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Part Two: Explaining Zimbabwean women’s low social status

Less educated girls grow into less skilled women, who are poorly paid and economically dependent wives who are often functionally illiterate therefore dependent on their husbands for even menial tasks such as opening a bank account, if they are lucky to have one. This socioeconomic dependence makes women vulnerable to male control as it allows men to take a firm hold on society through the occupancy of key political and economic positions.

Basically, men dominate decision making processes in society as such, most laws and regulations perpetuate male superiority; surprisingly women seem comfortable with the status quo. Women would rather vote for a man to a position of authority than another woman with similar or even better credentials! This is hardly surprising seeing most of Zimbabwean women still find wife beating justifiable in some cases.

The male dominated society has for years popularised stereotypical myths of men being main household providers and women’s work being light. Far from it, the majority of women undoubtedly work the hardest in terms of hours spent doing the work and arguably most of the work is physically taxing when one factors in the absence of technology to ease most of the work carried out by rural women.

Rural women walk long distances to collect water and firewood and rural agricultural produce helps to supplement urban low incomes. In urban settlements wives are heavily involved in informal economic activities to supplement their husbands’ low income. It is therefore debatable who between men and women provides the most for the household. I will also suggest that there is a steady increase of female headed households in which women are either in marriage or single parents.

While the cultural capital of lobola is not in question, I think its positive contribution to women’s lives is questionable. It epitomises the male dominated society, it grossly empowers men against women. While in the past lobola was paid to thank the woman’s family for the children born now it’s no less than trading in women – it is a thriving market, transactions are in whichever is the strongest currency and the value of daughters is deliberated upon by fathers with the token support of their sisters, conspicuous by their absence are the brides, of course the influence of women in such deliberations is debatable.

It can be argued that under the modern-day lobola regime women are, to men, possessions no different from cattle and the agricultural land. I argue that although not necessarily a cause, lobola is a factor to most of women’s marital problems as it inadvertently turns women into a commodity thereby legitimising male control.

Should the custom be rid of as the first step towards the liberation of women? It is, at the moment, inconceivable that lobola can be wiped out of the Zimbabwean culture as large proportions of Zimbabweans including women do still see it as a valuable custom. Lobola gives some women a false impression of importance signified by the size of lobola paid for them. The fictitious status reflected by the size of lobola paid for women is easily dwarfed by the reality of a low status in marriages where many suffer relentless abuse from men.


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