Putting justice within reach of rural women

After her wedding in 2003, Charity Sigogo and her new husband spent the first five years of their marriage as a happy couple. Things changed in 2008, when Sigogo’s husband was laid off by the clothing company where he was employed as a messenger.

“When he was still employed, my husband used to be a caring and understanding person,” she said. “I only came to know his true colours when he lost his job. When I tried to look after the family by buying goods from

Botswana to re-sell, he became jealous and started accusing me of being promiscuous. He would assault me with whips and his fists all over my body in the presence of our two children.”

Sigogo said the assaults became the routine whenever she went out to sell her wares in town, until one day a female police officer at Tshabalala Police Station referred her to the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association (ZWLA) for a protection order.

ZWLA is an association of women lawyers committed to ensuring that women and children who cannot afford legal services can still get justice. A spokesperson said the organisation was overwhelmed with cases of domestic abuse at its Bulawayo and Harare offices.

“On average, we attend to 30 such cases involving women every day. Due to scarce resources we mainly focus on matrimonial, inheritance, maintenance and domestic violence cases,” said Sethulo Ncube, ZWLA coordinator for the southern region.

“We also assist children with legal representation. Our main thrust is to ensure that women get access to justice, because certain cultural, social and historical practices disadvantage and discriminate against them.”

ZWLA holds regular mobile legal aid clinics in rural and urban areas, and the clinics often file court papers on behalf of the women.

Ncube said most women in the rural areas were unaware of their legal rights.

“These women are reduced to destitution when their husbands die, as relatives grab everything, taking advantage of the women’s ignorance about provisions of inheritance laws.

“Since 65 per cent of Zimbabwean women live in rural areas, ZWLA helps whenever they have abuse cases heard before traditional chiefs’ courts. This is done through training respective bodies and sitting at these courts as advisors.”

Ncube said, in some instances, the organisation identified strategic litigation cases among reported cases. This approach, she said, made it possible to engage in high impact litigation cases whose results could change the condition of communities of women as opposed to welfare litigation that targeted individuals.

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