By Tendai Makaripe
In Shamva’s Rutherdale farm, known as Pasco or PaChicheni, about 90 kilometers northeast of Harare, Zimbabwe, lives Tatenda*, a 21-year-old mother of three.
Her days are a poignant narrative of despair and endurance.
Despite her husband’s work as an illegal miner in the Shamva area, his earnings rarely benefit her or their children, trapping the family in ongoing poverty and neglect.
Their three children regularly face expulsion from Mushambanyama Primary School over unpaid fees, while Tatenda struggles to make ends meet.
She must provide food, clothing, and education for her children, as her husband, despite earning from gold deals, prioritizes alcohol over his family’s welfare.
“Ndinotorikicha muminda nemudzimba dzevanhu kuti ndiwane raramo yangu nevana, (“I do menial jobs to support the family,” said Tatenda, adding that without these, their situation would be even direr. “Hazvisi nyore kusaziva kuti nhasi vana vanoenda kuchikoro vadyei, vagodzoka vachidyei, apa une murume ane mbiri yekutengera vanhu doro kuWadzanai uko.
(“It’s hard not knowing where your children’s next meal will come from, especially when your husband spends his money on beer for others at Wadzanai Shopping Center.”)
Tatenda’s story is not from a grim African movie but reflects the harsh realities many Zimbabwean women face.
Beyond physical violence, many, like Tatenda, endure economic violence from their partners, leading to psychological distress, mental health crises, and continued subjugation of women.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia defines notes that: “Economic violence is said to occur when an individual denies his intimate partner access to financial resources, typically as a form of abuse or control or in order to isolate her or to impose other adverse consequences to her well-being”
Economist Benedict Marufu adds that economic violence against women appears differently around the world but often includes limiting women’s access to credit, funds, access to healthcare, employment, and education.
“This also includes excluding women from making financial decisions and leaving women out of traditional laws regarding property ownership and use of land,” he said.
It is a problem that not only undermines women like Tatenda’s financial autonomy but also augments their vulnerability to various forms of gender-based violence (GBV), further entrenching them in a quagmire of despair and destitution.
“Economic violence is rooted in gender inequality and reinforced by traditional, patriarchal gender norms which are dominant in rural and farming communities like Shamva,” said gender expert Joyce Svotwa.
“The patriarchal system historically side lines women from economic participation, making them financially reliant on male counterparts and thus more susceptible to GBV.”
Interviews conducted with small-scale miners popularly known as ‘Makorokoza’ operating around the Nyamucherera and David areas which are approximately 3.5 kilometers from Shamva gold mine shed light on some of the reasons why the miners economically abuse their spouses.
Gladmore Muzariri told 263Chat that the risky nature of their work makes the future uncertain, leading them to view spending money on their wives as imprudent, fearing others will benefit from their expenditure.
“My brother, what we do here is like gambling with death. You might see me today but not tomorrow. Once I go down there, anything can happen. I’m sure you’ve heard about mines collapsing, killing people in the process,” said Muzariri.
“Now imagine I give my wife $500 today and then the mine collapses or I get stabbed and killed by a colleague here. Do you think she’ll pass that money to my relatives or children? Women can’t be trusted; they might support their own family with my money while my children suffer,” he added.
Investigations by this publication reveal that many illegal miners in the area marry young girls, some as young as 14, explaining their mistrust in their wives regarding money.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics show that 4 percent of girls in Zimbabwe marry before age 18, a trend prevalent in mining communities like Shamva.
Small-scale miner, Tichaona Muzamindo, prefers entrusting money to his younger brother rather than his young wife.
“I informed her about the arrangement and its reasons. Although she’s uncomfortable with it, women can’t be trusted with substantial money. She might frivolously spend it when there are bigger plans for the money,” he said.
Further research showed that the economic abuse faced by Tatenda and other women in mining communities nationwide is linked to suspected infidelity issues.
Small-scale miners revealed that their work often requires them to be away from home for extended periods, sometimes up to a month.
“When I return home and my wife denies me intimacy, I suspect she has been unfaithful in my absence, making her undeserving of my earnings,” said 23-year-old miner Obert Makuvaza.
“Sometimes women take money from our pockets as we sleep, leading to physical confrontations when discovered,” he added.
The financial exclusion of women, especially among illegal miners, not only economically disempowers them, preventing them from meeting their and their children’s basic needs, but also exposes them to other forms of gender-based violence like physical and sexual assault.
The UNFPA notes that in Zimbabwe, about one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence, and one in four have faced sexual violence since turning 15.
Women’s rights advocate Daphne Jena highlights the link between financial marginalization and increased physical and emotional abuse.
She notes that the loss of economic autonomy makes it extremely difficult for women to leave abusive situations.
“Beyond immediate deprivation and abuse, the economic violence against women in the Shamva mining community perpetuates gender inequality,” she said.
“It limits women’s access to education, healthcare, and empowerment opportunities, further entrenching them in vulnerability and subjugation.”
Gender and rural livelihoods expert Owen Mafongoya noted that women’s limited knowledge and education hinder their access to legal help and ability to claim their rights amidst gender-based violence. “The vulnerability of women and girls intensifies with their exclusion from mine ownership and representation in associations, and the lack of gender-balanced participation in decision-making bodies,” he said.
This marginalization deeply affects children as well, extending beyond immediate financial hardships.”
Social worker Lisa Samupita William noted that the specter of economic violence often drives children to leave school early for illegal mining, as their fathers fail to cover their fees.
“In an environment where economic violence is normalized, these youngsters inadvertently learn to mirror their fathers’ oppressive behaviors,” William said.
This perpetuation of intergenerational economic violence and gender oppression deepens societal inequities and hampers sustainable community development and gender equality efforts, impacting society at large and shaping the future for upcoming generations.
These impacts hinder the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5, centered on achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.
To aid Tatenda and others, experts emphasize the need for not only strict enforcement of existing women’s rights laws but also strengthening these legal protections.
“Revamping marital and property laws to ensure women’s equal rights, along with establishing harsh penalties for economic violence, will show the government’s firm commitment to protecting women’s financial well-being,” said lawyer Fungai Chiwashira.
The government, via the Ministry of Women Affairs, should lead broad campaigns to increase societal awareness about the dangers of economic violence and the critical importance of women’s financial independence.
“By changing deep-seated societal norms and beliefs that sustain women’s economic oppression, these educational efforts can herald a time of improved financial equality and security for women,” said academic and social commentator Lazarus Sauti.
A director in the Women Affairs Ministry noted that the government is working on robust Economic Empowerment Programs.
“These initiatives include skill enhancement training, entrepreneurship development, and better access to credit facilities. The goal is clear: empower women to create and maintain their own businesses, ensuring their financial independence,” he said.
It is essential for the Zimbabwean government and global and community stakeholders to actively pursue initiatives that enhance women’s financial independence, revise patriarchal laws and societal norms, and highlight paths to empowerment and equality.