Using the law to empower women

Charlotte Matthews | Sep 21, 2017
itle  A group portrait of the women who were helped by ZWAL with their Gender based violence cases. small

In 2007, the women’s movement in Zimbabwe celebrated a hard-won victory as a domestic violence bill became the law. But now, ten years on, women’s inferior position in society continues to fuel violence against women and girls, in the home, in communities and in all areas of public life.

And while there are laws there to protect them, women still face great barriers in seeking justice against their abusers.

Accessible legal advice for women

Once again, it is the women’s movement in Zimbabwe that is transforming the lives of women. Across seven provinces, our partner, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) is providing legal services to marginalised women. ZWLA’s team of female lawyers support women, including those in rural areas, with cases of domestic violence, divorce, child support, inheritance and property disputes, while at the same time campaigning for laws and policies to protect their rights.

Through the training of 450 volunteer Community Legal Educators, ZWLA has introduced an accessible system for women to access safe and confidential support and further referrals to the correct legal and medical professionals. And as the word spreads of ZWLA’s services, more women are gaining the confidence to come forward.

Giving a voice to the voiceless

Womankind recently met Silindile, who was in an abusive marriage. Her husband often violently attacked her and, after one particular attack, she ended up in hospital with multiple broken bones. 

“I dodged axes that he threw at me. He would throw bricks at me too. He told me every day that he wanted to kill me.”

Silindile’s neighbour introduced her to a volunteer Community Legal Educator, who referred her to a Legal Officer to help her with her case. With ZWLA’s support through the divorce process, Silindile now has a home of her own and is rebuilding her life with her children, free from domestic violence.

Like Silindile, Precious’s husband abused her - verbally, emotionally and physically. Without knowing her rights, Precious thought she was in a normal relationship. But when her husband’s family started to beat her too, she knew something was wrong. She knew she had to escape.

“ZWLA supported me throughout the divorce process as I didn’t know where to start with presenting my case, and because I didn’t know my own rights, I wasn’t sure if what had happened would be enough evidence in court.”

Empowering women to represent themselves

Of the women ZWLA supports, over two-thirds go on to represent themselves in court. And of those who do, the majority secure judgements in their favour.

“We listen to what the woman wants, offering advice but ultimately the woman makes the decision on how she wants to proceed and then we draft the relevant papers and go to court. Sometimes we represent the woman, and in other cases we provide training and empower her so that she can represent herself.” Sethulo, Regional Coordinator at ZWLA

Like so many others, Silindile and Precious would never have had the money or the confidence to take their cases to court alone. But with support from ZWLA, women can learn and understand their rights, get to grips with court procedures and grow in confidence, so that they can confidently articulate their case in court.

“I was so grateful for their assistance, I felt like for once in my life I had power and choices.” Matilda

In the last four years alone, ZWLA has helped over 78,000 women to prepare and pursue their cases through the court system. Womankind supports and strengthens the women’s movement in Zimbabwe, including by working in partnership with organisations like ZWLA to transform the lives of women.

With your support, ZWLA can inform more women and girls of the laws that are there to protect them.

Giving just £31 could provide 30 women with legal advice about escaping domestic violence.


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