African Women Agency gender Based Violence and the law in colonial Harare 1930s to 1950s




Gender, African women’s agency, urban space, gender-based violence, colonial law, sexual / intimate violence, colonial Zimbabwe


African historiography has largely silenced the domestic agency of African women. Studies have shown that urban spaces, particularly in colonial Zimbabwe in the 1940s and 1950s, became centres for high mixed-culture population growth. In addition to local rural urban migration, regional migration from Malawi and Zambia contributed to the population. Growth of manufacturing and the service industry stimulated by the Second World War opened opportunities for several economic activities, thus creating opportunities for women’s empowerment. African women demonstrated agency in their multiple identities as economic players: as informal traders, formal employees, wives and part-time lovers. Due to housing restrictions allotted only to men and later married persons, some women entered into marriages of convenience so called Mapoto marriages; others became entrepreneurs in the local beer brewery, Skokiaan; while others engaged in informal trade and commercial sex work. Amidst all these shifts and turns and processes of urbanisation, gender-based violence found a breeding ground. As will be shown, women were not passive victims of gender-based violence. African women used the colonial justice system to challenge patriarchal male entitlement exposed in sexual and physical violence. Admittedly, that very legal system also identified them as legal minors who were represented by male figures. In spite of these limitations, women redefined their own identity and negotiated their survival in urban spaces. This paper uses largely court records to explore African women’s agency in the face of structural constraints in the colonial urban spaces and within the households. The findings are significant in amplifying the voice of women, who have largely been considered as victims.


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How to Cite

Mauye, S. (2023). African Women Agency gender Based Violence and the law in colonial Harare 1930s to 1950s. Southern Journal for Contemporary History, 48(2), 140–169.