Gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual and queer people (LGBTIQ+) have for a long time expressed concern over violations of their rights in Zimbabwe, but it has come to light that violence among intimate partners is also rife within this community.
Most of those complaining of abuses cite economic and financial challenges as a major cause of the conflicts.
Infidelity has also been singled out as another factor contributing to misunderstandings in a community which has a limited dating pool.
A Bulawayo-based transgender person who prefers to be identified as Tawas was among the few who was comfortable and courageous enough to give an interview on the “sensitive” subject of violence in LGBTIQ+ couples.
Tawas says she was badly assaulted by her partner who found her kissing another man.
“I have been in a violent relationship with my partner. My partner is very jealous. At one point, he saw me kissing a man. When he confronted me about the incident, I denied having done it but he assaulted me,” said Tawas.
After her ordeal, Tawas said her biggest challenge was how to open up about the issue to seek redress.
“I found it difficult to report the matter to the police, neither could I inform my friends and relatives about the assault,” she said.
She said she had to fabricate the report to the police in order to access treatment.
“I could not explain everything to the police because the environment there is not conducive for us. There is a lot of discrimination, mockery and harassment of victims of violence from same sex partners at the police stations,” she claimed.
Grace Badza, a Harare based LGBTIQ+ counsellor said most police officers do not have enough information about the LGBTIQ+ community. “In trying to bridge that information gap, we sometimes do programmes to educate the officers on challenges faced by the LGBTIQ+ community,” said Badza.
Bulawayo provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Abednico Ncube insisted that the law enforcement agency was well capacitated to deal with same sex and gender-based violence that included aggravated indecent assault, forgery and sodomy.
Ncube said from January 2023 to date, police in Bulawayo handled three such cases although all three were associated with sodomy and not intimate same sex violence per se.
The cases referred to were of a 23-year old man who was allegedly sodomised by an unknown male, another 23-year old who was allegedly abused by a male friend and a male victim also allegedly abused by his uncle.
Badza said one in every five cases she attends involves violence between same sex partners. She attends to more than 20 cases per month.
She said the violence is mostly a result of infidelity by partners. “Some of the violence comes in the form of blackmail and extortion if there is a conflict in a relationship. Usually there are threats of disclosure of one’s sexual orientation to friends and relatives,” said Badza.
A research on intimate partner violence (IPV) titled “Understanding intimate partner violence among same sex relations and existing support systems for survivors” conducted by minority rights activist, Mojalifa Ndlovu and published in 2022 points to the existence of the problem although the report speaks of silence among the victims.
Ndlovu’s study observed that there was little literature on LGBTIQ+ IPV in Zimbabwe, a development which he argues has led to the mistaken view that the phenomenon is non-existent.
The study found that the major cause of IPV among same sex couples are the power dynamics that exist in the relationships. These could include financial stability, levels of education and age.
The study, which mainly focused on Bulawayo, also noted that the criminalisation of same sex relationships increased the prevalence of IPV in LGBTIQ+ as perpetrators are emboldened by the fact that they would not be held to account.
The report observes that the current IPV and domestic violence laws and intervention strategies recognise only male to female partner relationship.
Ndlovu urged government and other stakeholders that focus on LGBTIQ+ to work together.
He said such synergies should utilise the public health sector which is better suited and equipped to provide the support needed to survivors of abuse.
Counseling services provided to LGBTIQ+ community include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, involuntary outing, trauma counselling for those physically or sexually assaulted and corrective rape counselling.
A 30-year old Bulawayo based queer woman who preferred to be identified as Natasha says she also has been a victim of partner violence.
She says she is in a long distance relationship and intends to get married to her partner.
Natasha, who is also a human rights defender, says there is a lot of violence in same sex relationships especially among lesbians. She said she suffered emotional abuse in a relationship where her partner was the bread winner.
“I was forced to stay in that abusive relationship because I needed to enjoy the material benefits from my partner,” said Natasha.
A Bulawayo based counselor with Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) who identified herself as Hazel said she attended to an average of five cases of violence every month.
She cited financial constraints and a limited dating pool as the major causes of the violence.
“LGBTIQ+ is a minority group, so eventually one person‘s partner will become another person‘s partner in the long run and that usually creates lots of conflicts among partners,” said Hazel.
A report compiled by GALZ in 2022 titled LGBTIQ+ Human Rights Violation shows a sharp increase in cases of violence among LGBTIQ+ couples.
Badza says the report is only shared with donor partners and cannot be availed to the media. The information was compiled from internal LGBTIQ+ violence capture processes.
She said her organisation has 24 hour reaction teams on standby to attend to violence emergencies.
The teams also provide online therapy to victims. GALZ also has community advocacy champions on LGBTIQ+ issues. Counselors and officers also document violations.
According to the GALZ report, in 2021 IPV cases comprised an average of 7, 5% of the total number of cases of violence recorded.
The figure rose to about 20 % in 2022 with the effects of Covid-19 and rising unemployment cited as the major causes.
Other forms of violence include denying partners access to health facilities, extortion and black mail.
While some victims of such violence access health care services at private clinics that have been established by non-governmental organizations, there are no health support systems for the LGBTIQ+ community at public health institutions where members complain of ill-treatment.
Bulawayo City Council corporate communications manager, Nesisa Mpofu admitted that staff at the local authority was not adequately trained to deal with victims of same sex partner violence.
“Health staff at council clinics are not trained in managing intimate partner violence at primary health care level. We do have basic training in the provision of healthcare to LGBTIQ+ community, but it does not extend to intimate partner violence. However, some trained personnel have since left the country,” said Mpofu.
GALZ has meanwhile chipped in by training health care workers who offer friendly services to the LGBTIQ+ community with 22 clinics in Harare now offering such services.
In Bulawayo, the organisation has so far trained more than 50 health care workers to offer similar services. Clinics staffed with the trained personnel include North End, Mzilikazi, EF Watson, Magwegwe, Pumula and Nkulumane.
Topics covered under the special courses for health practitioners include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
“This is where we will be unpacking different sexual orientations so that eventually a health care worker will understand that there are people who are different from the general public whom they usually serve,”
She said the trainings are conducted in liaison with local council and government.
Under the programme, focal persons at some health institutions have also been trained.
“We identify and train strategic health workers on the sensitivity of intimate partner violence victims. When a victim visits a clinic it is easy to refer him or her to a trained practitioner,” said Hazel.
Apart from GALZ, Bulawayo based Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) also offers mobile and routine clinical services at its offices in the city.
SRC is a human rights and key population based society organization that deals with challenges faced by key populations.
These include same sex, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex persons, sex workers, women who have sex with women and men who have sex with men.
Through its drop-in centre and other programmes, SRC assists the LGBTIQ+ community access sexual reproductive and health rights (SRHR) services.
National AIDS Council (NAC), an organisation established by government to coordinate and facilitate the national multi-sectoral response to HIV and AIDS has been actively involved in supporting LGBTQ+ programming.
Sinatra Nyathi, NAC Bulawayo provincial manager said NAC is a sub recipient of the Global Fund from where some resources are channeled towards programmes for the LGBTIQ+ community.
Such programmes can include addressing inter-partner violence. “We have sub-granted the Sexual Rights Centre and other partners to implement LGBTIQ+ programmes.
Nyathi said the LGBTIQ+ community has been discriminated for a long time and government was trying to create an enabling environment for members to receive decent health services.
“As NAC, we will continue to coordinate LGBTIQ+ programmes. We have also realized that in their communities there is intimate partner violence which needs to be addressed,” said Nyathi.
From 1980 to 2017, the late President Robert Mugabe actively discriminated against LGBTIQ+ people and spoke out in public against homosexuality.
In August 1995 Mugabe said, “I find it extremely outrageous and repugnant to my human conscience that such immoral and repulsive organizations, like those of homosexuals, who offend both against the law of nature and the cultural norms espoused by our society, should have any advocates in our midst and elsewhere in the world.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, however, seems to have abandoned Mugabe’s rigid stance against the LGBTIQ+ community.
In 2018 in an interview during an LGBTIQ+ organised multi-stakeholder dialogue meeting on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in Zimbabwean societies, Mnangagwa said the operating environment under President Mugabe was quite restrictive in terms of what people could say or do. “It was quite limiting in that we were also not able to meet with stakeholders that we thought could be important to facilitate dialogue.”
While the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees rights such as equality and non-discrimination it is silent on specific rights for the LGBTIQ+ community.
This article was done in partnership with Information for Development Trust (IDT) under a project encouraging active grassroots community participation in investigative journalism content production.