MOST married women in Zimbabwe have experienced marital rape at the hands of their spouses, greatly exposing them to HIV and Aids, a cabinet minister has said.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development minister, Oppah Muchinguri told female legislators attending a conference on ending sexual violence that many women were being raped by their husbands and partners.
“All of you in this room who are married or have a partner, have been raped at some point,” she said to a thunderous applause.
The director of The Women’s Trust (TWT) Memory Kachambwa told the legislators that women generally had a culture of silence whereby they do not speak out about issues that affect them like gender violence which increases their chances of getting infected.
“This culture of silence is so entrenched in societal norms which do not recognise women’s contributions. Women are violated all the time because of their position in the society,” she said.
Kachambwa said women were brought up to be insecure beings that had to depend on men and that put them in a risky position which is made worse by gender-based violence.
A legislator from Masvingo, Monica Chigudu said the issue of paying lobola had also contributed to women’s vulnerability.
“When a man pays for his bride, he thinks he has purchased a property that he can use to his discretion.
This is where we are facing challenges because the women are now like owned properties and have no rights whatsoever,” she said.
Women generally are vulnerable to HIV and Aids and according to the Millennium Development Goals Report for 2012, they have a higher prevalence (18%) than that of men (12%).
This figure increases if a woman is married or in a long-term relationship where her role is lowered in accordance with social norms which permit men to be in control of everything.
‘Small houses fuel HIV infection’
According to a 2010 Unicef research, when women enter a stable and long-term relationship they struggle to insist on the use of a condom even though there might be evidence of risk of infection.
“Society permits men to be promiscuous and forces women to always meet their physical needs. The women are constantly warned that if they do not please their men they will look for other women,” reads the Unicef report.
Efforts by women’s organisations to stem these imbalances have been met with a frothy reception by the society.
“We are ridiculed by the society and called all sorts of names. Some say we are bitter divorced women who just want to perpetuate waywardness,” said director of Musasa Project Netty Musanhu.
According to the UNDP initiated Zimbabwe Agenda for the Accelerated Country Action of Women and Girls Gender Equality and HIV and Aids, traditional practices such as polygamy, and its modern version “small houses” whereby a man has a secret wife, are some of the reasons that fuel the high incidence of infection among married women.