Politics of the ‘Small House’ in Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe the southern African country has experienced a sudden peak in the divorce rate, 27% in 2012 to be exact. A High Court judge blamed the situation on the vast emigration of Zimbabweans into the western Diaspora. This is a typical response that some people have resolved to cope with changes in the social landscape, by blaming western countries for all social ills that exist in the country.

The western influence cannot be denied but it has been for the better as well. As a young woman from Zimbabwe I realize that if not for western influence I would be the third wife of some old man with three children neglected and abused but being forced to stay in such as arrangement due to economic and societal pressures. Thank God for modernity and western values, today women can go to school and choose their husbands and how many children they want to have and when. This may be unsettling for many who still believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and have used money to ‘keep women in their place’.

After independence the government introduced the Legal Age of Majority Act where women were supposed to have equal treatment under the law. It was an acceptable practice in the day for families to educate their sons rather than their daughters when money was short because boy children kept the family name.   Education has played an important part in raising the status of ordinary women. Acquiring an education allowed women to enter the workforce and having an earning potential given them a small voice in how their families were run and in the purchasing decisions.

Living in the Diaspora has taken the Zimbabwean experience in another direction where women feel more empowered to leave abusive husbands. In Zimbabwe during the 1980s and into the 1990s domestic abuse was not handled seriously by the police whose response was typically ‘idomestic’ which meant that it was outside their jurisdiction.

Most women now married to a new generation of Zimbabweans have seen a sharp increase in husband participation in household chores and even changing diapers, something that the past generation of fathers never did particularly those living in the Diaspora, so what’s wrong with that?

The more plausible explanation to the increase in the divorce rate is the emergence of the ‘small house’. A ‘small house ’is a secret practice of bigamy. A married man marries the other woman in customary ceremony since the popular marriage is one man one wife is on the books and does not recognize bigamy or polygamy. The phenomenon has been popularized by top politicians and wealthy businessmen and has spread.

In a country ravaged by the HIV epidemic Zimbabwean women have become practical and chosen life by choosing not to stay married in a polygamous situation that promotes the spread of STDs.

By Anna Mosi-oaTunya 2013

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