Zimbabwe was born following a protracted, fierce war of liberation that brought about independence in 1980.
There followed other conflicts, to be precise Gukurahundi, a genocide that was perpetrated against the people of Matabeleland.
Violence has since become synonymous with elections in Zimbabwe where lives are lost as political parties outdo each other in the most vicious way to win hearts of the majority.
The acts of violence are unbelievable and it is so difficult sometimes to believe that such things actually happened — all in the name of democracy.
I would not like at this point to apportion blame to any political grouping as my aim is to just highlight some of the painful acts against humanity that have characterised Zimbabwe’s political landscape since independence.
Women’s participation in armed conflict takes place at two levels. Firstly as combatants, where they actively participate as members of an armed force or liberation movement and secondly, as victims of war, where the conflict affects the situation of women as citizens of a country.
It is an open secret that some women combatants experienced sexual abuse during the struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence in both Zambia and Mozambique.
I personally heard female combatants speak about how they had been turned into sex slaves in Zambia where some of them were studying during the war of liberation.
Whenever a military “chef” visited their colleges, the women would organise or draw up a roster that would ensure these military men had a different woman available each and every night. Sounds like a fairy tale but these incidents did actually take place.CONTINUES BELOW
There were times when some of these women would speak loudly under the influence of alcohol about the sexual abuses they had constantly encountered at the refugee and military camps.
But they would immediately change the topic when quizzed further and as a result there is absolutely no documentation about what actually transpired at these camps.
Or perhaps there could be someone out there writing about their experiences.
We may never really know the extent to which women suffered at the hands of their male counterparts during the war that led to Zimbabwe’s freedom.
Rape was mostly used as a weapon to challenge the power of warring parties with no regard for the rights of the women being violated.
An example is that of Mazvita, one of eight wives of a polygamist who were raped during post-election violence that stalked Manicaland in 2008.
The other women in the polygamous marriage were also sexually molested by marauding political activists who had initially wanted the head of the household, who had been accused of supporting an opposing political party.
When they realised that the polygamous head of the home had fled to Mutare, the group of about 25 men descended on the hapless women.
They were beaten and force-marched to a base somewhere in Buhera district where they were held for about a week as these militiamen took turns to rape them.
Two of the youngest women said they lost count of the men that sexually molested them.
Women have been used as pawns in conflict resolution and subjected to horrendous periods of physical torture, some of which have ultimately resulted in loss of life.
War tribunals generally place emphasis on punishing villains of the war and ignore the plight of survivors such as women who would have endured rape and physical abuse.
As a result, the transgression of international law relating to conflict is prioritised above violation of human rights. The rights of women and children are of secondary importance.
Even where war crimes are dealt with through domestic processes, women are still marginalised.
While torture and murder receive a great deal of attention, violence against women during armed conflict is often ignored or at best only referred to in passing.
The Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in South Africa, for example, placed a great deal of emphasis on the murder and torture of freedom fighters but only one day was set aside to hear stories of women who were raped and physically abused by their fellow comrades.
Women are protected by international conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the constitution of the relevant country.
However these legal instruments provide very little protection, probably due to the fact that agreements are not applicable until they are incorporated into domestic law.
The year 2009 was also a very tragic year as women survivors of sexual violence bore labour pains and brought forth children, whose fathers they may never know.
An estimated 20 000 women were physically and sexually abused, a matter that continues to haunt many communities, particularly those in the countryside.
As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, it is important for the government to adequately address these concerns.
Sunday, 6 March 2011
Labour pains of sexual violence - Newsday: Everyday News for Everyday People