Rape and Domestic Violence: While the law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, these crimes remained widespread problems. Spousal rape received less attention than physical violence against women. Almost a quarter of married women who had experienced domestic violence reported sexual violence, while 8 percent reported both physical and sexual violence. The 2015 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) indicated approximately 35 percent of women had experienced physical violence at some time in their lives, while almost 15 percent had experienced physical violence in the last 12 months. The survey also revealed that married women were more likely to experience physical violence, while husbands/partners were the most commonly reported perpetrator (54 percent), followed by former husbands/partners (23 percent). Lack of education increased women’s vulnerability to physical violence.
Although conviction of sexual offenses is punishable by lengthy prison sentences, women’s organizations stated that sentences were inconsistent. Rape victims were not consistently afforded protection in court.
Social stigma and societal perceptions that rape was a “fact of life” continued to inhibit reporting of rape. In the case of spousal rape, reporting was even lower due to women’s fear of losing economic support or of reprisal, lack of awareness that spousal rape is a crime, police reluctance to be involved in domestic disputes, and bureaucratic hurdles. Most rural citizens were unfamiliar with laws against domestic violence and sexual offenses. A lack of adequate and widespread services for rape victims also discouraged reporting.
Government officials, including police, did not always act on reported rape cases if the perpetrators were aligned with ZANU-PF. In one high-profile case, a ZANU-PF legislator in the House of Assembly, Munyaradzi Kereke, was convicted of raping his 11-year-old niece in 2010. In July, Kereke was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment. The attorney general at the time declined to prosecute the case on the grounds that there was no evidence linking the legislator to the offense. When the victim’s guardian conducted a private prosecution, the prosecutor general made further attempts to block prosecution. Finally, the Constitutional Court forced the prosecutor general to grant the requisite permission for private prosecution, resulting in Kereke’s subsequent conviction.
According to a credible NGO, there were no reports of rape or sexual harassment being used as a political weapon during the year.
Children born from rape suffered stigmatization and marginalization. The mothers of children resulting from rape sometimes were reluctant to register the births, and such children did not have access to social services.
The adult rape clinics in public hospitals in Harare and Mutare were run as NGOs and did not receive a substantial amount of financial support from the Ministry of Health. The clinics received referrals from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests, provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and provided medical services for pregnancy. Although police referred the majority of reported rapes of women and men who received services from the rape centers for prosecution, very few were prosecuted. Private clinics and clinics supported by NGOs and bilateral and multilateral development partners emerged in the past few years to provide medical assistance to survivors of rape. There were also NGOs that provided psychosocial support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Despite the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 2006 that criminalized acts of domestic violence, domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. Although conviction of domestic violence is punishable by a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter, and prosecution was rare.
Most cases of domestic violence went unreported due to traditional sensitivities, victims’ fear of abandonment without support, police reluctance to intervene, and the expectation that perpetrators would not be tried or convicted. There were newspaper reports of wife killings and a few other media reports of prosecutions and convictions for such crimes.
The joint government-NGO Anti-Domestic Violence Council as a whole was ineffective due to lack of funding and the unavailability of information on prevailing trends of domestic violence, although its members were active in raising domestic violence awareness.
The government continued a public awareness campaign against domestic violence. Several women’s rights groups worked with law enforcement agencies and provided training and literature on domestic violence as well as shelters and counseling for women. The high turnover rate within the police force demanded a continuous level of training that could not be met. While public awareness increased, other problems emerged. For example, the form required to report domestic violence was difficult to complete, and victims were often required to make their own photocopies due to police budgetary constraints. The law requires victims of any form of violence to produce a police report to receive treatment without cost at government health facilities. This requirement prevented many rape victims from receiving necessary medical treatment, including post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent victims from contracting HIV.
A local NGO, Musasa Project, which provides emergency shelter and related services for women and girls, handled a monthly average of 2,100 cases of violence. Musasa reported that 50 percent of their clients were girls under age 18.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing, although reportedly decreasing, continued to occur in some parts the country during the year.
Sexual Harassment: No specific law criminalizes sexual harassment, but labor law prohibits the practice in the workplace. Media reported that sexual harassment was prevalent in universities, workplaces, and parliament. The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development acknowledged that lack of sexual harassment policies at higher education institutions was a major cause for concern. This occurred after a student advocacy group, the Female Students Network, revealed incidents of gender-based violence and sexual harassment against students. Female college students reported they routinely encountered unwanted physical contact from male students, lecturers, and nonacademic staff, ranging from touching and inappropriate remarks to rape. Of the 3,425 students’ interviewed, 94 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment, while 16 percent reported having been forced into unprotected sex with lecturers or other staff. Some students also reported having been subjected to date rape in relationships with older men, mostly lecturers and other staff. At least 80 percent of tertiary education institutions did not have a sexual harassment policy to protect students. More than half of students said they would not report gender-based violence and sexual harassment because they feared retaliation, among other reasons.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to the 2015 DHS, the contraceptive prevalence rate was 66.5 percent. The DHS also reported that 22 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 19 had begun childbearing. Inadequate medical facilities, an advanced HIV/AIDS epidemic, and a shortage of well-trained health-care professionals contributed to the high maternal mortality rate of 651 deaths per 100,000 live births for the period 2008-15 (DHS estimate). The DHS demonstrated continued improvements in maternal health. The percentage of women who received antenatal care from a trained provider and had skilled birth attendance increased to 93 percent and 78 percent, respectively, up from 90 percent and 66 percent in the 2010-11 DHS report. While antenatal care attendance was almost the same between rural and urban areas, skilled birth attendance was much lower in rural areas, 71 percent compared with 93 percent in urban areas.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The constitution’s bill of rights, in the section on the rights of women, states that all “laws, customs, traditions, and practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this constitution are void to the extent of the infringement.” There is also an institutional framework to address women’s rights and gender equality through the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development and the Gender Commission--one of the independent commissions established under the constitution. Despite the appointment of commissioners in June 2015, the commission received only minimal funding from the government and lacked sufficient independence from the ministry. Despite laws aimed at enhancing women’s rights and countering certain discriminatory traditional practices, women remained disadvantaged in society. Economic dependency and prevailing social norms prevented rural women in particular from combating societal discrimination and from participating equally in the civic and economic life of the country.
The law recognizes a woman’s right to own property, but very few women owned property due to the customary practice of patriarchal inheritance. Less than 20 percent of female farmers were official landowners or named on government lease agreements. Divorce and maintenance laws were equitable, but many women lacked awareness of their rights. Onerous requirements to register for identification documents disadvantaged women, who often lacked the resources or time to fulfill all requirements. Without proper identification, many women were unable to access services or register to vote.
Women have the right to register their children’s births, although either the father or another male relative must be present. If the father or other male relative refuses to register the child, the child may be deprived of a birth certificate, which limits the child’s ability to acquire identify documents and enroll in school. Discrimination with respect to women’s employment also occurred.
Women and children were adversely affected by the government’s forced evictions, demolition of homes and businesses, and takeover of commercial farms. Widows, when forced to relocate to rural areas, were sometimes “inherited” into marriages with an in-law after the deaths of their spouses.
The government gave qualified women access to training in the armed forces and national service, where they occupied primarily administrative positions.
Women remained underrepresented in the media sector, and media coverage of gender and women’s issues was very limited. Objectification of women and perpetuation of gender stereotypes were common in the media.
The United Kingdom Department for International Development’s 2011 Gender and Social Exclusion Analysis Report indicated women experienced extensive economic discrimination, including in access to employment, credit, pay, and owning or managing businesses. The 2015 SADC Gender Barometer reported women constituted 54 percent of unskilled labor, while men made up 59 percent of the professional labor force. More than six of 10 women did not own a home or land.
Women also faced higher levels of food insecurity throughout the country, exacerbated by recent drought. Women accounted for 86 percent of farmers, and 59 percent of women engaged in communal farming, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.