Zimbabwe: Violence Keeps Zim Women Out of Politics

Esteri Mukaro is still haunted by the torture she suffered at the hands of Zanu PF youths during the run-up to the infamous June 27, 2008 presidential election run-off.

Mukaro, along with her brother and other villagers, were hauled from a funeral wake in their village in Chivhu and had to endure several hours of torture at a Zanu PF base for supporting the opposition MDC-T.

The young activist, along with Susan Konjiwa and her brother, were force-marched from her sister-in-law's funeral by known Zanu PF supporters.

Their crime, according to Mukaro, was "selling-out because we were MDC-T supporters".

She recounted how the three of them were tied to an ox-driven cart before they were dragged around Chivhu-ward 9.

"We were then taken to the dip tank and severely beaten," Mukaro recalled.

"After the beatings, I could not sit or walk. My buttocks and feet were swollen. I was beaten mercilessly."

Sadly, the environment at the time made it impossible for them to seek any help, even from the police.

They slowly recovered at home, without any medical assistance.

"We could not even report to the police, that time it was scary, you would end up being killed if you tried to react," Mukaro said.

It was during the infamous "VaMugabe muoffice" period as Zimbabwe was set for an election re-run after the March 2008 elections were inconclusive.

The main contestants were the late former president Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF and the late Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T.

Tens of opposition supporters were killed and hundreds were forced to flee their homes as Zanu PF supporters went on the rampage.

For Mukaro, the torture killed her interest in politics.

"Never again shall I participate at this dangerous game," she said.

Twelve years later, Mukaro and her companions are yet to get relief for their ordeal at the hands of Mugabe's supporters on the fateful June 2008 day.

"It is painful whenever we recall what happened to us," she said.

"What is even more painful is that we are not getting any support from the party we suffered for.

"During elections they engage us to mobilise for the party, they know us very well, but they ignore us when it comes to benefits," Mukaro said, perhaps speaking for thousands of other women in Zimbabwe.

A Human Rights Watch World Report on Zimbabwe last year noted that despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa repeatedly voicing his commitment to human rights reforms, his goverment remained highly intolerant of basic rights, peaceful dissent, and free expression in 2019.

The Women's Charter of 2000 calls for access to counselling and rehabilitation of women, who suffer abuse and sexual harassment.

A new assessment from the International Foundation for Electoral Studies (IFES) found that despite gains driven by the country's gender quota, Zimbabwean women in politics continued to face numerous barriers.

IFES' review of violence against women in elections (VAWIE) in Zimbabwe concluded that "female candidates are at the forefront of VAWIE and face intense psychosocial violence", as well as "attacks on their moral probity, and occasional physical violence".

However, Abigail Sauti, a victim of politically motivated brutality by security forces, said what they went through as they were assaulted at a funeral meeting at the party office in Chinhoyi recently could not deter them from focusing on their goal to see equal opportunities on the political front.

"We don't want protection as such, but what we are fighting for is a level playing field; a level playing field where women and men are treated equally," Sauti said.

"Women are change-makers; a level playing field where political parties are treated equally without favour.

"No political party should get preference over another."

Sauti was taken together with 11 other MDC-T party members and assaulted.

"Women often suffer more politically motivated human rights abuses including rape and sexual abuse, which is used as a form of 'punishment' for their political views or sometimes simply because their husbands or other male family members are political activists," said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

Mavhinga said the trauma, stigma and shame associated with sexual violence against women often makes it difficult for them to come forward and report because of fear of rejection by their husbands, families or society.

"Women face additional barriers in seeking remedies and justice for the abuses they would have suffered," he said.

"Zimbabwe authorities should establish a victim-friendly judicial system for female victims of political violence, including having female officers receive complaints from women.

"There have been cases where women have reported sexual abuse, but the police have not believed them and instead accused victims of lying about violence committed against them."

Despite many organisations assisting women with surviving from violence, many women in Zimbabwe still fail to get help owing to a number of reasons; few however, manage to go through their ordeals.

Research has also prove that many women, who suffer from political violence quit politics soon after their experiences for fear of further violence.

The constitution of Zimbabwe affirms the state's commitment to human rights, within, which women's rights are embedded.

It has provisions that guarantee equality and non-discrimination against women, based on the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women,which Zimbabwe has ratified.

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