support.
“Educated and professional women are also victims of this crime,” she said.
Mai Chisamba said most men were ill-advised because they looked at their wives as acquired assets that they can use as they please after paying lobola (bride price).
“That mindset has to be changed because many women fail to negotiate for safe sex and are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases,” she said. “Women too should not just take the abuse quietly. There is too much hero worshipping of husbands going on out there.”
The devastating psychological effects of marital rape are captured aptly in a journal penned by a woman who for years suffered at the hands of her husband.
An excerpt from her piece titled Recovering from Marital Rape: A Personal Journey reads:
“I knew that if I did not escape the daily abuse, I would end up doing something ‘stupid’,” said the woman who remained anonymous. “Suicidal thoughts and images swirling round my head were all too common. I had taken to self-harming and neglecting myself, but it was finding myself trying to work out how to first kill the children before killing myself, that brought me to my senses.”
Married women had no legal protection until 2001 when the Sexual Offences Act came into effect, making marital rape a punishable crime.
According to the Act, marital rape carries a charge similar to that of rape.
Sadly, only a few women have actually put this piece of legislation to use and yet the magnitude of the crime is too huge to disregard.
Women’s rights activists said there has not been enough discussion around the topic, which is considered sensitive and deeply rooted in cultural dimensions that are too complex to tackle.
For many, it is difficult to accept that marital rape is a crime simply because the perpetrator and victim have a relationship and live together.
But other women started reporting cases of marital rape.
A soldier based at Induna Barracks in Bulawayo was recently slapped with a twelve-year jail sentence for raping his 22-year-old wife.
According to court records, the 27-year-old locked up his wife in the bedroom, stuffed her mouth with a dirty wet shirt, and tied her hands with an electrical cable.
He also tied her legs with a piece of wire and brutally raped her.
Such cases are common but they go unreported.
why are women not speaking against marital rape?
Many explanations have been proffered on why some women stay in intimate relationships that are violent or abusive. Societal pressures top the list with many women opting to keep quiet for fear of being reprimanded by their peers or because they are ashamed to speak out.
The other explanation is that some women are financially dependent on their husbands and are convinced they cannot make it on their own.