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.
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.
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.
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?
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.