Women, Religion and COVID 19 in Zimbabwe

On February 2-3 2013, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe’s Women’s Inter-denominational Fellowship gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre. It was a national conference to influence decisions that were to be made in the new constitution. The authority, zeal, power, and influence of the speakers could not be resisted by the congregants. The major theme was re-building and transforming Zimbabwe.

This quest to re-build and restore Zimbabwe was authenticated by the prophecy of Cindy Jacobs in Guatemala. Jacobs gave a prophecy of the restoration of Zimbabwe and that women will lead and the men will follow. As such, The EFZ ‘exploited’ the prophecy to emphasise that “mothers are the roots of the nation of Zimbabwe”. This is in tandem with the Shona ideology; ‘Musha mukadzi’ (a woman is the pillar and dignity of the home).

Therefore, every woman has a mandate to participate in nation-building. In spite of the noble agenda, one has to take a glimpse at the socio-economic and political situation in Zimbabwe. Marred by decades of political schisms, economic meltdown and social upheavals, the burdens that women carry have increased. They have the children at home when some of the men are out. Worse, widespread unemployment has paralyzed some men’s efforts to fend for their families.

The rise of single motherhood homes is a cause of concern. In the absence of support grants from the government and the weak legal systems to enforce maintenance of children from their father, the heavy toll falls on women and some end up engaging in commercial sex work. In the midst of such socio-economic and political turmoil and challenges, the natural disasters such as prolonged drought and Cyclone Idai have hard hit Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe: Women face discrimination in land ownership

While the nation goes through the difficult times, it is prudent to point out that women and children are the most affected in every crisis. Without basics during the lockdown, most women in hospitals too have no sanitary ware which is very basic. The rise of lawlessness by forces that take advantage of any crisis has had the effects of gender-based and sexual violence on girls and women.

The rise of the machete militia (Mashurugwi) and the political violence are examples of how women have suffered gender-based and sexual violence in Zimbabwe.

Covid 19 and gender based and sexual violence
There has been an increase of gender-based and sexual violence across the globe and Zimbabwe is not an exception. The rise of infidelity among couples is also a cause of concern and economic hardships have been fingered out among other reasons.

Cases of incest have also been reported.

It is within the context of Covid-19 that Zimbabwe has to brace for harder times ahead. With industries closed, inflation at an alarming rate and many struggling to access basic commodities, the church in Zimbabwe needs to be sober and stand for the truth.

The following are some recommendations that are important to safeguard the integrity and dignity of women, if they have to make meaningful contribution in the project of re-building Zimbabwe and most important, to lessen the burden on her.

Establish a culture of reaching out in times of crisis: Most churches have done well in teaching congregants to give, for example, on tithing and offerings and the churches in Zimbabwe are not poor.

However, most churches do not effectively reach out in times of crisis. Note, I am talking of “effectively”. There is reluctance to reach out financially. The lockdown period should have witnessed a lot of social activism to the needy, especially congregants, among them are orphans and widows because the church’s resources come from the congregants.

Balance the teachings: Teachings on the submission of women and headship of men are noble. However, there are gaps that I hold the church accountable and have often led to gender-based and sexual violence. The submission of a woman does not entail to rip her of her mental capabilities and to follow blindly without questioning the head. Also, the headship of men has responsibility and accountability. Most Women’s fellowships do not balance teachings of submission and headship.

At the end, it is women who go to Chipiri, China, Chishanu, Sabata but where are the men? Where do they get the teachings so that both complement each other? The church has something to learn from the indigenous culture; to encourage the ethos of reciprocity and partnership between men and women.

Over-burdening women with responsibilities result in negative situations in the families and homes, some men abdicating their responsibilities.

Tragic end to church outing - Zimbabwe Situation

Covid- 19 has been a litmus test for many families. While there have been positive outcomes such as cementing bond in families others have been ripped apart, especially where there has been lack of resources. The blame game often results in violence. It is against this background that the church is challenged to embark on dealing with masculinities and femininities that promote love, unity, partnership and more important the ethos of reciprocity. This will build a harmonious society that discourages gender-based and sexual violence.

The increased sexual abuse of old women in rural areas and girls during the lockdown has to be condemned on all fronts. Men should also participate in discouraging gender based violence because it is not women’s affair.

The silence of church leaders on condemning gender-based and sexual violence in Zimbabwe is a cause of concern. If 85 percent of the population in Zimbabwe is Christian, then there should be tangible evidence on the moral landscape to show that Zimbabwe is massively Christian. Most political leaders belong to specific Christian denominations. Therefore, in the spirit of justice and the mandate for leaders, gender-based and sexual violence must be addressed. The developments in Zimbabwe show that most church leaders and politicians have not yet put enough effort to deal with gender-based and sexual violence. While we press upon the female leaders to carry the burden and lead (because mothers are the roots of the nation!), we call men to come to the dialogue table, discuss challenges in Zimbabwe and map the way forward. Any meaningful solution on gender based and sexual violence does not entail that women shun men, like some of the Western feminists. An Afro-centric perspective does not envisage a woman’s world minus men. We call them to the dialogue table, discuss the problems and after, hold hands and journey together!

As a powerful voice in the nation, the church is urged to lead by example in terms of reaching out to the needy, be responsible and accountable and become a voice for justice and dealing with gender-based and sexual violence.

While women are mostly victims of gender-based and sexual violence, boys and men have also suffered violence and in most cases unnoticed or in silence because of cultural socialisations that deny men the space to accept abuse from women.

The abuse of boys and men has also increased during the current lockdown. It is my contention that no forms of violence can be justified and should not go unpunished by the arm of the law (even where improper dressing is cited because it encourages rapists), and if ever, it reflects moral degeneration.

The post Covid-19 era presents a great challenge to both the church and the state. To the state, the challenge of restoring the economy and promote socio-economic and political stability of the stagnant economy will also arrest the rising lawlessness and criminal activities, that often take a heavy toll on the health and well-being of girls and women. The church must lead and speak out against gender-based violence because her silence translates to complicity, hence, encourages violence from the teachings of unconditional submission.

It must shun and dismantle a theology that does not demand responsibility and accountability from all people, re-socialise men to shun oppressive and dangerous masculinities that result in different forms of violence and promote gender partnership.

Re-building and transforming Zimbabwe in post Covid-19 era, appears to be a daunting task that require women, in their capacity to engage with men in order to deal with gender-based and sexual violence that impede the full participation of women in leadership positions, both in religion and politics.

 

 

 

By Professor Kudzai Biri

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