The bitter scathing remark escaped the parted lips of her husband and found itself in her ears. She had taken out her shield to block the boiling mass but the words had melted right through. They had found a home and they travelled slowly down her ear canal, leisurely grazing the walls as her eyes blinked a response. They were smooth and soft but cut her like a razor blade. She wished to throw them out, vomit them, but it was too late. They were almost at their destination. She would feel the familiar stab soon as her heart was shredded and contracted to a pea. She would be unable to breath, would whizz and gasp for air as they strolled down her body slicing her over and over again. As her contractions began she asked over and over again why this delayed labour never played out to a full birth? She knew why. She would stop the contractions. Did she not deserve these words? She was after all a woman and deserved every bit of these words. She shrunk into her shell as the avalanche of insults continued. Her eyes were filled with fear. What would guarantee that he would not hit her? She could not face the stricken eyes of her son cowering in a corner. He too, through an unspoken signal, knew this could turn violent.
This is an all too familiar story for many Zimbabwean Women who are victims of violence and suffere pain and anguish incessantly because of gender based violence. Insecurity stems from the ever present threat of violence in the different spheres of their lives, especially by a spouse or intimate partner. Whilst domestic violence has been acknowledged worldwide, it remains highly prevalent in Zimbabwe. Studies have shown that women experience alarming levels of abuse. In 2016, between January and September, 40,500 cases of abuse were reported to the Zimbabwe Republic Police and in 78% of the cases the husband was the perpetrator. The cases of reported domestic violence are assumed to be a drop in the ocean of the actual cases as many choose to suffer silently. Most women have said they have experienced some form of violence, mainly physical and sexual, with statistics showing that 1 in every 4 women has been physically and/or sexually abused between 15 and 39 years. In many instances, due to vigorous campaigns to end gender based violence in the country, the nature of violence has become very subtle and psychological. When a woman is verbally and emotionally abused, the misconception is that it is not abuse. Culture and religion play the biggest roles in the violence unleashed on women daily. As Ruth’s husband insulted her he kept asking, “What kind of a woman are you? Why don’t you behave like a decent woman? You are dressed like a whore and you don’t know your place. You should go to church, woman. There you will be taught how to behave like a good woman.” These words are familiar to many women in the country who shoulder the burden of being abused and being blamed for being abused. The first question is always what did you do for him to beat you up? It is therefore largely acceptable that a man can beat up his wife for misdemeanours and at times for no reason except for the wife to ‘know’ her place. The payment of lobola largely perpetuates this practice as the woman is treated as an asset both by her family and her husband’s family.
The constitution of Zimbabwe has six sections that protect women form violence but gender based violence continues to occur unabated. Section 53 of the constitution of Zimbabwe 2013 states that, “No person may be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” However, women continue to suffer abuse and insecurity silently. Janet, (not her real name) said she was ashamed to reveal that her husband beat her up. She is employed as a manager and felt it would be demeaning if people knew so she would rather put up with the abuse. “The ultimate failure in this country is being divorced. People always respect you when you are a Mrs,” she said. “I am financially stable and can look after myself and my children but people will treat you as a failure because you left your husband.” Conforming is the name of the game and non-conformers are labelled as ‘whores’. When a woman stands up for herself her husband is blamed for failing to control her.
It is undeniable that education empowers women and communities and aids in the fight against gender based violence. Women, when educated can change the picture. However, on this blank canvas, every woman and man must bring a paint brush and paint for a whole encompassing painting to be created. Creating safe spaces in the home, workplace and society where women and men can discuss the issues is key. Traditional leaders must speak out against harmful cultural practices. WhatsApp groups where women share their experiences and strengthen each other have been a solution to violence. The best news always is when a woman is able to realise they are being abused and are empowered to deal with the situation. Many women profess that they were unaware they were being abused but after hearing the stories of other women they also share and a sisterhood develops which cannot be broken and offers nourishment and hope to many broken women. In many instances the results have shown when women work together and speak in one voice, they are able to rise above their circumstances and stop violence. Social media is a big key to solving gender based violence. It is easily accessible because many people are now exposed in the country and campaigns can be spread quickly. My hope is to continue creating the groups and having more women sharing not only their stories but the solutions as well, thereby empowering one another. Women should never be silent about abuse however subtle, infrequent or minor they may think it is. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest- Elie Wiesel. One abused woman is one too many in the world.