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Sexual & Women’s Rights Country Overview: Zimbabwe 2020

This series of country context overviews is founded in the Coalition of African Lesbians work in different countries, specifically the Masakhane[1] project in Southern Africa. The project’s focus is on strengthening capabilities of CAL members and partners in different countries through learning in action, as the basis of facilitating effective growth in activism among the groups with which CAL works: lesbian women, women living with HIV and AIDS, sex-workers and young women.[2]

As feminists and activists concerned with gender and sexual rights and justice, we understand that current social, political and economic structures, institutions, ideologies and practices undermine our rights and freedoms and restrict our autonomy. This understanding informs both CAL’s areas of focus in its work and the focus in this context overview; Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), sexuality politics specifically expressed in issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and gender discrimination and violence.

CAL’s approach to its work is also informed by the five factors identified in the “Report of the Study on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa” by the former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. CAL has modified these factors; patriarchy and heteronormativity, fundamentalisms, militarisation, war and conflict, neoliberal capitalism, crises in democracy and environmental exploitation.

This publication focuses on sexual and gender rights, specifically violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights and sexual orientation and gender identity. It is intended to support Civil Society Organisations, activists and government agencies and institutions in their work to address persisting SRHR issues, gender violence and sexual orientation and gender identity issues.


Population: 14.9 million (United Nations Population Fund)
Women’s Literacy: (UNESCO Institute of Statics)
93.2% [15 – 24 years]
88.3% [15 – 64 years]
73.4% [65 years old and older]
Women’s Employment Rate: 50.9% (World Bank)
Maternal Mortality Ratio: 458 per 100, 000 live births (WHO)
Women’s HIV prevalence: 60.8% (UNAIDS)
GBV: 1 in 3 women have experience violence since the age of 15 (United Nations Population Fund)
GDI: 0.925 (United Nations Development Programme)
GII: 0.525 (United Nations Development Programme)
COVID-19 Status: 314 confirmed cases, 4 deaths  (June 10, 2020) (World Health Organisation)
Statistics sourced on June 10, 2020

Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

As concluded by the World Health Organisation[3] (WHO), Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SHRH) encompass efforts to eliminate preventable maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, to ensure quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptive services, and to address sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cervical cancer, violence against women and girls, and sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents. Universal access to sexual and reproductive health is essential not only to achieve sustainable development but also to ensure that this new framework speaks to the needs and aspirations of people around the world and leads to realisation of their health and human rights.

In Zimbabwe, Sexual and Reproductive Health rights are legally recognised through the Constitution and by way of government enacted policies and legislature. Every citizen and permanent resident has the right to access basic healthcare, including reproductive health services.[4] Additionally, the right to bodily and psychological integrity empowers everyone with the right to make reproductive decisions for themselves.

Contraception Access and Use

The Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (‘ZNFP’) is the body tasked with the provision of family planning and other sexual reproductive health services. Such services include screening of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), testing for HIV, counselling and providing contraceptives. The most popularly used methods of contraception are the pill, condoms, injectables and spermicides.

As at 2018, the contraceptive prevalence rate in Zimbabwe amongst women between the ages of 15 and 49 was 67% and there was a 10% and 11% unmet need for family planning for married couples in the urban and rural areas, respectively. Young people’s unmet need for family planning was 16%. These statistics are a reflection of the measures taken by the Government of Zimbabwe, through the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Costed Implementation Plan (2016-2020), which seeks to reduce the unmet need for family planning, improve the provision of contraceptives across the country and drastically reduce maternal mortality.

Maternal Mortality

The data on maternal mortality in Zimbabwe presents a number of discrepancies which indicates that the data is outdated and inaccurate. Statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO), recorded in 2014, place the maternal mortality ratio at 614 deaths per 100, 000 live births.[5] Reasons behind this disturbing rate included delays in seeking and accessing quality healthcare, poor healthcare facilities due to unavailability of funds, exorbitant costs of blood transfusions and the unavailability of specialist doctors needed for more complex pregnancies and unsafe abortion complications.


Zimbabwe has a restrictive abortion framework. The Termination of Pregnancy Act states that a lawful abortion may only be procured under the following circumstances;

  1. Where the continued pregnancy poses a serious threat to the pregnant woman’s life and/or health;
  2. Where it is proven that the unborn children is likely to be born with serious mental and/or physical condition, and
  3. Where the pregnancy is as a result of unlawful intercourse, rape, incest or any other grievous sexual assault.

Due to how narrow the abortion parameters are, women and young girls in Zimbabwe often resort to clandestine methods of terminating unwanted pregnancies. Such methods include the insertion of spoons, needles and coins in the vagina. These unsafe and unsanitary methods are usually hazardous and result in the death of a significant number of young girls and women. These deaths contribute greatly to the skyrocketing rates of maternal mortality in Zimbabwe.

Discrimination and Violence Against Women

Section 25 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that the State and all agencies of the government should protect its citizens and adopt measures for the prevention of violence. Despite such recognition, there have been rampant incidences of politically motivated and domestic violence against women and girls across the country. Research indicates that women are sexually exploited by government officials and rape has been used as a violent tool to induce fear in women and discourage them from participating in political processes. The root of this violence lies in the misogynistic nature of Zimbabwean culture that does not value or respect women’s rights.

The violence against women is rife despite the national policies and frameworks such as the National Gender Based Violence Strategy, the Standard Operating Procedures for Safe Homes and the development of the CEDAW Committee Recommendations Action Plan, that have been put in place to address women’s plights. These interventions need to be intensified and integrated into the health sector to address the psychosocial needs of women who have experienced violence. Furthermore, early marriage persists with 34% of women and girls married by the age of 18yrs according to UNICEF as the government is yet to amend Zimbabwe’s Marriage Act.

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression

Section 73 of the Criminal Law Act (2006) criminalises all sexual acts between men with a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment and the possibility of a fine. This law is added to the existing colonial Penal Code which prohibits ‘unlawful and intentional sexual relations between two human males.’ Currently, there is no direct reference to women in these laws however all queer people are affected by this criminalisation. Furthermore, LGBTQI+ persons face high levels of discrimination and violation of rights.[6] Unlawful arrests, detentions and ‘corrective rape’ are but a few of the ways in which queer people are tormented in Zimbabwe. The country’s history has been filled with repression and violence towards human rights defenders, particularly those who are LGBTQI+ allies.

Treaties Ratification Table[7]

Below are the sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights treaties to which Zimbabwe is a party. By virtue of being a signatory to these instruments, Zimbabwe is obligated to abide by the treaties and ensure that there is a harmony between its domestic laws and international law standards.

TreatySignedRatification, Accession (a), Succession (d)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women13 May 1991 (a)
African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR)20 February 198630 May 1986
Protocol to The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)18 November 200315 April 2008

Organisations in Zimbabwe Working on Women’s & Sexual Rights

  • GALZ Zimbabwe
  • Women Action Group
  • Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association
  • Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoz)
  • Women’s Action Group
  • Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC)
  • UNFPA Zimbabwe

[1] Masakhane is a Nguni word which translates to ‘Let us build together’.

[2] CAL works on issues affecting all women on the continent, but works closely with these specific groups because they are further marginalised in society. 


[4] Section 76(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.


[6] GALZ, Zimbabwe (2017). Actus Reus: An analysis of human rights violations against LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe. https://galz.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Violations-Report_Print_Final-1-1.pdf

[7] This table is focused on the treaties relevant to the focus of this context overview, for a more comprehensive database of treaties signed by Zimbabwe, and their ratification status visit the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website, the African Union (AU) website and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) website.