In 2016 Tariro (not her real name) was traveling with her child from the Christmas holiday in Gokwe heading to Kwekwe when tragedy struck. She had a serious accident that resulted in her right leg paralysed, and serious head injuries.
Since 2016 she has not been able to walk, and this has caused some challenges against her from, her husband, the community as well as her family.
Speaking on the sidelines of a community dialogue meeting organized by Community Voices Zimbabwe (CVZ) in Ward 5 Mapfungautsi area in Gokwe to raise awareness about the barriers that persons with disabilities experience in the community, while gathering information on how society views them Tariro narrated her situation.
“I traveled to my parent’s place for the Christmas holiday in 2016. Then soon after the holiday, my child’s teacher called advising me to bring the child earlier for lessons in Kwekwe where he was learning. My mother accompanied me to look for transport. It was raining so I just had to jump in whichever car had come, so a commuter omnibus (kombi) stopped by. As someone who was used to boarding any type of transport in town, I just jumped inside with my child. There were four men inside with dreadlocks. After traveling for a while, just before Zhombe Joel where there is a dangerous forest, the four men started talking suspiciously, and I had to ask for recess, but they refused. That is when I started fighting with the man who was at the door as I was trying to get out, but they were refusing.
“So I kept fighting until the door opened while the car was moving. As I was getting out the car hit me hard, I was struck on the forehead to the extent that when I went to the hospital they had to check my brain, and thank God I was ok. My leg was also hit hard by the kombi when I jumped off. By the time I got out my child was inside the kombi. Luckily enough there was a car from doves following from behind which was being driven by a female, and she tried to chase the kombi and failed, it kept going until they dropped my child at a distance, and he was able to run back to where I was. My bags were thrown outside the kombi, and the female driver from Doves came back and assisted me. She drove me back here to Gokwe, and she left me at the hospital. By that time I was dead, and could not realize what was happening. However, I recall waking up at Gweru General Hospital where I was transferred from Gokwe. My leg was paralyzed, and I have not been able to walk for some years.
“So I came back home to Gokwe where my mother is based, and she was taking care of me. My husband never followed. My mother tried calling him, but he did not come. Surprisingly he claimed that the accident happened because my own mother practiced witchcraft on me so that we could get rich, and have great harvests. He ended up marrying another wife. Up to now I do not have a spouse, I stay with my mother who has been taking care of me. Sadly because of my situation society does not view us as human beings. Even if you try to contribute during a discussion no one value your contributions. Even in my family people no longer view me as a human being. Because my mother assisted in taking care of me, my siblings blames her for favoritism. My relatives even claim that I am my mother’s goblin just because I cannot walk. So I just keep quiet, and keep it to myself so that I focus on the growth of my children,” she said.
Women with disabilities often must contend with a double burden of discrimination, for being women, and due to their disability. They are faced with multiple challenges affecting their day-to-day lives, with higher rates of poverty, lower economic, and social status, and an increased risk of violence including sexual violence, barriers to accessing education, health care, information services, employment, justice, and civic participation.
The struggles that some women endure from their husbands if they are disabled or when they give birth to children with disabilities are unbearable. During the community dialogue, it was revealed that in some instances it results in Gender Based Violence (GBV) because some men are always blaming their wives for infidelity resulting in giving birth to a child with a disability. And one wonders whether there is a domestic violence law explicitly addressing women with disabilities.
“I was married in Marondera, and whenever I had an argument with my husband, he would yell at me accusing me of witchcraft which he claimed existed in our rural home of Gokwe. So he would beat me even after a silly mistake while accusing me of bewitching the child,” said Sharon Marumeni.
“My husband did not accept the situation that we have a child with a disability. He always insulted me saying that I am a slut, and that this child unlike the others was born like this because I was a slut going around sleeping with different men according to him. So we ended up divorcing because I could not withstand the insults. Sometimes he would assault me saying that if it was not for me the child would have been born normal just like other children. He would say that society is always laughing at him. So I had no option but to divorce him, and take care of my child,” added a dejected Atria Sithole speaking during the same dialogue.
Societal beliefs worsen the situation according to Primrose Nyangoni who is the Midlands Coordinator, and Board Secretary for the Association of Disabled, and Elderly Persons in Zimbabwe resulting in the emotional and even physical abuse of women by their husbands.
“…the problem is that society believes when a woman gives birth to a child with a disability then she has a problem and should be divorced. There is a case I know in Mberengwa where a woman was divorced because she gave birth to a child with albinism, and the family despised her saying there are no albinos in their family. So society’s beliefs are depriving us further because of what people believe is the cause of disability.
“…women, in general, are vulnerable, and what more of a woman with a disability. Women with disabilities are looked down upon as if they cannot contribute to development. I know of a scenario similar to the one above where a woman got disabled after being involved in an accident, and after that, the husband began to say that she had become a problem since then and was no longer able to do some house chores, and he decided to marry another wife. But women with disabilities are supposed to be taught how to do some chores, and how to go to rehab. Unfortunately, our society is not able to teach husbands to assist their disabled wives. Sadly for the women, if the husbands become disabled the society believes the women should stay and take care of their husbands. So societal beliefs make women more vulnerable.
“…worse still if a woman gives birth to a child with a disability, or an albino, for example, the woman is always facing the blame. Society is so blind to the issue of genetics, to understand that the make-up of a person or an individual, is a genetic make-up from both the mother and the father. And there are genes that are active, and dormant, maybe the ones that were active on you did not result in disability, but the dormant gene in you will manifest in your child, but surprisingly you will say on our family no one is disabled, then you start blaming the women for giving birth to disabled children. End result women are divorced, and some men even run away from marriages and never return, this is abuse against women who give birth to children with disabilities. Women are being emotionally abused, and physically abused, on this issue more needs to be done.
“Persons with disabilities have been discriminated against in the past, but now that the second republic has decided to honor persons with disabilities up to the extent that President Emmerson Mnangagwa launched a disability policy last year shows they are committed to inclusion. So as persons with disabilities what can we do about discrimination, the challenge is we lack knowledge, “My people die because of lack of information”, the solution to that is we need information dissemination and awareness campaigns. An organisation that deals with PWDS should do more awareness of the rights of PWDs. We appeal to the private sector to support programs for persons with disabilities. The media should also play a part in providing information on radio, television, and social media. So content creation should be done to show that persons with disabilities are also human beings too, while also demystifying the myths against persons with disabilities.
“The government has introduced a disability policy emphasising inclusivity, and leaving no one behind. But the million dollar question is whether there is a deliberate disability policy that the government introduced, however, the policy is not supported by a law or an act whereby if one is found guilty it becomes a criminal offense. If the disability policy can become a law, especially against discrimination, probably we can win,” she said.