"Sexploited" for land – the case of women in Zimbabwe

By Lazarus Sauti

The primary goal of land reform in Zimbabwe was to redistribute land to black people without discrimination on the basis of gender and class. Today, women in rural, urban and peri-urban areas still lack access to residential, commercial and agricultural land, instead they are mistreated and ‘sexploited’ by local authorities and land officers.

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.

Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ)and the Huairou Commission, a global coalition of grassroots women’s organisations affirmed that marital status exacerbate thevulnerability of single, widowed and divorced women as they are forced to trade sex against access to a small plot of land.

Corruption in the land sector can take many forms such as patriarchy stopping women from inheriting land, bribery and sexual extortion by community leaders and land officials. Women often experience and perceive corruption differently from men and are more vulnerable to sexual extortion due to their political, economic and social roles. Sexual blackmail 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. 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. Senior international consultant with a background in international law and political studies, Michaela Raab, says

“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.”

Sexual extortion helps reinforce social norms that justify the violation of women’s human rights, especially if abusers remain unpunished. The stigmatisation surrounding sexual extortion means such form of corruption is unlikely to be reported.

The awareness of land corruption as an observable fact has increased over recent years in Zimbabwe, however comprehending and recognition of how women are affected differently from men has been lacking. A development practitioner, Fortune Sakupwanya, 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.

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. Women’s ownership to land should not be tied to their male relatives like husbands, fathers and brothers. She believes that 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.

“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.

TIZ is currently pushing a triangulated approach which involves working with journalist in order to gather, write and expose gender dynamics on land corruption. The organisation is also 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.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in 263Chat on July 28, 2018.