The nobodies….


“Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog,
And nobodies dream of escaping poverty.
That, one magical day
Good luck will suddenly rain down on them – will rain down in buckets
But good luck doesn’t rain down, yesterday, today, tomorrow or ever
Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle
No matter how hard the nobodies
Or if they begin the new day on their right foot
Or start the new year with a change of brooms
The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing
The nobodies: the no-ones
The nobodied- running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way
Who are not, but could be
Who don’t speak languages, but dialects
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts
Who don’t have culture, but folklore
Who are not human beings, but human resources
Who do not have faces, but arms
Who do not have names, but numbers
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the crime reports of the local paper
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them”

(Eduardo Galeano)

The stoning of Soraya

Emancipation, Gender, Uncategorized, Violence Against Women

A few nights ago, I watched for the first time a heartrending film called ‘The stoning of Soraya.’ I am still feeling the pain in my heart which I felt as I watched this film. Set in a small village in Iran in 1986, the film depicts the implementation of the Islamic Sharia law which requires that a woman be stoned for committing adultery. To say the least the film simply touched my heart.

The film captured the life of Soraya, a woman whose sole reason for dying was the fact that her cruel husband wanted to get rid of her. Initially he wanted a divorce but she could not grant him the divorce because she needed to protect her children by ensuring that they were provided for. If she had gotten the divorce then her husband would have only needed to take care of their two sons but not the two daughters and the wife because women in Soraya’s village were not considered important. A divorced woman and her daughters were not entitled to any benefits or care from the husband and father after the divorce. So Soraya stayed in the marriage for her children.

She bore so much abuse from her husband. He would hit her and a humiliate her in front of her children. He turned her eldest son against her so much that the son disrespected his own mother. At some point he even wanted to hit her. Soraya’s husband had an affair which he did not even try to hide and because he wanted to marry this new woman in his life he plotted her murder. He pretended to have her best interests at heart, convinced her aunt to talk to her about getting a job with one of the widowed men in the village as a housekeeper and so began the evil plot.

Soraya would go to the man’s house to clean for him and cook. She then became friends with this man and his son because they treated her with respect. Her husband would follow her and watch everything she did. On two occasions he saw her talking to the man she worked for in what ‘appeared’ to be private and intimate conversations. From these two incidences he accused her of having the intention to cheat on him which is considered to be adultery in itself.

Soraya’s husband blackmailed the poor widowed man, her employee to stand as the second witness against her on charges of adultery. Her crime was that she would take a ‘nap’ on this man’s bed in his absence an act that was considered as an invitation for sex or a sexual advance in this village. The law demanded that there be at least two witnesses where the crime of adultery was alleged. Witnesses to what? I asked myself as I watched this film. Suspicion towards a woman that she might have had the intention to commit adultery? Really, is that a crime? What sort of evidence can someone produce to prove such a crime.

But unfortunately for Soraya that was enough to send her to her death. She was charged and was found guilty. The trial was held in her absence. She was not asked to defend herself. To make matters worse, as the accused she was required to prove her innocence. Should it not be the way of justice that the one who accuses should prove the guilt of the one who is accused? How was Soraya supposed to prove that she had no intention to have an affair with another man who was not her husband. Spill her brains?

Soraya was condemned to death by stoning. I cannot take off my mind the images of that woman as she bade goodbye to her two little daughters. I cannot forget her quiet strength as she walked to her point of death. I can never forget the look in her eyes as she stood before her community and asked them “How can you do this to me. I was your neighbour, your friend, your daughter, your mother, your wife. I cleaned your houses. I was with you and you act as if you do not know who I am.”

I can see her hands being tied behind her back. I can see the people placing her in a pit they dug for her. They forced her to kneel in the pit and buried half her body while she was still alive. They left her shoulders and head uncovered. They wanted to hit her in the most sensitive parts on her head, to cause her maximum pain because this ‘whore’ had brought disgrace to her community, her family and her husband.

I can hear the chants as the crowd shouted “Allah hu Akbar” (meaning, God is great) as they threw the stones. I can still see the stones as they were hurled against her, one after the other, blood gashing off her forehead, deep wounds inflicted on her beautiful face. They stoned her to death. The man she was supposed to have committed adultery with was even given stones to throw at her so that he could ‘reclaim’ his honour. One after the other the stones flew. She screamed, cried, groaned and mourned until her voice and strength ebbed away and she died.

They would not let her be buried with honour. Her body was discarded beside a river. The next morning the remains of her body which the dogs had left behind was all that her aunt could bury. And so ended Soraya’s life.

This film brought home to me the fact that there are so many other Sorayas and potential Sorayas out there. Maybe one of them is facing the same fate even as I write. Islamic Sharia is still being practised in many states and many communities still believe adultery is punishable by stoning. Despite governments’ denial that death by stoning is still being meted out as a punishment the reality is that it is happening. Stories from Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq recording incidences of stoning have been reported.

In 2011 the following cases reached mainstream media; in January Siddqa a 25 year old Afghani woman was stoned together with her boyfriend after she had eloped to be with him, running away from an arranged marriage in which she had been sold for $9000 against her will. In May, Katya Koren a 19 year old Muslim girl from Crimea in Ukraine was stoned to death under ‘Sharia law’ after taking part in a beauty contest. In June, Fazia a Pakistani woman from the village of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was stoned to death by her husband and his friends for allegedly having an affair with his brother. These are the stories that made it into the global news sphere but the possibility of more discreet killings having taken place cannot be ruled off.

The other Sorayas are victims of domestic violence globally. The wives whose husbands batter them into pulp each day because they have found someone newer and younger. The women with the broken limbs, the scars on their bodies, black eyes on their faces and hearts heavy with pain and regret.
The mothers who will stay in marriages for the sake of their children or because they are not economically empowered to leave the husband who is the breadwinner.

Many powerful voices have already spoken against these practices but I felt compelled to add my own because watching this film I felt a sense of responsibility to shed the light and share the pain on how some womenfolk suffer in the name of religion or marriage. They suffer to death trapped in marriages that bring them grief every day of their lives. How I wish our society could release them from this bondage.

*The film is based on a true story as written by French Journalist Jim Caviezel and the experience he had in Iran*

Women are not goods-they are not for sale!


Slavery conjures up pictures of black people shipped in bunks and tied to chains; and sounds of whips on their backs at the hands of white owners. Rarely does it invoke images of women and girls, chained to beds, held in bondage as sex slaves.

The kind of dark thoughts that creep into people’s minds at midnight – are they ever about imagining life as a sex slave? Does anyone ever wonder what life would be like awake all night, abused, exhausted, bruised, dejected, knowing that tomorrow promises no change? Does anyone not subjected to this horror lose sleep imagining a life of perpetual pain, humiliation, degradation, men forcing themselves upon you, thousands of dollars made off your body, with none for you, but all for your pimp?

Yet this slavery is not history but a cruel part of current global events.

The inhumanity of the Atlantic slave trade stirred the abolitionist movement more than a century ago, and with the exception of Mauritania where Arab Muslim ‘bidanes’ still own black slaves ‘haratines’ blacks are no longer used as slaves because they are blacks.

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes on the other hand knows no race. It discriminates against women because they are women; be they black, Indian, Arabic, Caucasian, Asian, white or another race. Sexual slavery plagues women from all continents especially Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Women exposed to extreme poverty are the most vulnerable although other women may be deceived, sold or abducted into sexual slavery. Stop Sexual Slavery, a global entity fighting sexual slavery contends that sex traffickers make $3.2 billion annually. For such a profitable industry, moral outrage without committed societal transformation and government commitment will never be sufficient to end it.

Many governments close their eyes to the destruction of thousands of girls’ and women’s lives. Is it because the victims are women? Has slavery suddenly become less appalling because men are predominantly the physical and financial beneficiaries of the sale of women’s bodies?

It is crystal clear that sexual slavery occurs in larger proportions than the Atlantic slave trade ever did. 100,000 children are forced to become sex workers each year, injected with drugs until they become addicts, wasted and debilitated.  The Not for Sale Campaign estimates that more than 30 million people are held in sexual slavery today.

When will it stop-Picture Credit Royal Canadian Police

There are no William Wilberforces standing up defying houses of Assembly and forcing crackdowns on this practice. Instead many legislators believe this is prostitution-the oldest trade in the world-not worth making a fuss over. But how does an 8-year-old choose to be a prostitute?

No Kings and Sheikhs are passing decrees to end sexual slavery; instead during my stay in Cairo, I heard stories of sheikhs from Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the Emiratis who solely visited to buy sex.

Sexual slavery is rampant in places where there is no rule of law such as Northern Uganda,the DRC, Mauritania and particularly Zimbabwe.

The feminisation of poverty is evident in the capture and use of young Zimbabwean women as sex slaves in South Africa, attempting to escape the dire economic straits in Zimbabwe. In February 2012, the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, through BBC News, reported that Northern Ireland was becoming the fastest growing sex industry in England with most victims coming from Zimbabwe, Ghana, China and Slovakia.

Zimbabwe’s geographical positioning lends itself to be used as a source, transit and destination point for victims of trafficking from and to Asia, Europe and other African countries, according to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report from June 2009.

Bottled up in slavery-SAWSO Image

Still, the Zimbabwean government refuses to ratify anti-trafficking conventions. An anti-trafficking bill has been pending approval in parliament for years. To prosecute apprehended offenders, an ad-hoc approach utilising the Children’s Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act has to be used. In the same vein the Criminal Code criminalises prostitution and harasses victims–masking trafficking as prostitution and subjecting victims to inhumane living conditions.

The Zimbabwean government and many others do not make significant efforts to fully comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking.  Why isn’t there an outcry as huge as that against black slavery? Would the issue be taken more seriously if men were sex slaves?

Zimbabwe needs to sign and ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, develop clear policies encompassing public education and awareness, name and shame those involved, prosecute offenders and offer psycho-social support for victims.

Only then will we make progress toward abolishing another form of slavery, one that puts us all to shame.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Feminst Chronicles: Diary 28: Rebecca Chisamba


As a Zimbabwean I do not need to look very far to identify our very own Oprah Winfrey. Rebecca Chisamba hosts her own talk show known as the Mai Chisamba show and from that she is also popularly known as Mai Chisamba. She addresses a wide range of topical issues affecting Zimbabweans in their daily lives. Her topics range from abortion, witchcraft, lobola, homosexuality, early marriage, small houses, to child abuse. She tackles difficult issues that society is afraid to discuss and drags issues that society usually sweeps under the carpet into the limelight and forces society to confront these issues and device solutions to the many challenges and problems arising.

Amai Chisamba, the talk show hostess doing her thing

 Mai Chisamba raises questions that make people challenge their notions of morality in relation to gender equality. For instance she hosted shows discussing the important question of infidelity amongst men and women. Her bone of contention with the men was in understanding why men cheat so much, why it is common cause that they cheat, why they expect women to stay put and stick it out after they find out their infidelity yet on the other hand when a man catches a woman cheating 99% of the time he does not want anything to do with her after that.

Mai Chisamba is a strong advocate against the spread of HIV and Aids, child abuse and domestic violence. In 2007 she was arrested together with the founder of the Girl Child Network Betty Makoni for allegedly contravening the Child Protection and Adoption Act. Betty Makoni t had brought women and girls survivors of sexual abuse to the Amai Chisamba show as part of her campaign to end sexual abuse as a prerequisite to ensure national development. The police argued that in broadcasting the show where these girls confessed to have been raped, Mai Chisamba and Betty Makoni circumvented the law and wrongfully paraded suspected rape victims whose cases were still pending in the courts. It is quite surprising to hear that the same police in 2011 were parading ‘suspected’ female rapists when their case had not even been lodged before a court of law.

Although the faces of the minors were obscured on the show the state insisted that bringing them on the show was a violation of the Child Protection Act, a hypocritical statement from the state which had failed to protect these children from abuse in the first place. The campaign by Girl Child Network  came in the face of increased reportage of the abuse of young girls by men infected with HIV/AIDS driven by the myth that  raping a virgin (the younger the better), would cure AIDS.

 Girl Child Network had previously exposed Madzibaba Nzira a ZANU-PF affiliated false prophet who raped women as part of his ‘prayers; to ensure they got what they were ‘praying for.’ It had also exposed Pastor Obadiah Musindo another ZANU-PF affiliated pastor who raped his housekeeper. Girl Child Network had also exposed Chris Mushowe a ZANU PF member of parliament who fondled, sexually harassed, and forced girls to masturbate in front of him. These girls were supposed to be beneficiaries of the Presidential Fort Hare Scholarship. Hence when Mai Chisamba associated herself with Girl Child Network she faced the consequences.

 In 2009 she was part of a campaign led by Practical Action Southern Africa, entitled Energising the Millennium Development Goals – Setting an Enabling Environment for Southern Africa (E-MINDSET), in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. The objectives of the campaign were to demonstrate the importance of mainstreaming energy needs in development plans so as to facilitate smooth achievement of Millennium Development Goals. The programme sought to empower communities by giving them the necessary skills to develop their own development plans at ward level, recognising their energy needs and priorities. Episodes of the Mai Chisamba show were recorded with communities to collect the views of these communities.

 Mai Chisamba also tackled the very important question of beauty and how it has disempowered women in Zimbabwe. Some women believe being light-skinned is synonymous with being beautiful (as most men are attracted to light skinned women). In the end these women use skin lightening creams to bleach their dark skins, placing themselves at risk of developing skin cancers. Others take vagina tightening creams and hip, bum and breast enhancement pills to become voluptuous and hence “attractive” to men.  This degrading behaviour which makes women prisoners in their own bodies is still problematic, with women disfiguring themselves just to ensure that they have a man in their lives. It speaks to the deeply entrenched societal perception and patriarchal notion that a woman is not complete without a man and hence she should do everything in her power to get one, even through destructive behaviour to her own well being. In addressing such issues publicly, Mai Chisamba gave women a chance to analyse their behaviour, question the effects of this behaviour and make informed decisions about whether they want to continue doing these destructive acts that demean their persona.

 In 2009 she was also involved with Musasa Project, an organisation fighting to end and address the consequences of domestic violence and Padare/ Enkundleni a men’s gender forum in leading discussions on the practice of lobola. Lobola/Roora/Bride Price remains one of the most contentious cultural practices that has largely compromised the dialogue on gender equality in Zimbabwe. In the olden days lobola was paid by the groom to the bride’s family as a means of setting ties between the groom’s and the bride’s families. Nowadays it has been turned into a moneymaking venture which gives men an excuse for battering their wives, making unreasonable demands including sexual demands from their wives, arguing that they PAID for the services they demand.

 Although the Mai Chisamba show has not resolved the question or resulted in a decision whether to continue or discontinue the practice, it has facilitated dialogue which has raised awareness on the dangers of overcharging on the part of the fathers and has also cautioned some men to respect the essence of the practice and not to abuse it for their own selfish ends.

 Mai Chisamba is one of the women who have advocated the beauty and brains element of beauty pageants, arguing that without the brains the pageants are demeaning as they only an exhibition of the women’s bodies and could encourage young girls not to pursue a proper education but take the shortcut to riches and fame using their bodies. She was also one of the first people to profile the issue of male prostitution, drawing the population into discussions of why men prostitute themselves and the consequences thereof.

 In 2010 she was instrumental in highlighting the importance of women’s participation in the ongoing constitution making process in Zimbabwe. The campaign entitled “Stand up and Draft your Constitution” raised much awareness on women and the constitution. It improved the visibility of the women’s movement and hence increased women’s informed participation in the processes.

Although some critics have dismissed the show as lacking in structure, sustainability and philosophical base, it remains one of the most popular educating programmes on local television. In 2009, when it was suspended unceremoniously from broadcasting, a huge outcry against this suspension led to the show being reinstated.

Mai Chisamba is a role model of how sheer determination can lead to much success. Although she started off her career as a teacher, she found her passion and moved  to being a talk show host later on. Despite her numerous roles as wife, mother of five and pursuing her career goals, she also managed to complete her Master of Arts Degree from the Women’s University in 2010.

 She was voted the Communicator of the Year in 2003, Best Television Woman Presenter in 2007 and Best Television Presenter in the 2008 Njama Awards. She also won the award for the ‘Long standing talk show’ in the Victory Awards in 2011.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 27: Catherine Makoni


One of the words I have decided to make part of my permanent vocabulary is ubuntu. This word which refers to the same thing though spoken to in many cultures and languages across the African continent is about our humanity, the notion that as human beings we should relate to each other with dignity and respect. One of the first things that drew me to Catherine is her conclusion that Zimbabweans have lost their UBUNTU. I agree with her.

 I know fellow Zimbabweans that I look at and frown upon. No I am not being judgemental or maybe I am but here is what I see in them and if after you have read this you do not frown upon their behaviour too then I guess you are not judgemental. They think every commercial sex worker is a prostitute and that they do it because they are possessed by a demonic spirit of prostitution or because they just want it. What about the victims of trafficking? What about the woman who had no choice? Of course because we always have a choice we always assume every individual has a choice, right? I frown upon Zimbabweans who make fun of the women’s movement and how the quest for gender equality is un-African and ungodly. How would they feel if they had to live in an environment in which they were considered incapable because they are women, in which they did not have choices about where they live, where they work and what they do because they are women, an environment in which they had to work twice as hard to prove their capabilities, where they are used and discarded because that is how society is structured. I frown upon people who think simply because their life is perfect then they need not worry about other people’s welfare. In Ndebele they say Indoda iyazibonela, in Shona Nhamo yeumwe hairambirwi sadza, and in English Each man for himself and God for us all. Is that our humanity?

Catherine speaks to these issues in a much more articulate manner than I am doing here. Speaking to the strife and trouble that wrecked Zimbabweans’ lives in the article We have lost our ubuntu  she said,

“We all know what’s wrong and what’s right but no one is willing to do what it takes for the common good. The shelves are empty, but as long as I am managing to put food on my family’s table, who cares that my neighbour’s children are going to bed hungry? As long as I can access cash through various means, who cares that someone has been spending days and nights outside the bank waiting to withdraw their paltry money. We look at them, we feel sorry, we despair but we are relieved that it is not us standing in the baking sun as we go about our business. We do not intervene. We do not speak out when we should. Hatisisina hunhu. We have lost our ubuntu; that which makes us members of the human family.”

Cover to the Book in which Catherine's story: Letters to my cousin was published.

She is a champion for women’s rights.  One of the most interesting articles written by her is Women as vectors of disease: The problem with ill-thought campaigns . In this article, she criticises the reference to and lumping together of divorced women, single women, commercial sex workers, mistresses (known as small houses in Zimbabwe) as mahure (whores). She also frowns upon HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns that depict women as the problem, with a woman portrayed as the jar of honey into which many men want to dip their fingers but instead they get out of it infected. She criticises the portrayal of women as the problem and asserts that the spread of HIV/AIDS is a problem perpetuated by the societal expectation of what women can do and can’t do which men can do such as engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners what she terms ‘toxic masculinities.’  She makes the apt point that the spread of HIV/AIDS is not the fault of women who do not conform to the cultural practise that is perceived to be acceptable and ‘normal.’ I agree with Catherine completely when she states that blaming women for men’s immorality only stigmatises women whose lifestyles differ from the promoted cultural and religious hegemonic norm. Indeed the expectation for women to remain virgins while single and remain faithful after marriages will only work if men do the same, otherwise as things stand where men are expected to dally in all sorts of sexual adventures while single and comfortably boast of a small house after marriage is a recipe for the continuation of the spread of the disease.

 She has written on how women are abused in a bid to silence them and silence their voices in the political arena. In her article If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will look like nails  she describes Rutendo  a woman who, “knows the pain of displacement only too well. At 64, she had to suffer the pain and humiliation of being gang-raped by boys young enough to be her grandsons. The trauma of that experience lives with her still. None of her close relatives know about her ordeal. She never went back home after that night. Now she goes from relative to relative, living from day to day, wondering when she will die. She wonders if she could be infected but she has not been able to go for tests. It’s a lot for her just to wake up and go about the business of living. Rape is not an event. It lasts a lifetime.”

She has also addressed the question of why Zimbabwe had to enact a Domestic violence Act,  which she says was necessary to address violence in the private sphere which before 2006 no other act regulated yet it contributed to the death, injury and maiming of many women. In that article she challenged the notion that the dressing of some women invites upon their selves attacks from men. Catherine’s challenge of the notion of decency struck me as one of the most well argued positions about African women’s dressing, a point that I have always made but never had the authority to quote (which I now do).

She says “Notions of decency are notoriously difficult to define. Who gets the privilege of setting the standards for decency for society? Allow me to explain. During Victorian England, the exposure of a woman’s legs was considered indecent exposure in much of the western world. Around about that time, in Africa, most of us were still in our animal skins. Exposure of women’s legs was par for the course. There was nothing indecent about it. The settlers who came to Africa were coming from Victorian England and they imposed Victorian notions of decency. Gone were the animal skins, in came the voluminous dresses and skirts (totally inappropriate for the weather, one might add!) So successful was this process of inculturation that a lot of people (Mr Namate included it seems) are still advocating for this mode of dressing, long after its chief proponents have realised its folly and moved on!!”

She is a critic of the high levels of corruption within the government in Zimbabwe and has boldly challenged the source of the President’s vast wealth collections in Zimbabwe and around the world. Following the announcement of the increase in the President’s salary from $400 to $1750 in 2010 she boldly stated in her article Now we know his salary, perhaps he can disclose the full extent of his wealth,

Good to know the president got a salary increase from $400 to $1750. Good percentage increase for himself there. Wonder how many people would get an increase of +400% in this environment? Not many l would wager. Anyway now that we know how much he earns officially perhaps we can have another front page disclosure of how much he earns from other perhaps “unofficial sources of income”? It would be interesting to know how the family could afford to send the first daughter to school in Hong Kong on a $400 salary.  Maybe she benefited from the Presidential Scholarship Fund?

I also fell in love with her analysis of how the Constitution and matters of the Constitution impact women. Her point that most of the women in the women’s movement think once matters of personal are addressed in Section 23 of the Constitution then women’s issues are fully addressed and all is well in our little newly created paradise on earth. Indeed that is a falsehood because the lives of Zimbabwean women are more than just about abuse, inheritance, maintenance, custody, divorce and division of matrimonial property. The women in industry and commerce, business, agriculture, mining, politics, tourism, aviation, medicine and many other fields are affected in some ways similar to the men in those fields but in some instances in unique ways too hence a holistic approach to their constitutional rights must go beyond the personal issues to address the public day to day life as well.

Catherine has previously worked with the Women in Politics Support Unit and now is  Regional Programme Officer : Justice and Peace for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). A lawyer by profession, a civil society actor and a writer Catherine has published many articles. In her story : Letters to my cousin which was published in the collection African Women Writing Resistance An Anthology of Contemporary Voices and published under the section on Young Women on Sexuality. The short story is presented in the form of letters in which an older and mature cousin advises her younger cousin Jane who is in a relationship with a man 10 years older than her to be wary and make informed decision about where she takes her relationship. Jane is advised to be careful not to let the older man use his financial and emotional maturity to influence her into doing things she does not want and to insist on using a condom should she want to have sex with him.

Here are some tidibits from that story. The rest you can read for yourself:

“That eleven year age gap has implications Jane. You will always be unequal”

“When I asked if he was married you said you did not know. You didn’t think to ask because you assumed he wasn’t, otherwise he would not be asking you out. Sometimes I forget your naiveté and the sheltered upbringing that you have had”

 “Not everyone is nice and honest. Thee are men who will prey on young girls.”

The story of my car


Have you ever thought you were in a dream, living someone else’s life.  You pinch yourself repeatedly and yet still you dont wake up. Yes it really happened, yes the tragedy struck but then again you are alive and so have a lot to be grateful for.

Often I have heard tales of people who bought their car and lost it on the same day. “It was a complete write off,” those who would have gone to the site of the accident will narrate. I would distantly take note of the details and feel sorry for the person, then move on with my life. What a shame, how could something so terrible happen to this person, I would think. But I never really comprehended the enormity of the pain and shock the owner goes through, losing something so new and which they were excited to have acquired. The convenience of a car in a country like mine, where using public transport is a night mare is a privilege that everyone wants to enjoy.

So today there will be no Chronicles. Instead there is just me and the hollow feeling in my stomach because today I am one of those people I always used to hear people talking about. Yesterday I bought a car. Today I was involved in an accident. Ok I  may be lucky it did not become a complete write off but it was damaged. I thank God I am safe, but now I understand what it feels like to lose something before you had it in your grasp.

Life teaches us to be thankful for each day but it also teaches us not to wallow in our miseries in times of distress. So tomorrow I shall continue the journey of my Chronicles but today let me be sad for the damage that happened to my car.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary Two: Emilia Muchawa

Activism, Emancipation, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Human Rights, Peace, Uncategorized, Women, Zimbabwe

The first time I met her I was a very impressionable young student on attachment – one of the many requirements of the law degree at the University of Zimbabwe. I had heard so much about the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) (pronounced as zwala) even before I began my studies and when I finally met the firebrand of a woman responsible for the day to day running of the organisation, the Executive Director, Mrs Emilia Muchawa I began an intriguing and unforgettable experience.

Mrs Muchawa presenting at the Commission on the Staus of Women session in New York in 2011

I had heard of bruised bodies and battered hearts and souls, but then they were just flowery expressions of pain and sorrow. At ZWLA, I saw them and I felt them. I met the woman who lost her teeth because she was refusing to grant her husband a quick divorce through consent. I conversed with the HIV infected woman who procrastinated leaving an abusive husband until he destroyed her life. I looked into the eyes of the mother with no access to her own children because the husband prevented her from doing so. I met the woman with the bent back who toiled day and night farming in the rural areas while the husband worked in town, earned some money from selling her groundnuts and gave the husband the money so they could buy a house, yet overnight she lost everything because the house was in the husband’s name and he did not want her anymore. I met the woman who was chased out like a dog from her own home after her husband died because the husband’s relatives said it was his property; she owned nothing because she had “just” been a housewife.

There are more women, more stories, more issues but for me this was my experience in just 5 months. For Mrs Muchawa it is a lifetime experience. With her multiple identities as a woman, a wife, a mother to her children, a lawyer by profession, in addition to being the Director of ZWLA, she has dedicated her life to lift the burden off these women’s shoulders. Litigating in the courts, researching the issues, reporting on them, advocating for transformation and lobbying anyone with a listening ear, she has been fighting to change the fate of women in Zimbabwe.

Mrs Muchawa holds a Masters Degree in Women’s Law, a Masters of Policy Studies, a Post Graduate Diploma in Women’s Law from the University of Zimbabwe and a Bachelor of Law Honours Degree from the University of Zimbabwe. She has served as the Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, a network of non governmental organisations dealing with women’s human rights issues such as access to land, inheritance, harmful cultural practices, access to justice, and access to financial aid among many others. She also sits on the Board of Trustees of the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust an organisation that conducts and presents evidence based research to influence the formulation of poverty reduction policies and strategies.

She has fought for an end to harmful traditional practices such as child marriages, polygamy and widow inheritance. She has screamed her lungs out for the equal participation of women in politics and decision-making to that of men including the creation of a conducive climate. She has made presentations looking into the ways in which gender stereotypes feed AIDS/HIV related stigma and discrimination. She suggested ways in which legal norms, both national and international could be used to address stigma and discrimination.

She is one of the leading figures who fought for the promulgation of the Anti-domestic Violence Act. For years as a member of the women’s coalition and in her capacity as Director of ZWLA she participated in the drafting and pushed the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Bill that was then passed into an Act of Parliament. She represented the Women’s Coalition in meetings held with a special committee for legislature in the president’s cabinet whose approval allowed the Bill to be introduced to Parliament.

The Act which was passed in 2007 now outlaws abuse derived from cultural practices that degrade women; requires police stations to have at least one officer on duty with expertise in domestic violence at all times; provides for the setting up of an Anti Domestic Violence Committee to review the consistent application of the new law. It allows for the arrest of a perpetrator by a police officer without a warrant, in the interest of the victim’s safety, health or well being; allows third parties to apply for protection orders on behalf of the victims, all of which were demands carried in the work that Mrs. Muchawa and the women’s coalition carried out. In 2009 she was appointed to the Anti-Domestic Violence Council.

Mrs Muchawa has been one of the leading figures advocating constitutional reforms in particular a constitution that provides for the respect, protection and promotion of gender equality in all spheres of life. As the Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition she has relentlessly fought for the equal representation of women with men in the organs spearheading the ongoing constitution making process in Zimbabwe especially at management level. Together with other members of the Coalition she forwarded a petition to the co-chairs of the constitutional select committee demanding that gender imbalances in the select committee and the thematic committees be addressed. In February 2010 the women’s coalition launched a constitutional SMS campaign in which they encouraged the flooding with text messages of the three Parliament Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) chairpersons for failing to achieve gender equality in the representation of members of the outreach teams.

In 2010 she was announced as the Deputy Chairperson of the Thematic Sub-Committee on Women and Gender Issues in the constitution making process in Zimbabwe. The sub-committees were tasked to undertake public consultations including approving the content of the questionnaires used in the outreach processes, analysing the public responses and preparing reports of principles to be used by the drafting committee of the Constitution.

Mrs Muchawa as the Director of ZWLA is currently steering a committee of Zimbabwean civil society actors in preparing a shadow report to the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. The shadow report highlights issues which the state report -submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is either silent on or has misrepresented. This very important process allows the issues of women to be heard at the United Nations level. The recommendations that the civil society shadow report makes regarding the legalisation of abortion, the decriminalisation of sex work, the empowerment of rural women, and the harmonisation of marriage laws among other things are crucial.

She is also leading a campaign for the harmonisation of marriage laws in Zimbabwe. Currently Zimbabwe has a multiple marriage system, in which customary marriages and civil marriages are treated differently. The rights and privileges deriving from the customary marriage are limited especially when it comes to issues of inheritance, children’s rights within the marriage and protection of the women within the marriage in the event of separation or divorce.

As the Director of ZWLA, Mrs Muchawa in 2007 initiated the ZWLA Women Human Rights Defenders award for 2011, an award that emphasises the importance of human rights protection within the context of peace, security and justice. The award complements the agenda of UN Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888 which synonymise peace and security with women’s empowerment.

Mrs Muchawa’s work in fighting violence against women has received global recognition. She is one of the world’s most renowned leaders in the Council of the Spiritual Alliance to stop Intimate Violence (SAIV) together with the likes of Ela Gandhi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Deserving of such an honour, the gallant efforts of this woman for the rights of women in Zimbabwe should not only be admired but emulated. She, and others started the struggle and I believe they depend on us and future generations to drive it forward.

And so ends the tale of yet another inspiring woman in the women’s rights movement in Zimbabwe.

The unsung ones


The unsung (s)heroes/heroines

The typical freedom fighter who is often arewarded after a struggle is one who holds the gun, stands at the forefront of the struggle and raises a voice speaking out against the injustices of an era. More often than not that freedom fighter is the man who stays in prison, is tortured and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment yet he still stands firm against the ideals and policies of the regime he opposes. Indeed these men are brave men. Their role in challenging the status quo is an indisputably pivotal one in shaping the world into a better place.

However my heart bleeds for the forgotten freedom fighters…

The women who may not go to the warfront but are still drawn onto the battlefield. The women whose souls are battered as their bodies are turned into war zones as men rape them and mutilate them to exact revenge against their enemies. The women whose children die in their arms from hunger, starvation and disease yet they soldier on. The women who endure the long nights and dark days without their husbands, sons and brothers. The women who are left behind to wonder if they will ever see their loved ones again and who are often given the burden of taking care of the children, the elderly and the disabled under harsh conditions. Yes, these women’s role is huge yet it is often never recognised. They remain unsung heroines of the struggles for political freedom, for peace, for justice and for human rights.

At this moment my heart stands with a sheroine, Manal Bahey El Din Hassan, my friend, whose husband Alaa Abd El Fattah is being held by the Egyptian military rulers at Torah prison. Alaa stands falsely accused of inciting violence among protestors that led to the death of 26 people on 9 October. Yes for refusing to be tried in a military Court I salute him. For criticising the army and the violence it incited and executed at Maspero I also salute him.

But I salute Manal more. Right now she is heavily pregnant about to give birth to their first child. She is facing the difficulties of her final term of pregnancy alone, without her husband. Alone she stands firm and is continuously fighting the military and its policy of subjecting human rights defenders and political activists to military trials on trumped up charges.

Even her husband in a letter he wrote to the press acknowledged that while he is in prison his wife is out there;

“whom I will leave alone in the last days of her pregnancy and will leave her alone to oversee the workers who are preparing Khaled’s (their unborn son) room, I who shall be detained and she who shall be burdened while she is running around for my demands, my sustenance and my visitation permits as well as the campaign that was founded for my case.”
(Full article available at

My heart also stands with Jenni William a Zimbabwean human rights activist and social justice champion whose struggle for social justice has landed her in prison many times. In her prison diary entitled “Reflections after my 39th arrest” Jenni writes

“My name is Jenni Williams, national coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). I am persecuted for being a human rights defender, just getting over my 39th arrest and recovering from my 3rd stint in a Zimbabwean jail as an unconvicted prisoner. Arrested on the 21st of September World Peace Day, I spent 2 days in horrific conditions at Bulawayo Central Police and then 10 days at Mlondolozi female prison in Khami complex. This brings my tally to 73 days of my life spent in jails wearing the bright green dolly rocker tunic of a remand prisoner. Despite so many arrests, the state has been unable to criminalise my right to peaceful protest so they through a particular officer with personal grudges have now resorted to criminal charges of kidnapping and theft.”

She denounces the dreary conditions in remand prison and says
“I ask us to think and try to find other ways than to send someone to a prison that cannot feed them in a country that will not reform or correct them. Instead of prisoners coming out as reformed members of society they re-enter society as hardened criminals with little hope of being reformed.”
(the whole entry is available at

Many more women out there have taken the same role and time and time again their efforts have never been fully recognised for the sheer bravery they represent. These women are brave beyond measure and today I salute them and recognise them as true (s)heros.

Sex is (not) easy in Africa

Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Uncategorized, Women

Shall we be silenced?

It had been a long journey and I was exhausted. I had left Zimbabwe some two days before and was now stuck at the Leopold Senghor Airport in Dakar, Senegal eager to embark on the last leg of my journey to Banjul, the Gambia to take part in the 50th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. I was exhausted and in no mood for chit chat. May I join you? He asked. Sure, I responded. He asked all the niceties about where I was going, where I was coming from, why I was travelling. Then the conversation got more personal, do I have a boyfriend, is our relationship serious and all this time I wondered where the conversation was going. Then came the bombshell, was I a virgin. At this stage I was doing my level best to control my temper because clearly this Indian man was trying to pick me up. I asked why he was asking such personal questions and his response was blunt…Oh well you know, sex is easy in Africa.

On investigating further, I discovered that his conclusion emanated from his experiences in Guinea where allegedly he discovered a society where it is easy for a man to get sex from a woman he hardly knows. I doubted his assertions about Guinea and I objected to his generalisations about African women. It is such generalisations that breed prejudices and such prejudices lead to the abuse of women. It is from the presumption that all women love attention that most men think they can comment on a woman’s looks loudly and she will appreciate it yet some of us find that to be harassment. It is from the presumption that all women should not have an opinion that women’s voices are suppressed yet without my voice I am incomplete. It is also from the presumption that a woman’s place is in the kitchen that the girl child is not given an equal opportunity to an education as a boy and hence her chances of making it big in life are limited yet those of us who have been given the chance are proving to be equally capable to men …if not better.

Hence I made it clear to him that sex is not ‘easy’ in Africa. I made it clear that simply because women have a choice to determine their sexuality and sexual conduct does not make them prostitutes as he suggested. I made it clear I was not available for a pick up. I also made it clear I found his attempt to pick me up deplorable and that he owed me an apology.

In the end I spent the 12 hours of my transit comfortably ensconced in the VIP lounge, having warm tea and delicious cookies, all paid for by the Indian not-so-gentle-man as part of his ‘apology package’ and NO I did not have to sleep with him to get all that.

No-we stand firm-up in arms

Being a Refugee


When I was working for the Research and Advocacy Unit, a non-governmental organisation that addresses organised violence and torture in Zimbabwe, I administered a questionnaire to Zimbabwean refugees living in South Africa. Through this experience I gained insight into the link between forced migration and transitional justice. On my last day, I had an experience that increased my appreciation of the plight of refugees. A woman came to the hotel where I stayed. She had heard about the survey and wanted to tell her story. The hotel would not let her onto their premises so I had to meet her on the street. The sight of her broke my heart. Her clothes were tattered. Her skin was a black-grey colour- a sign that she had not bathed in days. The baby on her back was crying incessantly. “She is hungry,” she explained, “She has not had anything to eat for days.” As she spoke I found myself struggling to hold back my tears.

I could not interview her in the hotel. “She will cause discomfort for the other guests,” the hotel manager informed me. The street was not an option either, with the baby incessantly crying and the car horns blaring. She insisted she wanted her story to be heard. We walked together and the sight of a fruit stall I stopped to buy her a few bananas and oranges so she could feed her baby. The child quieted down and the woman began her story.

Several young men had come to her home at night in one of the rural towns of Zimbabwe. Her father was perceived to belong to the wrong political party. These men tied up her mother and father and set their hut ablaze, burning them alive. They dragged her into the forest where they raped her, one after the other then left her for dead. She had no idea which one of them was the father of her baby. She had run away from home, walked miles on foot, and begged for passage aboard any vehicle heading for South Africa. She was smuggled across the border because she did not possess valid travel documents. With no money the only thing she could give was her body; more abuse. Had believed she would be safe but in South Africa all she found was more victimisation, hunger, poverty, loneliness and pain; “I had a home. I had family. I am educated, you know. I wanted to be a nurse.”

All I could give her were a few bananas and contacts of organisations that might help her. I wish I could have done more. Many other people face the same fate. They had homes, lives, families, hopes and aspirations, all lost through no fault of their own. The African adage “when giants fight it is the grass that suffers” applies as conflicts rage on and citizens suffer, become refugees and are ostracised in the countries to which they flee. Meanwhile, those responsible for their losses remain ensconced in their grandeur, surrounded by thousands of bodyguards to ensure their protection.

Apart from violent conflict, persecution and imprisonment of political opponents has become one of the leading causes of refugee influxes. Massive abuses of human rights, monopolisation of political and economic power, disrespect for democratic processes such as elections, resistance to popular participation in governance, and poor management of public affairs were key factors that triggered forced displacements in Zimbabwe. In Burma, the suppression of minority tribal groups by a military that wants to impose the supremacy of the majority ethnicity, has led many people to flee the country. Dissenting political voices are persecuted in China, Ethiopia and Iran. Sudan currently has the largest IDP population in Africa owing to targeted attacks on Nubians in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and on Darfuris. In Somalia and Ethiopia; war and famine have driven many away from their homes, resulting in the great numbers of refugees at Dadaab camp on the Somali/Kenyan border.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reveals that nearly 28 per cent (3.2 million) of the world’s twelve million refugees are in Africa, with nine of the top twenty ‘refugee-producing’ countries being in Africa. A 2009 report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) covering 21 African countries estimated that there were 11.6 million IDPs in these countries, representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s total IDPs. Indeed, forced displacement has reached chronic levels.

When refugees flee from their homes, they seek security from the threats to their life and liberty. Fleeing however does not guarantee security; it merely exchanges one form of vulnerability for another. In camps they are restricted to isolated, insecure areas. If assimilated into the society they are often thrust into hostile societies with xenophobic tendencies. Women and girls may be subjected to rape, sexual violence, human trafficking and abductions for purposes of forced marriage by male family members, security personnel stationed by the government, and leaders and agency officials delivering aid. Young men and boys are forcibly conscripted into militia forces. Violent clashes with local populations over land and resources are also common, Kenya being an example. More often than not, states are either unable or unwilling to provide refugees with assistance.

Attitudes towards refugees must change. The first necessity is to realise that a refugee today was a national of another country yesterday with a home, a job, hopes and aspirations. Second, refugees are victims of circumstances beyond their control. Third, legal regimes that portray refugees as the ‘other’ breed resentment in local populations leading to xenophobic attacks. These legal regimes must be transformed. Fourth, instead of ostracising refugees, host countries and the global community should ostracise the political leaders, rebel movements or any other groups responsible for forcing the refugees to flee their homes. This should include but is not limited to, freezing their assets, denying them travel access, preventing them from accessing arms or weapons used to destroy whole populations and pushing for processes that hold perpetrators of human right violations against refugees accountable for their actions.