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Ruramai's story - International Human Rights Day 2012
December 10, 2012
married young, at 15. The age of sexual consent in Zimbabwe is 16.
When she got
married, her now late husband, Simbarashe, was a self-employed cross-border
trader who spent most of his time travelling to faraway places such
as Dar-es-Salam, Lusaka, Gaborone and Johannesburg to buy clothing
for resale back home. This is a common pastime for many in Zimbabwe,
a country with an employment rate estimated at over 90 percent.
Zakaria, is a polygamist with six wives and 29 children. Ruramai's
mother is 'wife number two', and she has five daughters. Zakaria
is old and unemployed, feeding his large family through subsistence
life has been one of being at the receiving end of violence against
Like many large
families in remote areas of rural Zimbabwe, it is not uncommon to
decide not to educate the girl child. Ruramai's situation is not
an exception: she received only 3 years of primary school education
before she joined the long line of her sisters and half-sisters
as the main providers of labour on Zakaria's farm.
Denial of an
education was Ruramai's first real taste of gender-based abuse,
and by having her labour exploited as a child on her father's farm,
she was further subjected to another form of abuse; namely, child
labour. To cap all this, she was married off to Simbarashe at the
tender age of 15. This was, undeniably, an act of abuse against
her by both her father and Simbarashe.
In some cases
the act of marriage is expected to be a blessing, but in the case
of Ruramai the act failed to break the cycle of abuse. Although
her husband loved and respected her, he was almost always away from
home and so she assumed all the responsibilities of running a home
at a very tender age, assuming the roles of both mother and father
to her children.
The errand nature
of her husband's occupation meant Ruramai did not fully enjoy connubial
rights as did other young married women. Although she understood
that her husband was justified in spending a lot of time away from
home in order to earn a living for the family, it pained her, and
it can be argued too that this fact constituted a further denial
of her rights as a woman.
Simbarashe arrived home from a long trip to Dar-es-Salam and he
looked weak and sick. He told his wife that he had fallen sick while
in Dar-es-Salam and had visited a doctor there who had advised him
to take an HIV test, which he had done. The result had been positive,
meaning that Simbarashe carried the HIV virus that causes the deadly
For the first
time Simbarashe disclosed to Ruramai that he had been seeing two
women: one in Gaborone and the other in Dar-es-Salam. He told her
that he had a sickly daughter with the woman in Gaborone, and that
the woman in Dar-es-Salam had suffered two miscarriages and she
had been sick for a long time.
devastated by the disclosure, and she cried all night. She visited
the clinic the following morning, where she took an HIV test which
confirmed that she too had the virus. By now Ruramai had two daughters:
the youngest was 6 and in her first year at school.
nor Ruramai were put on anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs immediately.
The clinic advised them that they would be put on ARVs only after
their CD4 count had fallen to below a certain figure. They were
therefore advised to visit the clinic regularly for checkups.
with his trips, but as he grew weaker and his health deteriorated
his trips had became less frequent and, consequently, profits gradually
plummeted. He was eventually put on drugs after his CD4 count had
fallen to below the figure 350, but he did not respond well to the
medication and he eventually died.
As per tradition,
Simbarashe's property was shared among his close relatives. Ruramai
had been the most highly prized piece of 'property' that Simbarashe
had left behind, and so she was 'given' to his younger brother,
Robson. Robson, who was unmarried and had just secured a job in
Masvingo town as a clerk, had also taken over Simbarashe's surviving
children as his own, and had immediately relocated to Ruramai's
homestead to share the bedroom with her.
fact that Simbarashe exhibited all signs of HIV and AIDS during
his long illness, and despite the fact that Ruramai was HIV positive
herself, Robson, in his wisdom (or lack of it) found it difficult
to act against tradition. Ruramai, as was expected, had also been
powerless to decide on her future because she was part of the deceased's
property, and her fate had to be determined by the late Simbarashe's
nephew, the executor of his late uncle's estate. She had to prepare
herself to endure yet another round of abuse. But why, she must
have asked herself? The answer is simply because she is a woman.
Within a year
of Robson having moved in with Ruramai, the two were blessed with
a son and Robson named him Simbarashe, perhaps as an act of gratitude
for having been left a woman by his relative. Ruramai had now started
taking ARV medication and, on the advice of the doctors, she had
not breast-fed Simbarashe Junior. Luckily for her, she responded
well to the medication and all the signs her sickness vanished.
Hardly a year
after the birth of Simbabrashe Junior, Robson was taken ill, and
his condition fast deteriorated. Within a couple of months he had
wasted away so much he could hardly walk without the support of
Ruramai. He was admitted to Masvingo Provincial Hospital where he
tested HIV-positive and was immediately placed on drugs. But it
was too late, he succumbed to the dreadful disease and died within
widowed once again and, as before, she awaited the executor's next
Two years passed
by after Robson's death, and nothing had happened. Ruramai met and
fell in love with a widower who lived in the city. They were both
HIV-positive. They dated secretly until one day they bumped into
a villager who knew Ruramai well.
were alerted to the relationship and life immediately changed for
Ruramai once again. They called for a family meeting at which they
accused Ruramai of having brought a curse into the family by having
a love affair before the family had conducted the 'kurova guva'
(literally translated 'beating the grave') ceremony, an important
traditional ritual that is carried out at least a year after the
death of a man or woman who has left behind offspring. The purpose
of the ceremony is to bring the spirit of the deceased back into
his home to protect his offspring.
The family meeting
led to the members taking drastic measures against Ruramai for having
defiled their home. An emissary was sent to meet Ruramai's family
to demand back part of the dowry that had been paid to them by Simbarashe
when he had married Ruramai. The emissary also demanded that Ruramai's
family take her back, since by her disobedience she had effectively
forfeited her right to remain in her matrimonial home.
was sent to meet Ruramai's lover to claim six herd of cattle as
compensation for dating a married woman.
is not an isolated one. Thousands of women in Zimbabwe go through
similar experiences, if not worse. In my view, these acts are all
forms of abuse against women, the psychological impacts and long
term life consequences equally as devastating as the physical form
of violence that tends to attract more attention from the government
and non-governmental organizations.
As we arrive
today at the conclusion of the '16 Days of Activism Against Gender
Violence Campaign', coinciding with International Human Rights Day,
it is time to redefine our understanding of gender-based violence
with the view to bringing to the front cases such as Ruramai's,
and to mobilise communities to fight this gross violation of the
rights of women.
those in her circumstances deserve our help!
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