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Key findings
  • Zimbabweans see gender-based violence (GBV) as the most important women’s- rights issue that the government and society must address.
  • More than half (52%) of citizens say violence against women and girls is a “somewhat common” (35%) or “very common” (17%) occurrence in their community.
  • Close to eight in 10 Zimbabweans (78%) say it is “never” justified for a man to physically discipline his wife.
  • Almost half (45%) of respondents consider it “somewhat likely” (27%) or “very likely” (18%) that a woman will be criticised, harassed, or shamed if she reports GBV to the authorities.
  • Six in 10 Zimbabweans (61%) say domestic violence should be treated as a criminal matter, while 37% see it as a private matter to be resolved within the family.

High-profile charges of gender-based violence have rocked Zimbabwe in recent years. In 2019, then-Vice President Kembo Mohadi was accused of beating his ex-wife and threatening her with an axe (Pindula, 2019; New Zimbabwe, 2019). Earlier this year, prominent urban groove Stunner was arrested and charged with hitting and kicking his wife and pulling out her artificial fingernails, though he was later acquitted (Kapoor, 2022; Katanda, 2022; Ndoro, 2022).

Gender-based violence (GBV) affects one in every three women globally (World Bank, 2019; Moses, 2020). I n Zimbabwe, 40% of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, including 19% who suffered such violence during the previous 12 months (Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency & UNICEF, 2019). Reports suggest that GBV intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps because isolation made it harder for victims to escape abuse and access support (ZimFact, 2021).

Zimbabwe’s weapons to fight GBV range from the Constitution and criminal codes to the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s (2022) specialised “victim friendly units” and the Zimbabwe Gender Commission. The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development also works with civil society, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, 2022), and other UN agencies to increase the availability and utilisation of GBV services and to reduce public tolerance for GBV (International Federation of the Red Cross, 2017; UN Women, 2021).

Nonetheless, GBV remains both prevalent and vastly under-reported, as many survivors decide to suffer in silence rather than risk stigmatisation or an unresponsive legal system (Ahrens, 2006; Spotlight Initiative, 2021; UNICEF, 2021).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender- based violence.

In Zimbabwe, most citizens say physical force is never justified to discipline women, but they report that GBV is a common occurrence and constitutes the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and the society must address. Most consider GBV a criminal matter and believe that the police take GBV cases seriously, but almost half also say it’s likely that a woman who reports GBV will be criticised, harassed, or shamed.

Simangele Moyo-Nyede

Simangele is a research officer Mass Public Opinion Institute