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Rape in Zimbabwe: Perspectives and realities

 Street News Service 21 February 2019

“A woman is meant to fulfil all of her husband’s desires, even when she doesn’t feel like it,” said Primrose Mukumba, a vendor at a Harare flea market. She believes there is no such thing as rape within marriage. (933 Words) - By Fungai Machirori

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Gender links_ popular perspectives on rape

 Photo: Colleen Lowe Morna, Gender Links

The belief is widespread in Zimbabwe, according to the Musasa Project, an NGO providing support to survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), and is a serious deterrent to women accessing their services.

"Unfortunately, most married women do not perceive it as rape," said Musasa Project Executive Director Netty Musanhu. "They will just talk about the consequences of the incident, for example contracting HIV. It's only when you explore further how they got the virus that they then say that their husbands forced themselves onto them. That's when you realise that they have been raped."

Medical journal PLoS Medicine recently reported that Zimbabwe's HIV epidemic had almost been halved in the past several years, a huge success in a region of mostly bad news when it comes to HIV and AIDS.

However, in what is already a feminised epidemic (In 2009 UNAIDS estimated that 60 percent of HIV-positive Zimbabweans were female), rape puts more Zimbabwean women at risk of contracting the virus.

Centres such as the Adult Rape Clinic (ARC) in Harare provide rape survivors with services that include medical examinations, HIV counselling and testing, emergency contraceptives (ECP), post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). ARC also collects forensic evidence and fills out medical affidavits for use in criminal investigations.

ARC saw more than 450 rape survivors between March 2009, when it opened its doors, and mid-2010. It is the only such centre for adult rape survivors (16 years and above) in Harare.

Statistics from ARC showed that 70 percent of survivors who visited the clinic were females in the 17-25 age bracket, one of the most vulnerable age groups to HIV infection. Overall, one in ten clients seen by ARC tests positive for HIV.

The majority (two-thirds) of ARC's rape cases are committed by a partner or relative; known as acquaintance rape.  The challenge with reporting this type of rape is that women face physical and social stigma and face being disowned or abused by their family if they do speak up.

"It would be much easier to mobilise help for rape victims if the majority of Zimbabweans believed that the victim is not to blame," observed marketing consultant Tafadzwa Dihwa. "Our conservative attitude to taboo subjects is very wrong."

"At times, our culture extenuates rape. Just think of chiramu and how a husband nowadays can fondle the breasts of his wife's sister. That's criminal!" said Anesu Katere, a former teacher.

Traditionally, chiramu refers to the goodwill expressed between a man and the relatives of his wife. The man may take to playfully calling his wife's younger sister his second wife. But this goodwill can be abused and a man may sexually harass the woman in the belief that he is entitled to her body since she is the "other" wife.

 

The blame debate extends into the role that provocative attire plays in precipitating rape.

"She's showing the men a sign about what she's come for," said Nobert Zhuwao, a cell phone credit vendor, when asked about what he thought of women who visit bars in miniskirts. "Men are visual and are easily excited. And in a bar where there is alcohol and drugs, a woman must know that!"

Zhuwao's friend, Harmony Savanhu, added that in a state of sexual stimulation a man could not be held responsible for his actions. "If we've decided to have sex and the girl changes her mind at the last minute, then she's wrong," said Savanhu. When it's up (the penis), it's ready!"

Edits for the SNS by Victoria Prest

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Originally published by Gender Links opinion and commentary service © Street News Service

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