Code red for justice

“Instead of sitting at home and waiting for flowers on Valentine’s, women have chosen to rise and make demands: making clear that the gift women want is dignity, bodily autonomy, and justice. The flowers can wait,” said Talent Jumo, National Coordinator of the Katswe Sistahood.

February 17th, 2014

“Instead of sitting at home and waiting for flowers on Valentine’s, women have chosen to rise and make demands: making clear that the gift women want is dignity, bodily autonomy, and justice. The flowers can wait,” said Talent Jumo, National Coordinator of the Katswe Sistahood.

And rise up they did – with hundreds of women taking to the streets under the umbrella of on 14 February for the Code Red Protest March demanding that the justice system protect the rights of women and deliver justice for victims of sexual violence, such as rape.

The Zimbabwe justice system has been under the spotlight again recently during the trial of 51-year-old pastor, Martin Robert Gumbura, who was eventually convicted last month on 4 out of the 7 rape charges against him – and sentenced to 50 years in prison, 10 of which were suspended.

The testimonies given in court revealed that Gumbura bragged about being married to 11 wives and also awarded himself several ‘concubines’. He had transformed his home and place of worship into a sexual palace, turning women into sexual objects for his orgies and pornographic recordings.

It was alleged that girls as young as 14 as well as other women from the church seeking support had fallen prey to the pastor. Whoever defied his orders to sleep with him was threatened with misfortunes and death. In recorded sermons, Gumbura talked about placing them into the hands of the devil – and that ‘all the women and girls in the church were his’.

Jessie Majome, a lawyer and Member of Parliament, welcomed Gumbura’s conviction but asserted that the convicted rapist should have been given a life sentence ‘because of the very dark extent of the exploitation of human beings, slavery and bondage using that kind of authority’. She also wondered why the court did not give equal sentences for all 4 counts – since 2 cases resulted in 20 year sentences, while the other 2 apparently only merited 10 year sentences – because “there is no better rape, rape is just rape.”

Katswe Sistahood and the women of Zimbabwe in general are disgruntled and are of the opinion that the 40 year sentence was lenient. Gumbura is appealing his judgment in the High Court and the women are advocating that this not be granted. If anything, they believe the High Court should review his sentences and increase them. They argue that Gumbura was convicted on multiple cases, not just one. He was also a pastor, held in high esteem by his congregation, whose trust he betrayed. The higher sentence would also act as deterrent to would be rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence.

There is a lot of sexual abuse of women in churches with leaders taking advantage of the desperation of women coming to them for assistance. Recently, there has been a sharp increase in the number of church leaders (mostly men) who claim to be prophets sent by God and who are capable of performing all kinds of ‘miracles’ – including money miracles, baby miracles and penis miracle. Many claim to be able to cure infertility by having sexual intercourse with their ‘patients’.

Other religious sects and cults such as the Johane Marange African Apostolic Church condone child and forced marriages under the pretence that the Holy Spirit shows them whom to marry in the congregation. The women cannot refuse – irrespective of their age. It is encouraging that the UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda report identifies an ‘end to child marriage’ as one of the measures of how a country scores in relation to a proposed goal on the ‘empowerment of girls and women and achieving gender equality’. And it should be because child marriage is Rape – no IFs, BUTs or MAYBEs.

The Code Red Protest March on Valentine’s Day was intended to highlight how the justice and law enforcement systems have let women down in so many ways. And how the situation is getting worse since corruption and insufficient resources, due partly to the effects of the ailing economy, have continued to fuel impunity for rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence.

There are many victims of rape who do not report due to fear of victimization. The police rape sex workers and women arrested for loitering instead of protecting them. The judicial system is not sensitive to issues of sexual violence and survivors often feel violated again in police stations and courts as they recount their ordeals.

This protest was one step towards a better future for Zimbabwe’s women – an effort to send a clear, public message to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence that the women’s movement in Zimbabwe cares for them, and is willing to stand with them and support them in their quest for justice. Faced by alarmingly – and utterly unacceptably – high levels of rape, it is time for Zimbabwe’s justice system to treat cases of sexual violence with the severity they deserve. And that the women of Zimbabwe deserve.

Contacts

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