GENDER FOCUS With EMELDA MWITWA
ON the 25th day of November when Zambia was launching her 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a Lusaka woman used the occasion to go public about sexual violence that she had suffered at the behest of her alleged abusive husband.
Iliamupo Chipasha, 25, went on about how her ex-husband, 20 years her senior, would derive sexual pleasure from her while she wept after he had beaten her.
Iliamupu, who broke down while she narrated her moments of physical and emotional torture at the hands of her husband, said he raped her several times, but she could not escape his wrath because her parents were financially incapable of refunding his K300 bride price.
“He would first beat me, then drag me to have sex with him. This was the most painful abuse I suffered at the hands of my husband,” Iliamupo said with tears streaming down.
Apparently Iliamupo’s narrative about the spousal rape she allegedly suffered in her marriage was calculated to buttress the crusade by the women’s movement to have marital rape criminalised in Zambia.
Marital rape is defined as having non-consensual sex with one’s spouse. It also refers to cases where a spouse, usually a husband, uses threats, either physical or verbal, to obtain sexual consent from their unwilling spouse.
The women’s movement in Zambia has submitted that marital rape must be criminalised because there is an increasing number of married women suffering this form of sexual violence in their bedrooms.
They want the Penal Code to be revised to infuse punitive measures for marital rape.
Although the Anti-Gender- Based Violence Act vaguely refers to spousal sexual abuse as being unlawful, marital rape cannot be prosecuted in the courts of law in Zambia because it is conspicuously absent in the Penal Code.
The women’s movement wants that ‘omission’ rectified so that any man who happens to have non-consensual sex with his wife is prosecuted and punished by law.
If Zambia goes by what obtains in countries like the United States where spousal rape constitutes a criminal offence in all its 50 states, convicted men could go to jail or get heavily fined for raping their wives.
In some states, husbands convicted of raping their wives could escape prison sentence if they exhibit good behaviour during their counselling sessions conducted at the command of the court.
I bet the women’s movement in Zambia is acting in responce to a United Nations (UN) campaign for all governments in its member states, Zambia inclusive, to clearly criminalise marital rape.
Only last month, UN Women executive director Phumzile Ngcuka, in a statement heralding the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is commemorated on November 25, prodded all governments to explicitly criminalise spousal rape because it is tantamount to gender-based violence (GBV).
The UN Women chief noted that many UN Member States do not yet have laws that criminalise marital rape or that encourage the principle of consensual sex in marriage.
The women’s movement in Zambia has for a long time been calling for criminalisation of marital rape, but without success.
They argue that forced sex by husbands against their wives is on the increase, although such cases are not reported to the police.
Personally, I have been hesitant to write on marital rape because the question I often ask myself is, ‘How do husbands rape their wives?’
And before I decided to write on this subject, I inquired from police if they do record any cases of spousal rape, and if so, what were the similarities between bedroom rape and stranger rape.
The response I got from the Victim Support Unit national coordinator, Gloria Mubita, was: “No, we don’t because marital rape is not an offence in Zambia.”
Regardless of the legal aspect of it, I asked Ms Mubita if there are women who complain of sexual violence occasioned by their husbands.
Again, her answer was no.
Nevertheless, my understanding is that sex between married couples is always consensual.
As friends, a husband and his wife need to decide when and when not to have sex.
And in my understanding, if either of the two is not in a position to consent for whatever reason, then the couple cannot have sexual contact.
And this inability to consent by either party should not be driven by selfish reasons, but rather good reasons, taking into account the interests of one’s partner.
The Bible teaches husbands and wives not to deliberately ‘deprive’ each other without mutual consent, neither to prolong the mutually agreed abstinence.
In 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, the Bible cites some of the grounds on which couples could not interact sexually:
“But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Basically, the above illustration teaches that if one partner can’t give in, they ought to confer with their partner, who should be able to respect their stance.
And this mutual agreement to abstain should needlessly not be prolonged.
However, it will be selfish for either party to force themselves on a partner who is unable to consent based on a non-selfish reason that they have explained.
It’s a pity police don’t have information on spousal rape because I would want to know if there are some husbands who literary force themselves on their wives the way strangers do to their victims of rape.
I think if things get to a point where a man uses violence to have his way with his wife, then he must be ruled out of order.
I believe men ought to respect their wives if, due to certain reasonable circumstances, they can’t give in.
And if things get to a point where a couple’s bedroom is reduced to a crime scene, characteristic of streets where morally depraved men force themselves on strangers for sexual pleasure, then in my view the marriage has broken down.
It simply means that the two can’t live together. They ought to separate before one of them becomes a statistic of preventable homicide.
And if the narration of Iliamupo during the launch of the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV is anything to go by, then I would say indeed there are women out there who are being raped by their husbands.
It is inhuman for a man to beat his wife and push her on his bed for sex. My question though is, why should a woman stay in such a marriage where she is obviously not a respected partner, but rather an object of pleasure?
Stories are also told about husbands who force themselves on women after they have given birth.
I heard of a story of a man I will call Mr Mupo, for convenience, who ripped surgical sutures on his wife who had just given birth.
The man could not accept that after giving birth, a woman needs some good six weeks, even more, to recover.
Like Iliamupo’s case, such victims of sexual violence need protection from their spouses.
Well, I hope this crusade against marital rape is meant to protect women like Mrs Mupo and Iliamupoufrom death and physical harm caused by sadists of husbands.
My take though is for the women’s movement to concentrate on sensitising women like Iliamupo and Mrs Mupo to flee from abusive marriages.
People fear that the campaign to criminalise marital rape is skewed to tear families apart by making women unnecessarily hostile to their spouses.
That’s actually the feedback we got on the Zambia Daily Mail Facebook page when news broke that the women’s movement wanted spousal rape to be included in the Penal Code.
GENDER FOCUS With EMELDA MWITWA