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The voice of the forgotten rural women

by Kudakwashe Chakabva, Executive Director Zimbabwe Dream Project
13 Mar 2017 at 11:12hrs | Views
A few days ago the world celebrated the International Women's Day. It was a day observed in different fashions from fine speeches, pomp gatherings and of course highly celebrated on social media. But as all this happened it was just like any other day for mai Chitsungo in Mbire. Her story echoing that of mbuya Smoko in Yomba and resonating with Ndaizivei's story in Bvochora tell a sad story. She is Zimbabwe's rural woman. So entrenched and ravaged by patriarchy yet living so far away from the speeches and not even aware of the celebrations.

Her hands calloused by the hard labour that forms the main part of her miserable life. She wakes up before the sun rises prepares her seven children for school and sets off for work in the fields in Mbire's barren lands. She does some of the dirtiest and hardest jobs just to put food on the table for herself and her children. She is the first wife to a husband who works at a Chinese mine but has since abandoned her and the children for a second then third wife. Here and there he visits her and takes the little money she has. She had her own dreams but they are all shuttered now.

She is a hero whose valour is concealed by geography and patriarchy. The beginning of her struggle starts when she is born in a world already dominated by men. She enters a world where she is taught to be dependent, submissive, hard working and enduring her world is all anchored on men's benevolence. She is treated as a second class citizen who is owned and needs men to think for her, she has no rights to challenge the men even if it is her brother years younger than her. All her childhood she is groomed to be a good wife ought to be docile, soft and understanding even in the face of aggression. She grew up to see fellow women stand in solidarity with patriarchy as attributes of a good wife she painfully remembers how her mother in law pushed her husband into polygamy.

She is owned property sub-human as if she was livestock not capable of reasoning, she has no say in the choice of her marriage despite it being all she has to live for. She was married off early regardless of her physically and psychologically readiness. In her life she has witnessed girls used to settle inter family disputes, appease a dead spirits and she has witnessed a girl child doing grade seven impregnated by her teacher and in order to avoid an arrest the teacher convinces his wife that if he goes to prison their marriage collapses and the docile wife goes to pacify the girl's mother with an offer of a herd 10 cattle. So strong is the oppression that she can't even enjoy her own sexual and reproductive health rights and in the end she is left vulnerable to STIs and HIV AIDS.

It is the remiss of irony that although she was raised being told to be good and subservient to her husband who shall be her provider all her marriage life she has been working hard to provide for herself and the children. Each day she comes face to face with the reality of a double standard system that taught her to focus on the kitchen yet hard labour would be all her life. She has stood firm circumstances tempting her to be immoral to fend for her children. She has heard and saw women engage in prostitution to fend for families but she has remained firm, her hands now calloused by the day to day hard labour.

She is part of that twofold and commune economy inherited at independence that has maintained a developed fast urban economy versus a marginalised rural poor. The poverty in her community perpetrates gender inequality by making sure opportunities are dominated by a few men. Although more women are involved in informal businesses they are mainly small scale enterprises usually vegetables vending and second hand flea marketing at the growth point. She wanted land during the land reform but being married only her husband secured a piece of land. She has nothing to offer as collateral so no one is willing to give her capital to start or invest in her vending or anything bigger. Without access to the means of production as well the limited access to paid formal employment has rendered her even more dependent and again she has to be both loyal and submissive to her husband.

Battered by poverty she also has to endure the violence of her husband. She is beaten for the smallest things an argument can bring. She has embraced the torture  as part of her life and her community tells her its normal for a men to beat up his wife and she is made to believe she must stay endure the torture for her children. At one point she reported the assault to the police but withdrew the charges herself. She is tortured beyond imagination but the soft manner she was brought up dictates that she must pardon the perpetrator.

She speaks of her aunt, sister, nice who joined the armed liberation struggle, the brave acts her mother took to support the war supplying the freedom fighters with both food and intelligence. To her and to them they were only doing their duty but despite all this the patriarchal structure post 1980 remained hostile to women's participation in politics and decision making. The mention of the word politics reminds her of heinous acts of political violence that creates a chilling effect in her. Even if the Member of Parliament is a woman she is a distance opulent person who just like the men are detached from her plight.

Her struggle like crossing a river, the water can get so cold, the river bottom so uneven and under a strong current. She must keep striding forward even when the banks never gets any closer and the river becoming deeper and deeper with every single stride she must keep going even as the water gets deeper and deeper.

Source - Kudakwashe Chakabva, Executive Director Zimbabwe Dream Project