By John Chimunhu|
Now Daily Opinion|
A proliferation of religious organisations and sects has made churches the new hub of sexual harassment in Zimbabwe.
Hardly a week passes without a prominent cleric being dragged through the mud of adultery and sex scandals. It could be in the papers, on radio and television or just talk on the street, but the impact is the same. It dampens the spirits of some.
March 8 was International Women’s Day. A lot of speeches were made denouncing violence against women by touts and police, who chase them up for vending illegally on shopfronts. Very little was said about the pervasive sexual violence women endure in churches every day.
The conviction of Robert Martin Gumbura gave a chilling insight into the extent to which men wielding religious authority can go in abusing women. Gumbura kept a harem of no less than 14 young women plucked from his shadowy sect, RMG Endtime Message, which is named after him. The women were forced to perform lewd acts, including group sex orgies with him, which were filmed.
United Family International’s Emmanuel Makandiwa has been accused of running a virtual sex club after performing an illegal ‘mass wedding’.
Many young women in these churches and sects are forced to marry from a pool of the pastor’s friends and relatives or go with designated individuals. The ‘mass wedding’ attracted state attention because sex trafficking involving foreigners is rife in Zimbabwe, most of it facilitated by churches which issue fake papers and false status.
In many of the reported sex scandals involving religious figures, women have been abused because of their subordinate position. Usually, this has been done by giving women tasks at odd hours and in unusual places such as the so-called ‘prayer mountains ‘ or Walter Magaya’s infamous lodge where sex acts have reportedly been performed with married women.
In some VaPositori sects, children are prevented from going to school so they can learn domestic chores and survival skills in preparation for early marriage. These kid brides are likely to have complications in child-birth, divorce or be separated before they are 20 and turn to prostitution, which will eventually destroy their health.
The situation is compounded by Zimbawe’s weak socio-legal system that does not have inherent protection for women in communal situations – in churches, schools, colleges and markets.
The blame for the rise in sexual exploitation and harassment in churches should also lie with umbrella associations which do not adequately monitor the behaviour of members and enforce regulations.
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