Amnesty International says women in Zimbabwe are suffering from increased government repression. It says women are bearing much of the burden of a spiraling economic and social rights crisis in the country.

Amnesty says instead of the government addressing the underlying causes of the economic problems, it?s attacking and criminalizing the legitimate activities of women human rights defenders.

Simeon Mawanza is a researcher for Amnesty International. From London, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the problems Zimbabwean women are facing.

?The economic and social conditions have had a severe impact on women and have reduced their ability to feed their families, to send their children to school and to pay for medical care?. We spoke to women in both rural and urban areas across the country and it was a situation of sheer desperation. They can?t afford to buy maize meal. And those who are active in human rights are being targeted in rural areas. They are not allowed access to cheap maize that is sold through the grain marketing board, which is a state-owned organization. The government of Zimbabwe?s policies from the land reform policies in 2000 and the?evictions in 2005 have left women extremely vulnerable and being unable to feed their children,? he says.

Asked how these women cope with their situation, Mawanza says, ?For many poor women, they have to scrounge to make a living. And that?s why many have been joining women?s organizations or other human rights groups trying to demand the respect and protection of their economic and social rights. They?re engaging in peaceful street protests in the form of organizations like Women of Zimbabwe Arise. In rural areas, women often find themselves, especially outspoken women, (as) lone voices. They?re demanding accountability in how food aid is distributed or how government maize is sold?. They?re also speaking out against discrimination, against perceived political opposition, (against) people who are members of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change). And these women are finding it increasingly difficult because the government is becoming more and more repressive.?

The Amnesty report alleges many women have been arbitrarily arrested and beaten up, resulting in serious injuries. Mawanza says one woman had a miscarriage after such a beating.

Despite that, he says they refuse to go into hiding. ?The women that we have met are quite determined to continue confronting the government until their economic and social rights are respected,? he says.

The Amnesty International report recommends calling on the Zimbabwean government and police to end the arrests and beatings of women taking part in demonstrations. The report also calls on South African President Thabo Mbeki, who?s leading a mediation effort for Zimbabwe, to urge the Zimbabwean government to respect human rights. And it asks the international community to support woman human rights defenders in the country.