Poverty speaks louder than the law

Several weeks ago a woman threatened to strip naked in court. That’s not all she did – she cried, hurled insults at the magistrate and threatened to dump her children there. That’s not all she did – she demanded that the magistrate toss her and her brood in the jail cells. Why?

Because her husband who was facing charges of rape had been denied bail and the woman was anguished by the fact that she did not have the means to fend for herself and her children because she depended solely on her husband.

...half in the light, half in the shadow - women face the dilemma of straddling customary & statutory law

The fact that he was accused of rape was immaterial. The fact that his victim was a 15 year old neighbour’s child was immaterial.

The fact that he had betrayed her in a most despicable manner was dismissed. The fact that he habitually bashed her was rendered irrelevant.

This woman was prepared to defend that brute’s right to walk as a free man on the basis that she would not starve and her children would be cared for.

More and more women choose survival over justice – they would rather keep their criminal spouses in society as a guarantee that they don’t starve than see them behind bars paying for their crimes.

This economic dependency of women in marital relationships has resulted in the Domestic Violence Act being rendered void as few women are prepared to let justice take its course due to economic considerations.

Now entering its 4th year, the Domestic Violence Act was hailed as the most progressive legislative instrument of the past decade; passing laws that criminalize violence in the homes.

By recognizing marital rape (hitherto considered to be non-existent) the Act is the first tangible statute that asserts the sexual rights of women and underscores their inherent right to exercise autonomy over their bodies regardless of marital status.

...the books law mean nothing if they cannot translate into lived experience

But these benefits are on paper, in terms of lived experience; few Zimbabwean women have succeeded in translating what is promised by the Zimbabwean law into a reality in their lives because they constantly succumb to the pressure exerted by the patriarchal customary norms that are deeply ingrained in them through socialization.

In many instances women report abusive spouses to the police and then return to withdraw the charges having made a cost/benefit analysis and adjudging that they cannot survive financially without their partners.

Besides economic considerations are also social pressures that inform them that being abused is a normal characteristic of marital life and should be endured, excused and more importantly concealed.

What is particularly infuriating is that so many women are disempowered and we have a generation of women raised to expect to be “taken care of” rather than to acquire skills and participate as citizens of the world rather than appendages of men.

Too many women were raised to grow up and ‘find a man to take care of you’ as if there were anything hindering them from taking care of their grown up selves.

..before we celebrate the 'strength' of our mothers we must question why suffering seems to be the prerequisite?

It is this crop of ‘take-care-of-us’ women that end up subverting the course of justice for the sake of ensuring the men they depend on stay out of jail and remain on our streets, free to victimize, abuse and violate others.

I am very skeptical whenever I hear people go on ad nauseum about how marriage were so strong in the ‘old’ days when the reality is the typical marital set up was so unbalanced as to leave women dis-empowered, dependent, enslaved and totally without any option except to stay in that marriage even if it was a nightmare.

I get nauseous every time I have to listen to people describe the struggles of their mothers, grandmothers or aunts in marriages – detailing unimaginable acts of cruelty inflicted on them by their spouses and in-laws then applauding them for having been “strong” enough to stay in the marriage.

Like where else they going to go? What options where availed to them? Did they have the means and resources to start a new life away from the abuse and violence they faced daily?

..the balance of these scales can be tipped by those who choose survival over justice

And I always wonder whether these eager narrators ever stopped to ask those women if that was the life they wished to live; if that is the life they would settled for given the choice?

Now we have laws that give women options, which give them avenues to get justice – some recompense for their suffering and a chance to escape from the clutches of their tormentors and yet they are unable to enjoy what liberty is promised them by this Act.

They refuse to act on an Act whose consequences could spell hunger to their children, poverty to themselves, and desperation in their circumstances as well as disgrace in the eyes of their in-laws, families and societies.

Justice becomes a luxury they cannot afford to indulge when the practical matters of having food on the table, clothes on their backs and roofs over their heads take precedence.

It becomes fickle for a woman with 5 children to report an abusive husband because she will suffer alone trying to fend for them as none of the extended family will step in to lend a hand; rather take the abuse than face the prospect of poverty.

In another incident some months back; a woman broke down and wept when her abusive husband was given a custodial sentence and begged for leniency before insisting that she wanted to withdraw the charges because she had a young baby and needed her husband to fend for it.

To disempowered women, the law is of no consequence if it threatens their survival in terms of economic stability – because they were raised to find men who would “take care of them” – they have never acquired skills to take care of themselves.

Lived experience proves that the Domestic Violence Act will only be effective to the degree that women are empowered and to the degree that their status in society is elevated; beyond this – it is merely an Act that none of them will act on.


7 thoughts on “Poverty speaks louder than the law

  1. Thoko C says:

    It is such a sad truth that a lot of women have taken to that way of life and feel there is no way out. Some even say, they are staying in abusive relationships or marriages for the kids and would not want another woman raising their kids. I tend to wonder if they think of themselves and what would happen if they are beaten to death or left paralysed, their worst nightmare may still come true.

    I just wish every woman of nowadays feels the need to be independant and find a man that would uplift her more in life so this would stop some of the abuse. Have you realised that in most cases it is the uneducated women that get abused the most. My mother always said, a man can take away your dignity but can never take away what’s in your head(education), hence may even respect you and consider what they are doing before they act cos they know you will still make it in life without them.

    To all those women out there, please be independant in your own right even within a marriage.

  2. YESAF says:

    Brilliant work mthaka mama. U deserve a standing ovation.

  3. Duduzile Ngwenyama says:

    The reality of this ongoing abuse in relationships arouses anger in me.Whoever said women got married to be looked after by men?Thats why this vicious circle will never end.The only thing that these victims of abuse do not realise is that they are the ones who determine their own destiny.The minute you allow an abuser to convince you that they will change,that this was the last time,that they will seek counselling,is just but the beginning of your problems.Its high time women freed themselves of all the pain and shame.Its about having a job or being educated,its about realising your worth as a beautiful woman and human being.Its about standing up for yourself and many others in your situation,putting an end to this brutality.Delta i could start a movement against women and child abuse,i could write a book but its just up to us women to realise our worth because no one else will.

  4. Phineas Honondo says:

    The bible tells us Marriage is HOLY. God made it so beautiful with the intention of giving us happiness, but if you take a look, the devil is fighting marriage tirelessly and mightily that it now looks very burdensome & very impossible.Instead of the beauty in marriage, the world is giving us more of the ugly, distorted & evil side of marriage and even relationships in general.

    The devil has introduced a lot of horribble things in Marriages & relationships including the very ugly of them all ‘DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & ABUSE’,it’s so sad, very sad & dissappointing. The stubborn truth is, all married women will always look up to their husbands for security, God set it that way(nature).Unfortunately evil shows up and twists the whole setup. As long as we are here these things will live with us but if continuously spoken of will be limited.

    Be encouraged to continue speaking out. At least you are making a big difference to those who listen to you.

    I also would want to emphasis to women & everyone that, self empowerment is the best revenge you can ever give to your enemies, not even the seniors in witchcraft can get it away from you, you die empowered. The jelousy will just watch they can’t touch you.

  5. yemu says:

    Splendid piece of work Delta!

    This is so true and yet so sad.Unfortunately even the career women come in the way of justice because of what i call the “Mrs Syndrome”.Men feel threatened by their achievements and beat them up and abuse them in all sorts of ways, and they endure all this to show that they respect their husbands and so as to be the obedient wife despite the power and fame they may have and more so , so as to remain a “Mrs” as opposed to being called a divorcee or single mum.
    It takes 2 to tango, as women lets work hard so that we are not totally dependent on men, we can fend for ourselves and will stay married for the right reasons and not for financial reasons.Let us also raise our sons to be gentlemen, who know how to treat women. If we can raise a generation of hardworking women and men who know how to treat each other with love and respect we will go places as families, communities and as a nation.

  6. Jus read yo article. Quite exciting,i mean the story itself,i mean th way u wrote it but nothing new when it comes to the subject. 3rd world contries are crippled w th problem of sidelining the woman wen it comes to her economic emancipation, she is still cheated wen it comes to that. A lot has been said and a lot done abt trying,atleast trying to tip th economic balance in favoer of th female but with dismal failure. At th end of th day it takes women vakaoneswa semi to help others to open their eyes or to look for their own source of income. It goes beyond writing a article to actualy push otha women groups to do something abt the issue. The woman who pleads for her husbnds release after raping kid next door or even herself is not at all dumb. She is quite aware of the situation like all of us do but we all knw in Africa the belly speaks louder. Hence wat needs to be adressed is th belly and then all else will fall into place. Now th we know chii chaita musoro uteme hw do we tackle it is the issue…

  7. Hey! Great article but I think there is innacuracy in that the Domestic Violence does not actually tackle marital rape. Unless it has been amended since it was enacted, I don’t believe this is correct. There was a big hoo-haa about the clause about denial of conjugal rights etc etc, and that was then removed because of the controversy of it.

    I think it’s the Criminal Law and Codification Reform Act that talks about rape…

    Otherwise, very insightful piece as always!

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