The issue of land has dominated discourses, as well as practices of development in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
By Lazarus Sauti
The primary goal of land reform in Zimbabwe, for instance, has been and is still to redistribute land to black people without discrimination on the basis of gender, race and class.
However, women are still mistreated when it comes to access to land for residential, commercial and/or agricultural use.
In fact, they are vulnerable to abuse and sexual extortion.
Gamuchirai Chido Chiwere (36) from Chikomba District in Mashonaland East Province said she was forced by community leaders in her area to trade her precious body for a piece of land.
“Community leaders in my district demanded sex in exchange of a piece of land,” she told 263Chat.com.
What a shame?
Governance analyst, Farai Mutondoro, concurs that women in rural, urban and peri-urban areas in Zimbabwe are ‘sexploited’ for land by local authorities and land officers.
The Huairou Commission, a global coalition of grassroots women’s organisations, also affirmed that women in most, if not all, countries still face multiple sexual demands from police and local officials who control access to land.
“Marital status (in particular, if a woman is single, widowed or divorced) and other aspects of a woman’s identity that might entail discrimination exacerbate their vulnerability,” noted the commission.
Another recent study by Transparency International, a global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption, also confirmed that the risk of sexual extortion in Zimbabwe is particularly high among single women and widows, who may be asked to trade sex against access to a small plot of land.
Senior international consultant with a background in international law and political studies, Michaela Raab, says sexual extortion for land is a form of corruption, which not only intensifies gender inequalities, but weakens women’s livelihoods and social standing and, ultimately, maintains poverty.
“Corruption in the land sector can take many forms such as traditions stopping women from inheriting land, bribery and sexual extortion by community leaders and land officials,” she said, adding that women experience and perceive corruption differently from men and are more vulnerable to sexual extortion due to their political, economic and social roles.
Raab, who also contributed to the Transparency International Women, Land and Corruption programme as an advisor and facilitator, said sexual extortion is different from corruption involving cash bribes and material gifts, in that it can have severe physical and mental health consequences, with survivors facing social exclusion.
“In sexual extortion, the currency of corruption is sexual harassment, rape and demands for sexual favours. This currency can cause irreversible psychological, as well as health consequences for individuals,” she said.
“As a form of gender-based violence (GBV),” adds gender equality campaigner, Hildah Matambo, “sexual extortion helps reinforce social norms that justify the violation of women’s human rights, especially if abusers remain unpunished.”
Matambo also said that stigmatisation surrounding sexual extortion means such form of corruption is unlikely to be reported.
To fight this ‘cancer’ that is inhibiting gender equality and sustainable socio-economic progress in Zimbabwe, Mutondoro, who is currently working for the Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) as a senior researcher and programmes coordinator, said his organisation is pushing a triangulated approach which involves working with members of the Fourth Estate.
“As TIZ, we are working with journalists,” he said. “We are involving them to gather, write and expose gender dynamics on land corruption.”
Mutondoro also said TIZ is engaging independent commissions such as the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission, as well as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission on sensitizing them on land corruption.
Gender expert, Daphne Jena, believes that resolving the problem should involve creating codes of conduct for the public sector, in addition to redefining “corruption” within existing anti-corruption efforts.
“This move will definitely bring the issue to the vanguard of dialogues and lessen the taboo around sexual extortion therefore enabling concrete efforts to come to fruition,” she said.
Jena added that women’s ownership to land should not be tied to their male relatives like husbands, fathers and brothers.
“A woman should be able to go to authorities and apply for land ownership without having to explain what her family owns. This means policy makers should simply revise the terms for land purchases to accommodate women with low incomes and those who are not even employed,” she said.
Development practitioner, Fortune Sakupwanya, says while awareness of land corruption as a observable fact has increased over recent years in the country, comprehending and recognition of how women are affected differently from men has been lacking.
He, therefore, urged the government and its development partners to recognise land corruption, particularly sexual extortion as a serious threat to women empowerment and livelihoods.
“Citizens should also report land corruption, resist paying bribes, as well as demand accountability from political and traditional leaders in land affairs,” he advised.