Lobola: A contributory factor to domestic violence

Lazarus Sauti
A Harare man, William Madanire, reportedly gave his wife, Diana, a thorough hiding after she denied him sex.She told the Harare Civil Court magistrate Gamuchirai Siwardi recently that William also demanded the money he paid as lobola from her saying the money was meant to buy sex.

“He assaults me and demands the money he paid as lobola saying he paid it so that he would have sex whenever he wanted,” Diana said.

So touchy and emotional is Diana’s experience as it is a graphic illustration of how lobola is used to physically, emotionally and sexually exploit women in marriages. Women in Zimbabwe and southern Africa, according a paper titled “Lobola and gender based violence: Perceptions of married adults in Gweru urban, Zimbabwe” and published in November 2013 in the Journal
of Education Research and Behavioral Sciences, are violated and turned into sex slaves everyday because someone paid lobola for them.

“Lobola exacerbates gender based violence – any pattern of behaviour usually in an intimate relationship, that controls another person, causes physical harm or fear, makes someone do things they do not want to do, or prevents them from doing things they want to do in the institution of marriage.

“Most women in Zimbabwe as well as southern Africa are always physically, verbally and sexually abused simply because of lobola; in fact, men use lobola as a tool to oppress, exploit and dominate women,” noted the paper.

The issue of lobola in our culture, concurs Gogo Marian Mandizha (80), seems to state that men purchase women and it reduces women to commodities. It is the impact of this commodification on women that is catastrophic as it breeds misery and reduces them to chattels.

She added: “The issue of lobola these days is a double-edged sword mostly for women. Although the intention is to cement relations between the two families, the concept is getting disrupted because of modernity as demands are becoming too many.

“Long ago, people used hoes, for instance, as a form of lobola payment, but nowadays, men are expected to pay lobola in the form of cash, smartphones, generators (thanks to power cuts), over and above cars, designer clothes for the in-laws, cattle and groceries.

“After showering the in-laws with all expensive presents, men like Madanire begin to view women as their piece of furniture.”

Zefa Masinire (79), a traditional leader in Buhera, says in his area, women also face oppression as they are forced to tend the fields even when heavily pregnant because the husband paid lobola for them.

“Women in this area are forced to do all sorts of horrible things. Imagine, some are compelled to work even when pregnant whilst others are forced to accept multiple pregnancies and have no right to deny their husbands sex even if they suspect he is HIV positive, increasing their vulnerability,” he said.

Masinire also blames societal pressures for the perpetration of violence against women, a fact supported by social commentator Collins Sandu who added that some father-in-laws would not tolerate their daughters walking out of the marriage simply because they fear being asked to reimburse their son-in-laws.

“Culture reinforces gender inequality and female subordination through the standards that are established such as payment of lobola; daughters, for instance, are taught to endure no matter what monster some men might turn out to be,” said Sandu.

Sadly, he adds, a woman has to preserve her marriage; the obligation to preserve this marriage is not placed upon the man’s shoulders because he paid lobola. Sally Dura of Women’s Coalition says Diana should be applauded for reporting her abuse as many women  in the country face marital rape, but cannot report it because of cultural and traditional practices.

“Diana should be applauded for reporting her abuse. More women should be encouraged to do the same.

“Diana is not like most individuals who are still hesitant to disclose information about incidents of family violence because they think domestic violence happens in the privacy of one’s own house and is not for discussion outside family context,” she said.

Dura added that another challenge is that most women resist reporting rape and gender-based violence cases because they cannot sustain the cost of justice, a fact supported by gender activist Daphne Jena who added that the country’s judicial system is pro-patriarchy and it often compromises the rights of women seeking justice and protection.

Violet Nkathazo, scholar and  gender activist, says lobola or no lobola, no man in Zimbabwe has the right to demand sex from his wife. In fact, she said it is a punishable crime to demand sex from the wife.

“The Sexual Offences Act makes marital rape a punishable crime.

“According to the Act, marital rape carries a charge similar to that of rape,” she said, adding that the concept of lobola must not be used as an instrument to oppress women, but be urgently reviewed with a view to try as much as possible to restore it to its original cause of expressing appreciation as opposed to buying a woman.”

Nkathazo added that sexual rights should be negotiated and not controlled by one person based on the amount of money paid as lobola. She also said society needs to be conscientised about the Domestic Violence Act, which is there to protect them.

“Most members of the society are not aware of Domestic Violence Act of 2007 which is there to protect them. It is therefore the role of the government as well as civil players to ensure that women, girls and other male members of society are informed about the Act,” she added.

Women and Aids Support Network director, Mary Sandasi, concurs.

“There is need to raise more awareness in the community and educate women about the available legal channels as there are many issues at play here: cultural barriers, low self-esteem and even religious dictates,” she said.

Human rights activist Rutendo Tapiwa also believes there is serious need to encourage and empower communities to research and identify positive aspects of their culture that would enhance behaviour change and power relations.

“Empowerment is an avenue worth pursuing. A starting premise would also be the socialisation of children where most of the inequities and inequalities are engendered,” she said, adding that traditional leaders, as custodians of our culture, should be part of the empowerment process and as such, they should be urged to promote other ways of not making lobola transactional.

Tapiwa also said the government should ensure that budgets, programmes and policies as well as human resource commitments reflect its thrust to deal with domestic violence by way of allocating effort and resource towards improving girls and women’s disadvantaged position in society.

Psychologist Sonita Chikwature encouraged the society not to view gender based violence as a woman’s issue, but to created men-to-men programmes as well as devote time and financial resources in campaigning against marital rape and other social vices in the country.

“The issue of Diana is not a joke. Rape is a heinous crime, and the country should embrace the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and use its principles to campaign against rape in the country,” she said.

Chikwature added: “People like Madanire form the higher percentage of gender based violence perpetrators, and therefore it is necessary for the society to bring such men on board and not leaving them behind on if the country is to eliminate all forms Kuda Chitsike, lawyer and human rights advocate, sums up be urging people to use the Constitution to their advantage.

“Section 80 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that “every woman has full and equal dignity of the person with men and this includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities”.

“All responsible citizens should, therefore, take advantage of the Constitution,” she said, urging parliamentarians to also ensure that all legislation is aligned and adhered to.

February 2016
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