In Zimbabwe, Transparency International has been working extensively on land governance issues, and what has emerged is that women are often coerced to engage in sexual acts with a male person in authority in order to have access to land. Land is a form of property and a source of livelihood for most people in Zimbabwe. Both men and women find themselves one way or another being coerced to engage in corruption, mostly bribery to own a piece of land both in the urban and rural/communal areas. However, women are often subjected to sextortion in the quest to own land. A number of factors place women in vulnerable positions when it comes to land ownership in Zimbabwe.
Just like in most African countries, Zimbabwe is a patriarchal society. Men traditionally own all family property, including the land. Although there are no available statistics to indicate the percentage of men versus women who benefitted from the land reform program, it is safe to say that it is relatively a larger percentage of men compared to women who benefitted. Furthermore, communal land is under the administration of traditional leaders who are usually male. This creates power and structural dynamics where women who do not have access to money are therefore forced to bribe using sex.
A case in point is in Chisumbanje, a communal area, where we have been working in since 2015. This is a story about community members who lost their land to a private investor known as Green Fuel. The company acquired their land through non-transparent means involving elements of corruption and lacking adherence to the principles of Free Prior Informed Consent. As a result, the community was dispossessed of their land. In an attempt to resolve the dispute, the company offered land to some of the community members. It is in these circumstances that poor women, some of whom are single, some widowed and some married were forced to trade sex in return for a half hectare of land.
As Transparency International Zimbabwe we believe that in the same way that human rights practitioners are now joining hands with anti-corruption practitioners to address corruption as a human rights violation, there is need for women’s rights practitioners and anti-corruption practitioners to increase collaborative efforts. This can help to address legal and structural factors that pose a threat to exposing sextortion and advocate for the inclusion of sextortion as a stand-alone form of criminal offense in the existing criminal law legislation.
We have taken initiatives in this area by engaging and training the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women and other legislators on gendered forms of corruption. It is only when they are aware of what sextortion is and its negative consequences that they can advocate for appropriate policies that address sextortion as a form of corruption. Furthermore, there is a need to name and shame the perpetrators of sextortion. Within Transparency International Zimbabwe, plans are underway to train investigative journalists who will assist in naming and shaming perpetrators of sextortion.
It is also essential that we build the capacity of women to defend their land rights, as in most instances they fall victim due to a lack of appreciation of their rights. Those in authority take advantage of this information asymmetry and coerce women into offering sexual favors for something that is legally theirs or something that they should provide without costs. In this regard, we are conducting community outreach sessions targeting women. We aim to provide them with information on land rights and give them avenues through which to report their corruption related cases.