Gender imbalance forces women into crimes

HARARE - Gender imbalances within communities are contributing to more women committing crimes and finding themselves in prison.

Female Prisoners Support Trust (Femprist) director Rita Nyamupinga says most women who find themselves in prison were once victims of gender-based violence.

“We have seen that most women in prison today are survivors of domestic-based violence who end up getting in trouble with the law because when they retaliate they end up committing crime,” says Nyamupinga.
 
Femprist offers rehabilitation, family counselling and mediation to ex-female convicts.

Namupinda says while society hailed the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, sadly they still find themselves confronted by the reality of domestic based violence.

“We have since established that most of the crimes committed by women are a direct result of poverty.
“Some women are arrested for crimes of theft and get involved in such illegal acts because the burden of caring for the family falls squarely on their shoulders,” she says.

A 36-year-old female prisoner at Chikurubi Maximum Prison arrested last month for stock theft said her husband had actually brought the cow home and she was not even aware that it was stolen. She was however convicted for the crime after the police found her in the process of preparing the meat for sale.

Nyamupinga said lack of legal representation for women also saw a good number of them serving time for crimes they did not commit.

“Apart from domestic violence we have noted that others commit crimes like infanticide which are linked to poverty and socialisation. You find that our families and societies are not prepared to accept pregnancy out of wedlock, and some young girls end up committing infanticide.

“This is also linked to our laws which restrict abortions. At times a girl who will have been rejected by the man responsible for her pregnancy has no other choice but to kill the child at birth as she will not have any means to support the child,” she said.

Nyamupinga  also hailed Zimbabwe Prison Service rehabilitation programmes.

Prisoners in Zimbabwe’s prisons are engaged in various life skills like, sewing, hairdressing, basket weaving, farming and poultry projects among others.

Some women in prison are using the time to advance their education with others pursuing degree programmes.

Femprist, which offers women basic groceries like soap, toiletries sugar, tealeaves, salt, kapenta and cooking oil when they leave prison to enable them to start afresh, also prepares them for reintegration into society.

Femprist started operations in 2011 and offers colleges bridging courses for people who might have their ‘O’ Levels and would like to take up teacher training.

They are also actively involved in mediating between the former inmates and their families.
 
“We engage husbands on issues of forgiveness for instance we have cases where women end up abusing their step children. We then stand in the gap and try and reconcile the family after they finish serving their sentence.

“However our society is not ready to accept a woman who would have been in prison but men who would have been jailed are usually celebrated when they return home. There is need for a change in attitude,” Nyamupinga said. - Thelma Chikwanha, Features Editor

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