Lobola affects family planning, safer sex practices
By Lazarus Sauti
Bride price (roora or lobola, as it is called in Shona and Ndebele languages in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries) is a deep-seated cog in marriage that impinges on reproduction and sexual relations.
This exchange of resources between families to confirm a marriage transaction, which is common in countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland and Lesotho, is associated with children and family lineage.
“As such,” says blogger and advocate for youth rights in Zimbabwe, Dr Manase Kudzai Chiweshe, “it directly influences decisions about family planning and safer sex practices.”
Chiweshe also says the commercialisation of lobola has impacted on gender relations in most, if not all countries in southern Africa, a fact supported by Brian Gwezere of Mufakose suburb, who added that the commercialisation of lobola has led to the widespread belief that marriage payments are one and the same with buying a wife.
“Through lobola,” said Gwezere, “control over young women is vested in their elders as well as their husbands.”
True to Chiweshe and Gwezere’s assertions, Chioneso Taruvhinga of New Tafara told The Southern Times that she experienced all forms of violence because of lobola.
“My ex-husband forced me into sex even when I was sick because of lobola. This not only exposed me to diseases, but violated my sexual rights,” she said.
Media practitioner, Gideon Madzikatidze, feels for Taruvhinga and says lobola is still used as an instrument of patriarchy that maintains the subordination of women, thereby affecting family planning and safer sex practices.
He adds that because of lobola, women like Taruvhinga and others are treated as sex machines and not equal human beings created in the image of God.
“By default and/or design, lobola bestows men all freedom and rights while women like Taruvhinga are stripped of all freedoms as well as rights.
Women are also equated to acquired properties and this impacts negatively on family planning and safer sex practices,” said Madzikatidze.
“Because of this reason,” he said, “lobola should be abolished as it only benefits men and at odds with gender equality that we are all fighting for.”
Gender activist, Garikai Mangongera, also says lobola is no longer treated as a token of appreciation to the wife’s parents, but abused due to poverty as well as greediness and this abuse is further exploited by devious men to justify all forms of violence against women.
“Sadly, violence against women blocks them to negotiate for safe sex, putting them at higher risk of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is still a challenge in this country,” Mangongera said.
Zimbabwe has the sixth highest prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa at 13.5 percent, with 1.3 million people living with HIV in 2016, as per the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 2017 data.
The data also show that an estimated 720,000 women are living with HIV in the country and at 15.2 percent, Zimbabwe has the lowest reported unmet need for family planning among married women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mangongera, however, believes that a better understanding of factors that impact sexual and reproductive decision-making, including lobola payment, can help in efforts to avert HIV infection in Zimbabwean women.
“Lobola is part of our culture and it gives value to marriages; accordingly, we need to avoid its abuse and save women from all problems that impinge on their reproduction plus sexual relations,” he said.
Traditional leader, Robson Wagoneka, says since poverty is to blame, regional leaders should not advocate for the elimination of lobola, but simply empower their general citizenry to escape biting poverty.
Chiweshe supported Wagoneka’s view, adding that lobola is a highly valued signifier of being Zimbabwean and for this reason, it would be wrong to eradicate it.
Journalist and gender activist, Anoziva Marindire, advised duty bearers in Zimbabwe and other regional countries to educate citizens about valuing lobola as well as respecting women’s sexual and health rights.
She also said it is everyone’s mandate to sensitise people about the values of lobola.
“Decision makers and development partners should be torchbearers in educating people that lobola is not a prerequisite for marriage, but an important cultural practice,” she said, adding, “There is also serious need to reform lobola to make it either a gift or voluntarily given and not an automatic expectation.” Lay evangelist, Bernard Mutashu, says paying lobola is Biblical.
“Remember, when Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, he worked for 7×2 years,” he said. “This tells you that lobola is Biblical. Jacob paid lobola by working (Gen. 29:18).”
Mutashu also rubbishes the notion that lobola affects family planning and safer sex practices, but blames lack of love, cruelty and infidelity.
As for Sekuru Onwel Madziro (63), lobola validates a marriage and shows the seriousness of the man, thereby reducing the divorce rate. Nevertheless, divorce rates have continued to increase in Zimbabwe.
According to reports, 1,417 couples had registered to terminate their marriages at the High Court in 2015 and this shows that lobola is failing as a deterrent against divorce.