Of sexuality, pregnancy & virginity
This 16 days, as we continue interrogate the issue of gender based violence, I can’t help but think about something that’s close to my heart- marrying of under-age girls. The law, through the Constitution, is clear that no-one 18 years old or under can be married. However we have seen this practice grow in our society. The question is why is there a surge in child marriages in Zimbabwe in spite of existing laws? In research done by RAU, we explored the reason why women in Goromonzi married before 18. The main reasons found were either pregnancy, or that she came home ‘late’ and was told to go back where she was. Sometimes it’s even as ridiculous as having been seen walking with a boy and then one is told to go live with him. As I analysed these reasons, I came to a few conclusions.
Many girls are married early because they are pregnant. In Zimbabwe it is cultural for the girl to be sent to the family of the man/boy who is responsible for her pregnancy. She is considered the wife of the person responsible and a number of steps have to be taken after this happened. I have asked myself why many girls get pregnant, and have come to the conclusion that sex education is lacking in our education system. Sex is only taught in biology and then it’s only about reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases and contraception in theory. I also remember learning about the dangers of pre-marital sex at church and how abstinence was my only option as a young woman.
But who are we kidding? Young people are having sex; we have the media sensationalising the act; how angels are supposed to sing the first time you have sex; and how one is supposed to get this glorious feeling. It’s safe to say a lot of people are disappointed after the first time because our expectations are never met. I wish we could be real with young people, be honest enough to tell them the truth about sex, give them the necessary tools such that, if they decide to have sex, they are prepared. Sex does not have to mean pregnancy, but in our society it almost equates to that.
We need to accept that whether we like it or not young people will be curious about sex and some will indulge, and our responsibility is to equip them with what is needed when they make such a decision. I wonder if the many people who married because they were pregnant would still have married that person if they did not get pregnant. I wonder!
A number of women say they came home late one night and were told to go back to where they were, but upon further interrogation I concluded that the issue is about virginity. It could be the loss of virginity or the suspicion of losing it. Virginity is highly prized and in Zimbabwean culture so many things are done to praise it.
When a woman gets married and is pregnant with her first child, she is taken to her parents for what is called kusungira. Depending on where you come from, there is a process of giving the in-laws a cow, called mombe yechimanda in shona, where this is telling the girls’ parents that your daughter was a virgin and thanking them. God forbid he finds that you are not one. This practice forces girls to get married after their first sexual encounter. If she feels she has been ‘defiled’, then the boy has to marry her. The whole practice makes a woman’s virginity more important than her feelings or persona. This is why we read cases of a rapist offering to marry the victim time and again because it’s about her virginity.
At the end of the day, Zimbabwean culture dictates that a woman’s body is not her own to determine whom she sleeps with or having a baby without necessarily being married. A woman’s body needs a men’s caucus to decide what the price is for losing her virginity or getting pregnant. In 2016 we are still fighting the same injustices that our grandmothers faced. Isn't it time we accept that one has the autonomy to decide what do with their body, whether male or female? We need to accept that women are human beings with a mind to decide what and how to treat their bodies, and, until we change this mentality of safe keeping women’s sexuality with men, then we will continue to go around this mountain with no solutions.