By Paidashe Mandivengerei
INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed writer, Tsitsi Dangarembga has blamed the perpetuation of sexual abuse on the country’s patriarchal system.
Through her writings, the novelist has highlighted the plight of Zimbabwean women whose rights she has been advocating.
Her famous work, the novel trilogy; Nervous Conditions (1988), The Book of Not (2006), This Mournable Body (2018) brings to the fore the struggles faced by women in Zimbabwe through her femme protagonist, Tambu.
Speaking in an interview with Sudanese-British journalist, Zeinab Badawi on BBC’s HARDtalk Monday, Dangarembga said sexual abuse was rampant in Zimbabwe because of the patriarchal mindset of those in positions of power.
“Sexual abuse persists because of patriarchy, the authorities are patriarchal, they are the old men who went out over half or nearly a century ago to fight the war and came back triumphant and they feel they have the right to all the joys and benefits of being triumphant men and that always includes the right to women’s bodies.”
A Transparency Zimbabwe International survey conducted in 2020 noted a disturbing trend of sexual extortion where those in power use it to sexually exploit those dependent on that power.
In Zimbabwe, 57.5% reported having been coerced into giving sexual favours as a form of bribe to access basic services.
These cases often go unreported because of the nature of justice system which is male dominated.
“So, we cannot look to those kind of leaders to change the society, we have to look to the women themselves.
“One of the problems is that because traditional society had also become very conservative and very patriarchal, we have two sources of patriarchy reinforcing each other.
“Many of women in positions of influence are also patriarchal and so it becomes very difficult, women who fight against patriarchy in Zimbabwe have very little room to manoeuvre because the society is controlled by patriarchal men and women,” she said.
Dangarembga added that the values of societies have since been eroded as everything has become ‘transactional’ with girls as young as 12 years of age offering sex in exchange for a small bundle of vegetables just to feed their struggling families.
“We are living at the very edge of survival. It is like the proverbial drowning person clutching at a straw, anything that is available to us to improve the quality of our lives is something we are willing to give something for.
“We have been through lockdown which means that young people have not been at school which means there have been young girls on the streets just trying to help their families to survive and engaging in transactional sex as early as 12 years,” she said.