Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: While the law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, these crimes remained widespread. Almost a quarter of married women who had experienced domestic violence reported sexual violence, while approximately 8 percent reported both physical and sexual violence. Women were sexually assaulted while seeking treatment in public hospitals, collecting water from communal boreholes and riding in public transportation. The incidence of gender-based violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. An NGO reported an increase from 500-600 cases of gender-based violence per month before the COVID-19 pandemic to 700-800 cases per month during the pandemic. Statistics on gender-based violence were not openly shared by law enforcement agencies or the Ministry of Justice, and it was difficult to access data on gender-based violence from these sources.
NGOs reported that government transport restrictions on commuter-only buses and informal taxis increased the incidence of rape and harassment against women by pushing commuters toward illegal and thus more dangerous means of transportation.
Although sexual offenses are punishable by lengthy prison sentences, women’s organizations stated that convictions were rare and sentences were inconsistent. Rape survivors were not consistently afforded protection in court. In April a police officer sexually assaulted a female opposition member in Harare. In May a police officer in Karoi sexually assaulted a woman reporting gender-based violence. Female political leaders and human rights activists were targeted physically and through threats and intimidation via social media; at least one fled the country due to such threats. Social stigma and societal perceptions that rape was a “fact of life” continued to inhibit reporting of rape. Women were less likely to report spousal rape, due to fear of losing economic support or of reprisal, lack of awareness that spousal rape is a crime, police reluctance to engage with domestic disputes, and bureaucratic hurdles. Many rural citizens reported being unfamiliar with laws against domestic violence and sexual offenses. A lack of adequate and widespread services for rape victims also discouraged reporting.
Children born from rape suffered stigma and marginalization. The mothers who gave birth after rape were sometimes reluctant to register the births, and therefore such children did not have access to social services or national identification cards. The adult rape clinics in public hospitals in Harare and Mutare were run by NGOs and did not receive significant financial support from the Ministry of Health. The clinics received referrals from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests and provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although police referred most reported rapes of women and men who received services from the rape centers for prosecution, very few individuals were ultimately prosecuted.
Despite the law, domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. This issue was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and frequent government-mandated lockdowns. Although domestic violence is punishable by a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter and rarely prosecuted.
Members of the joint government-NGO Anti-Domestic Violence Council actively raised domestic violence awareness, although NGOs reported the council was not involved in much of their programmatic work.
Government-controlled media implemented various initiatives to combat gender-based violence through radio programming and a national hotline. Several women’s rights groups also worked with law enforcement agencies and provided training and literature on domestic violence as well as shelters and counseling for women. NGOs reported most urban police stations had trained officers to deal with domestic violence survivors but lacked capacity to respond on evenings and weekends. The law requires victims of any form of violence to produce a police report to receive free treatment at government health facilities. This requirement prevented many rape survivors from receiving necessary medical treatment, including postexposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV. The sparse trauma counseling resources for persons who suffered sexual violence were provided almost exclusively by NGOs.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no national statistics available regarding FGM/C, but the practice of labial elongation reportedly occurred.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing, although reportedly decreasing, continued to occur in some regions. Also widows, when forced to relocate to rural areas, were sometimes married off to an in-law.
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, where legislators routinely and publicly body shamed, name called, and booed female members of parliament. The Ministry of Women Affairs acknowledged the lack of sexual harassment policies at higher education institutions was a major cause for concern. This acknowledgement came after a student advocacy group, the Female Students Network Trust, revealed incidents of gender-based violence and sexual harassment of students in a 2017 survey. 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 students interviewed, 94 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment in general, 74 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment by male university staff, and 16 percent reported they were raped by lecturers or other staff.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Adolescents, rural residents, LGBTQI+ persons, and survivors of gender-based violence lacked consistent access to reproductive health services. The contraceptive prevalence rate for women ages 15-49 years of age seeking contraception was 67 percent. Barriers affecting access to contraception included supply chain and commodity issues, limited access to health facilities in remote areas, religious skepticism of modern medicine among some groups, and ambiguity on the age of access to contraception. Access to contraception became more difficult due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. Security forces turned back many women traveling to clinics without clearance letters. Many women avoided travel altogether due to of fear of contagion or the consequences of breaking travel restrictions.
Emergency contraceptives were not readily available in the public sector. Women could purchase emergency contraceptives at private pharmacies or obtain them from NGOs, but the cost was prohibitive and availability limited. The law, the policy on sexual abuse and violence, and the creation of one-stop centers for survivors of gender-based violence were designed to provide survivors access to sexual and reproductive health services. Access was constrained by limited state funding to NGOs operating adult rape clinics in Harare and Mutare and limited police capacity to provide victims with the police report needed to access treatment at government health facilities.
The 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey estimated maternal mortality at 462 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 651 deaths per 100,000 live births in the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey. Nonetheless, the rate was high despite high prenatal care coverage (93 percent), high institutional deliveries (86 percent), and the presence of a skilled health worker at delivery (86 percent). Although these rates of maternal mortality were partly explained by the high prevalence of HIV, maternal and neonatal quality of care were areas of concern.
Ministry of Health guidelines provide for post abortion care to rape survivors, including both medical and psychosocial support. These services were not uniform across facilities and not routinely available. Psychosocial support services for women who experienced abortion were largely unavailable.
Few families could afford menstrual hygiene products. Some girls failed to attend school when menstruating, while others used unhygienic rags, leading to illness and infections associated with reproductive health.
Discrimination: The constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, stating 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 an institutional framework to address women’s rights and gender equality through the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Gender Commission, one of the independent commissions established under the constitution. The commission received minimal support from the government and lacked sufficient independence from the ministry. The law recognizes a woman’s right to own property, but very few women owned property due to the customary practice of patriarchal inheritance. Fewer than 20 percent of female farmers were official landowners or named on government lease agreements. Divorce and alimony laws were equitable, but many women lacked awareness of their rights. In traditional practice, property reverts to the man in case of divorce or to his family in case of his death. When women are not listed on lease agreements, they cannot benefit from most government programs that provide agricultural inputs as a form of economic assistance.
The 2020 Marriage Act affords civil partnerships or common law marriages the same remedies as legal marriages but recognizes only heterosexual civil unions or common law marriages. The new law does not address property rights during marriage or inheritance following the death of a spouse.
Women receive fewer loans and other forms of financial support, even in informal economic sectors where they outnumber men, such as in micro and small-scale enterprises and agricultural production. This disparity was partly explained by deficiencies in access to loan collateral and documented years of business experience. The Ministry of Women Affairs accelerated loan access for women by encouraging financial institutions to set quotas for women, encouraging conventional banks to support women entrepreneurs, expanding financial services available to women entrepreneurs, and providing pre- and postcredit counselling for female loan recipients.
Young girls and women increasingly relied on traditional healers and midwives to address health issues due to the difficulty of accessing doctors during COVID-19 lockdowns. This increased severe health complications. Additionally, an NGO reported women sleeping on the floor in some maternity wards due to overcrowding.