MUTARE – Turning into a dinky dirt road at Sithole off the Marange highway, we clung to our seats as we were jostled and tossed as the driver struggled to find passable portions of the neglected road.
Our port of call was Gudoricharima village, about 70km south-west of Mutare.
Here, they pierce ears of dogs which would have been attacked by jackals as post-exposure prophylactic therapy against rabies.
Padare Men’s Forum on Gender and ministry of Women Affairs and Community Development were convening a dialogue meeting on their efforts to find peace among the sexes.
It was a tour of the murky shadows of the Zimbabwean male psyche.
Amplifying his credibility with claims to personal research and Harare experiences and observations which punctuated his contributions, one man in his 50s waxed lyrical about how pubic lice were a critical vector in the transmission of HIV considering their residence in the loins which he reasoned was turbid with the infectious disease.
Eloquent and sure of his hypothesis, no participant among the 40 present objected.
Represented traditional leaders also showed concern over women who wore trousers.
The biblical basis for inequality between the sexes is as entrenched as the predominate Johanne Marange Church is.
Condom acceptance among this group of elderly men is also low as some of them felt that women would only enjoy sexual intercourse if they make physical contact with semen.
They said condoms threatened their capacity to please their women, striking right at the soul of their manhood.
Anyway, HIV is a disease women brought on the human race through zoophilic acts with dogs, the village head Gudoricharima told his subjects and visitors.
Queried why dogs are not themselves falling ill, he retorted, “It’s their disease!”
Stories of how their women are being injected depo-provera, a contraceptive that they say is being used as a performance enhancing drug for horses in the developed world, also had emotional voicing.
Another day and another bumpy ride to Buwerimwe this time, calls for equality were challenged by the practise of paying lobola which they felt made men greater among the “equals.”
“Lobola needs to be revised if equality is to be achieved,” said one elderly man.
But it was generally agreed that men should never report cases of violence against them by women to the police.
Sadly, there has been an increasing number of suicides by men, something men at the meeting attributed to male socialisation that said “the only man who would share their problems is a man called Sheila.”
While they said some duties could be shared among men and women, the picture of a long bearded bald headed man washing napkins was unfathomable but acceptable only as “first aid.”
However, local clinics are now inviting men to assist with washing when their wives give birth at the institutions, some participants said.
We also had tips on how to manage a polygamy from a member of the Johanne Marange Apostolic Sect member who has married five times, but was unsure of the number of his children he was putting it at “around 40.”
In managing time among multiple wives, he advised, “Do not promise anything. Do not be predictable.”
Further into family power dynamics in Chipfatsura, a number of men still feel strongly that men should be permitted to budget from a kiyeke (that vertical small pocket that opens in the trousers’ waist).
In Gombakomba, a sizeable number felt that women should hang onto abusive relationships for the sake of their children and that for a report of rape to be genuine, there was need for proof of visible injury.
Going further into a banana plantation paradise, a crevice behind the magnificent Vumba Mountain, Burma Valley, an area where secondary education only came with the 2 000 farm invasions, the situation of women is dire.
Here girls like everyone else would traditionally go to school up to the seventh grade and only proceed to Form One if they had somewhere else to go as they would be expelled from the compounds lest they corrupt the minds of farm workers.
Given this situation, they would marry early and re-marry, meanwhile moving from one house to the other, with a growing bunch of children with no one to school them.
“Earning as little as $55 a month, most men cannot follow their many children from their past wives to send them to school while at the same time feed the four or so children of their present wife.
“So you just feed them and not bother about school,” one participant said.
The vicious cycle has been going on for decades now and as local men who congregated at Mazonwe Secondary School situated at a former club house said, marrying children as young as 14 is a common practice.
There were many passionate arguments from all these men to include in Gatsi under Chief Mutasa of elderly men who thought it was appropriate for men to sometimes assault their wives “to bring them into line”, “establish order” and for “enforcing discipline.”
“It is in women’s nature to be lax on serious issues and they need to be guided sharp slaps if need be,” one Gatsi participant said.
“Disciplining your wife does not mean you do not love her,” said a cheeky coloured 60-year-old fellow from Burma Valley.
But while this was the dark side, there were many refreshing insights on the need for peace in the home and equal regard for both sexes.
Most importantly, the meetings which are being held across the country are laying bare religious and socio-cultural roots to the ill treatment of girls and women in communities.
Gabriel Jaji, a community development officer, noted during the meetings that women were often not pursuing legal options against abuse “in a bid to save their husbands from long prison sentences.”
Padare’s Thando Makuwaza described as “scary” some of the perceptions men have on women especially following the Gudoricharima meeting.
Makuwaza noted there was still a lot of work to be done to strike equilibrium in managing gender issues.
While Zimbabwe’s violently depraved politics have dominated world news for over a decade now, recent studies continue to reveal a culture of violence that also pervades family governance, with women bearing the brunt of this entrenched mindless tradition of managing differences.
In 2009, the Zimbabwe had a gender-based violence (GBV) cost burden estimated at $2 billion, according to a Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) study, the only such analysis ever.
This is less the cost of a gendered debilitating HIV epidemic with 1,2 million people living with HIV, where women constitute 51,6 percent, children 12,5 percent and men just 35,9 percent.
Although the poor southern African country’s population is more than 20 times less than that of the US, its gender-based violence cost burden is one to two fifths that of the north American economic giant.
Zimbabweans, with a paltry recently announced 2013 $3,8 billion National budget, clearly cannot afford the continued abuse of women and girls.
Ironically, according to a 2007 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS), more females, 47,7 percent, than men, 37,1 percent, justified wives or partner battery.
The 2011, ZDHS notes that three in 10 women in Zimbabwe have suffered from physical violence at some point since age 15.
Over one in four women (27 percent) have ever experienced sexual violence.
With over one in five women (22 percent) had their first sexual intercourse forced against their will among sexually active women.
The 2011, ZDHS also revealed that 42 percent of ever-married women have suffered from spousal or partner abuse at some point in time with 27 percent of ever-married women reporting having experienced some form of physical, and or sexual violence committed by their husband or partner in the past year.
Quoted in the SIDA study is a UNFPA Zimbabwe Country Office 2009 survey which revealed that six out of 10 women experience some form of GBV.
An International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 2008 study uncovered that up to 60 percent of women and 53 percent of children experience sexual abuse when travelling.