Politically motivated violence against women escalates in Zimbabwe

Violence against women in Zimbabwe, often politically motivated and perpetrated largely by supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party, police and other state agents, has escalated over the past six turbulent years, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO said in a report released 8/12/2006.  Titled “A Woman’s Place is in the Home?’’ – Gender Based Violence and Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe, the 21-page report marks the annual 16 days of international protests about violence against women.

The Forum urged that the government be targeted during this year’s protests because its actions ranging from the 2005 campaign of forced urban evictions and demolitions which inflicted huge suffering on women in particular, to condoning rape and other politically motivated brutal sexual assaults. Another form of abuse is enforced cubinage of women and girls at Zanu-PF youth training camps or militia bases set up on farms seized from white owners in 2000-2002.

“There is ample evidence that human rights abuses against women in particular are prevalent in Zimbabwe, contradicting the government’s statements that these abuses are exaggerations made by organizations supported by the West,’’ said the report. The worst instances of violence against women were in 2000-2002 when Zanu-PF’s hold on power was first seriously threatened. The assaults were motivated partly by a perception that women have lesser status in society and that they are the property of men.

The Forum received 967 reports of gender based violence during the six-year period, out of more than 15,000 human rights violations reported.  But incidents of sexual violence are seriously under-reported, said the Forum. Most married women do not report attacks fearing being ostracised by their husbands and others. Prejudice toward those considered to be HIV positive is another motivation for silence.

Among harrowing cases cited of “political rape’’ was that of a 16-year-old girl raped by militia outside her family home to punish her mother for supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.  Other attacks include beatings, death threats, kidnapping and torture.  In one way women get equal treatment with men: during demonstrations by Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) protesting the impact of the worsening economic conditions upon women.

“The women are treated by the police in exactly the same way as their male counterparts in respect of the appalling conditions under which they are held (often together with their infant children), the excessive and often brutal force used in affecting their arrest and lack of provision of sanitary towels,’’ said the report.

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.