She must cover up?! : Reflections on the #MiniSkirtMarch

Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

On Saturday 4 October 2014, Zimbabwean women, led by Katswe Sistahood, launched the #MiniSkirtMarch- a protest against men who publicly harass women for their dressing, especially at commuter omnibus ranks. The messaging of the #MiniSkirtMarch was about women refusing to have the way they dress dictated to us or to be used as an excuse for abuse. It was about rights and choice and how these should be respected. The #MiniSkirtMarch was about confronting our society’s double standards about women’s bodily integrity and autonomy. It aimed to send a strong message that there are no tolerable excuses for perpetrating violence against women in any form. It was not about all Zimbabwean women wanting to wear miniskirts because some, like me, have different preferences.

It is not our culture?

The excuse often given to justify why women should not wear what they want is that certain dressing is not part of our culture. Which culture? As far back as history tells us through art, stone carvings and folktale; our cultural dress has never been about covering up. Mhapapa neshashiko (the skin hides covering women’s backs and fronts) were very short. They covered the ‘bare essentials.’ Women’s breasts were not sacred, they were left hanging open. Our society borrowed the concept of wearing clothes from the Victorian British culture through colonisation. Our crisis is that we borrowed a concept in development and so as British society has transformed its values including shaking off patriarchal notions that dictate women’s choices, we have remained stuck in the past holding on to a half-borrowed concept? We choose to dictate the length of a woman’s clothing. Until a few years ago, some men on our streets beat up women for wearing trousers. Some men in their homes today forbid their wives from wearing trousers or short clothes? Why do we find the exposure of a woman’s legs offensive today when our real true culture did not find the exposure of her legs, stomach and breasts so? Why do we find pride in the terrible Colonial Victorian teaching that says it is shameful for the beauty of a woman’s body to be exposed the way she feels comfortable? For a nation that preaches sovereignty, we do embrace our mental colonisation quite comfortably when it allows the oppression of women.

This cartoon, which is part of the Kenyan #MyDressMyChoice campaign, whose message resonates with our #MiniSkirtMarch captures this point.

 

Kenyan Cartoon part of the #MyDressMyChoice Campaign

Kenyan Cartoon part of the #MyDressMyChoice Campaign

It’s not about dressing…

Abuse is about power, access and control and not about dressing.

Covering the whole body except for the eyes will not protect women from abuse. I personally witnessed this on the streets of Sudan and Egypt where all women, Arab, Black and White were sexually harassed.  The men did it because they could, with no consequence. Society was permissive of their abuse and so they whispered lustful words to us and groped us on the subways; even those in Burqas, where the only body parts visible were the eyes. The abuse was so bad in Egypt, that the Egyptian government created “women only” sections on the subways. It is hence not only offensive, but downright ridiculous to suggest that wearing clothes that are “offensive” to some men’s senses justifies harassment. As a friend said to me; “Is it not ironic then that these men find wearing a mini-skirt more indecent than attacking the woman for wearing the skirt.” They will strip her, drag her across town, cheer and jeer in the name of morality; and then call themselves human? Does she look ‘more decent’ stripped naked?

Abuse of women knows no class. When men dictate what women wear, they are asserting their property rights over women. Men feel that it is their right to determine what women wear; I am sorry maybe that worked when our laws still treated us as perpetual minors but the times have changed. The Legal Age of Majority Act tells me I am an adult, with full rights as citizen to make choices about my life including how I choose to dress.

But back to the point on power, it must feel good doesn’t it; for a powerless man, without a dollar in his pocket to dress down a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious girl. In that fleeting moment when he strips her naked, he must feel that he has power. Humiliating her makes him feel good and invincible. He could have done it to the similarly dressed girl in her Mercedes Benz, but because he has no access to her she remains safe. Another man however, in that other girl’s circles, will, with access, do to her what the girl on the street is subjected to, if not worse. Society’s reaction in both instances is to question the girls’ dressing; they provoked the reactions, right?

No, wrong! A man will not suddenly attack a woman for wearing a miniskirt! That vile character is in him. Men who attack women for their dressing use dressing as an excuse for expressing their debauchery. As a society we are helping them to get away with murder when we promote the idea that women are prey and must hide themselves from would-be hunters. We make excuses for criminals and criminalise victims, fooling ourselves to think they invited their own abuse. We are wrong! If rape was a crime of lust, then only mature women would get raped. How come then children, who have not matured enough to be sexually attractive are raped by their own fathers!

Our society, men and women alike, thrives on excusing bad behaviour and using deeply hurtful words for individuals who do not fit into broad social categories. The same applies with women’s dressing. To be considered respectable, women must wear a certain type of clothing. Wearing clothes deemed too short, too revealing, or too tight and offensive to some members of society’s sensibilities is a reason for labelling. ‘Ipfambi-hure’-she is a prostitute they say. Haana hunhu-she is of loose morals. Idioms such as “Chigamhira mudenga bra rehure” are used to describe women who wear push-up bras to expose their cleavage. The paradox here is that cultural dynamism is promoted through language that disrespects women yet women’s dressing choices and preferences must not be part of societal transformation. The biggest irony is that the Generals of the Moral Police, who frown upon women, including ‘powerful women who wear miniskirts in the company of younger men’ may themselves wear ground sweeping skirts but lack that one element that makes us human-separate from others animals; the ability to think and reason, to realise that my choices are mine-you are free to make yours differently. And so we are sociliased into conformance, failing to say and do what we really think and want; what famous Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie calls “turning pretense into an art form.”

As Zimbabwe commemorates the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, the key message is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in our communities: ‘Promoting safe spaces for women and girls.’ Our current reality is that women are not safe, in their homes and on the streets. We must increase our efforts to create public spaces free of violence, including verbal violence, and sexual harassment. Creating those safe spaces is about addressing these stereotypes which marginalise women. Yes we are diverse in our beliefs and strong opinions and choices but we must express these opinions respectfully, with civility and courtesy and stripping women naked because we do not like their dress choices is disrespectful and uncivilised.

A Crime Against Humanity

Activism, Gender, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

In this modern world of instant information, have we become inured to horror? Every day we are exposed to pictures and films of extreme violence, they flicker through our consciousness, moving on to the newest examples of human propensity for violence. And we forget each previous example as the newest hits the media.

However, one example of this propensity for violence, common to every country in the world, is with us every day, has been going every day throughout recorded history, and seems hardly to evoke the same concern as war in Syria, Mali, South Sudan, or Somalia. But it is prevalent in every country in the world – WITHOUT EXCEPTION.

As UN Women has pointed out:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime — the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.

Consider the following, according to the UN Women report, The Violence against Women Prevalence Data: Surveys by Country, based on data from 86 countries

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
  • Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
  • An estimated 150 million girls under 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
  • As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy which increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage, still birth and abortion.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
  • In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented since 1996, though the actual numbers are considered to be much higher.
  • In Zimbabwe, 52% of women reported being victims of political violence, with 2% being victims of politically motivated rape, and 3% reporting that a family member had been raped. A startling 16% claimed that they knew of a women that had been raped.
  • Up to 53 percent of women physically abused by their intimate partners are being kicked or punched in the abdomen.
  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Domestic violence alone cost approximately USD 1.16 billion in Canada and USD 5.8 billion in the United States. In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated USD 11.38 billion per year.
  • Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.
  • In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
  • In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 percent of cases.

So, when it is claimed that one billion women are victims of violence, let us be clear that this is an underestimate. If any of us lived in a country where 70% of half the population suffered these kinds of abuses, we would not be happy, and it would be another of those terrible stories flashing through television and the internet. But is endemic everywhere and hence invisible it seems.

No wonder one billion are rising! Actually it should be three and a half rising! But wouldn’t it be wonderful is all seven billion were rising, and these statistics became a thing of the past.

Maybe we need to see all these violent and discriminatory practices as crimes against humanity, fully one half of humanity. Not merely ordinary crimes, but evidence of deep rooted cultural prejudices, and how do we get rid of these prejudices? Perhaps when patriarchy is seen as a crime against humanity?

*This article first appeared on the RAU blog*

No holds barred:This Atrocity Ends Here

Activism, Gender, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Zimbabwe

It is her core-her being- her most private self-her pride-her DIGNITY

When you violate it you have stripped away her dignity, self confidence, pride & wellbeing

And so with a warped mind, a sadistic spirit that derives pleasure from her pain

He chooses to target it- pushing the dagger into her fresh wound

Society has normalised it-it happens, men shall be men & shall be men

They blame her-she wanted it or she looked for it, her skirt was too short

Why was she walking alone at night?

Was he not her boyfriend & what was she doing with him alone in a closed space?

They make excuses for him-mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts

If she speaks up, they label her

If she does not speak out, she dies inside

She questions if maybe, just maybe-she might have gotten what she deserves

She feels unworthy, dirty, violated-EMPTY

And why does she go through this? Because she is a woman!

Who understands what it means to walk with constant caution?

To be ever vigilant for your safety–

On your way to work, to school, in your office, even in your own home

And yet this is the experience of half the population of the world-DAILY

But repeatedly this experience is, IS belittled? Overlooked?

Underestimated? Misunderstood? Misrepresented? Sidelined?

Whichever one it is, not enough has been done to address it for the pervasive vice it is

We, the women of this world, deserve to live without fear

Fear of death, of terror, of hate and hate speech

Of violence and all other threats to our physical and mental well being

The world needs to understand that—;

Rape IS NOT about sex

Rape IS NOT about a desperate man dealing with constant deprivation of sex

Rape IS NOT illegitimate sex; hence justifying the marriage of girls to their rapists to retroactively legitimise the act is simply cuckoo

Rape HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH a wife reaching menopause, hence justifying a husband pouncing on his child

Rape IS about power and domination; hence as women we need to claim back our power

Rape IS a crime; and as women we must nail the perpetrators

Rape IS an attack on the physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and personal identities of the victim

And for this reason I AM RISING TO SAY-

This atrocity ends here!!!

One Billion Rising

Activism, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

Add your name to the BILLION!!

ONE BILLION RISING IS:

A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being

On the 14th of February 2013, Zimbabwe will join the progressive movement in fighting violence against women through the One Billion Rising Campaign. Zimbabwe is rising because:-

ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.

ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY

ONE BILLION WOMEN dancing IS A REVOLUTION

Considering that rape and violent culture is on the increase in Zimbabwe, it is important that we join the world and place a demand on ending all forms of Violence against women through walking out, dancing and rising to end the culture of VAW.

In the wake of this, Zimbabwe shall rise and dance on 14th of February in Harare to join and support the One Billion rising movement with the rest of the world. The significance of this event is to raise the voice of women of the world in the fight against VAW and to employ a global culture of fighting local injustices with the support of the rest of the global community.

The outcome is being driven by the need to begin a revolutionary yet peaceful culture of fighting against rape, the stripping off of bodily integrity of women, and creating safe spaces for them to survive in.

Can we walk out, rise, dance together; and demand a stop to violence against women.

This article was written by Nyasha Gloria Sengayi, a member of the One Billion Rising Zimbabwe Team

The Perfect Valentines’ Gift

Gender, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

One in three women on this planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Set against the world population of 7 billion, and a total global female population of about 3.5 billion, it means not a hundred (100), not a thousand (1000), not ten thousand (10 000), not a hundred thousand (100 000), nor a million (1 000 000), but ONE BILLION (1 000 000 000) women shall suffer some form of violence in their lifetime. This is an atrocity of unparalleled proportions, yet it is happening right under our noses.  It needs to stop and there is something that we can all do to change this.

On 14 February 2013, anyone who thinks this is unacceptable can join the global campaign to end violence against women and rise. Imagine one billion individuals rising in unison and solidarity to say THIS ENDS HERE!!!

Spread some love, preach peace and advocate an end to violence against women(Picture credit turnbacktogod.com)

Spread some love, preach peace and advocate an end to violence against women
(Picture credit turnbacktogod.com)

Renowned world leaders such as the Dali Lama have pledged their support and commitment to this campaign. Celebrities such as Jane Fonda , Anne Hathaway , Alice Walker , Thandie Newton, Jessica Alba, Kerry Washington, and many others are rising.

Give yourself and the world the perfect Valentines’ Gift: Rise and play your part. Organise or assist in organising an event advocating an end to violence against women on 14 February. Sponsor such an event. Join an event in protest or dance. Spread the word about the campaign. Blog about this. Sponsor the fight against violence against women. Build a shelter for victims of violence. Counsel an abused woman. Give medical attention to victims. Support a woman to walk away from an abusive relationship. Protect a child from abuse. End child marriages. Fight human trafficking. Educate a boy child not to grow into an abusive man.

A central feature of any event organised to protest the violence against women should be DANCING: as dancing is the quintessential way in which women can celebrate the freedom to own their bodies. It is easy to do, can happen anywhere, and men are REQUIRED (and welcomed) to join in.

Zimbabwe is joining the rest of the world in rising. Like the One Billion Rising Zimbabwe Facebook page, and share your reasons for rising.

*The One Billion Rising global movement to end violence against women and girls is the brainchild of Eve Ensler, an American activist and award-winning playwright.*

The Arrogance or Ignorance of Privilege

Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Zimbabwe

Some people believe that enough has been said and done to improve women’s human rights, or to fight gender based violence, or  to realise the goal of gender equality characterised by equal chances for all,  equal access to these chances for all and equal respect among all.Could it be forgetfulness or just a sense of acute arrogance of a privileged few to seriously ask, “What is it that women want?” especially if you are also a woman. But yes some men (and women) ask;

“What is it that women want?”“Don’t they have enough already?”“What more do they want?”

“Do they now want us to live in their petticoats?” “Soon we shall be singing ‘majesty’ and curtseying to the end of the world for them, isn’t that where we are headed at this rate.”“If they have food on their tables and roofs over their heads, what more do they want?”“This women’s rights thing is destroying our moral fabric, our culture and our traditions; we have had enough!”

 Delta Milayo Ndou, a fellow blogger and gender activist, in her article “We are in Danger of forgetting”  said something quite striking when she said,

“There is a period between the worst of times and the best of times in which there is a lull…. The relief of having escaped a horrible circumstance tempts us to ease back for a while and eventually the memory of how bad things used to be fades. We start to convince ourselves that things are fine now because we use the worst circumstance as a reference point instead of using the best of circumstances as an aspirational goal to work towards.”

Are women really making unnecessary noise? Are women asking for too much? Should women be grateful for what they have achieved so far and not demand the ultimate desired and aspirational goal that Ndou talks of? What is it that women have achieved that would make some individuals think that they need not ask for more?

A week ago, a young girl was shot in the head in India because she had confronted a man for urinating in front of her gate. In Afghanistan a young girl of 15 had her throat slitbecause her family had refused an offer for marriage. About two months ago, MalalaYousafzai, a 14 year old Pakistani activist was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban for demanding the right of every girl-child to an education.

But to bring it closer to home women and girls are raped each day in Zimbabwe.One in every 3 women will experience rape or some other form of sexual violence at least once in her lifetime; that is about 1 billion women and girls. Each day there are several reports of women and girls raped, battered and bruised through domestic violence. We read in the papers: Woman struck by her husband on the head with a brick for singing happy birthday to him while he was still in bedWoman raped by pastor;   Woman assaulted for dishing the wrong piece of chicken to her husband; and Popular radio DJ and theatre performer, Tinopona Katsande assaulted by her boyfriend Brian Munjodzi.and these are just few of many stories in Zimbabwe

The perpetrators, most of the time are not strangers. They are husbands, boyfriends, fiancés, fathers, brothers, uncles, and even some men that women consider to be friends. Yes the occasional stranger takes a chance, but the majority of abusers are close relatives, individuals that the victims trust; individuals that the victims never imagined would abuse them; individuals whose depravity is unimaginable.

Why would anyone ever ask what it is that women want? You either have to be a ‘blind’ fool, walking around with a pair of dark goggles over your eyes not to see the injustices that women face or you would have to be totally ‘deaf’ not to hear the cries that women and girls are constantly making.

In Zimbabwe, the thought of elections sends shivers down many women’s spines; chills of fear because elections symbolise a time of destruction and loss. Loss of women’s dignity as young men force themselves upon women old enough to be their mothers or grandmothers; loss of women’s control over their bodies as they are raped while sticks, butts of guns, ashes, chillies and all sorts of foreign harmful substances and objects are thrust down women’s genitalia; loss of women’s health as they are wilfully infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; loss of women’s reproductive choices as they are made pregnant, have no access to safe abortions and are forced to give birth and take care of babies whose fathers they do not know.

A cursory look at the legal framework would make it seem as if everything is in order. There is a Domestic Violence Act that prohibits all forms of domestic violence including marital rape and supposedly affords women the opportunity to report their matters to the police. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Units within the police stations, catering to the needs of victims and attending to their complaints with the requisite sensitivity. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Courts that allow the victim to tell their story in a safe space without facing a trial as if they were the perpetrator.  There is a Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that prohibits incest hence one would think a father or uncle would never want to have sex with, let alone force himself upon his daughter or niece or a brother upon his sister.

Yet the reality on the ground is no stranger than fiction. Fathers rape their daughters, brothers- sisters, uncles- nieces, soldiers-civilians.Is there a single soul out there, oblivious to the commission of these horrible atrocities?  If not, then why would anyone think women do not need any more protection than they already have?

But why would anything change when Zimbabwe has a constitution that tells its citizens it is OK to discriminate against women as long as the issues relate to customary law and personal matters such as marriages, custody and guardianship of children, in case of divorce, division of property acquired during marriage, inheritance, access to land and many other instances. Women want to be treated like equals because they are also human beings. Is this too much to ask?

Why would anything change when people still perceive rape as ‘illegitimate sex’-that a woman slept with another man who is not her husband and hence she gets blamed as if she wanted it?-Women want a situation where rape is recognised as a crime, they want perpetrators to be punished in accordance with the severity of their crimes, and not to get a fickle 5 years or to swagger around with total impunity for politically motivated crimes.

Why would anything change when the immediate thought that pops into people’s heads when a woman is battered is  what did she do to deserve it, rather than examining what is wrong with the man to do such a thing to a defenceless woman or often a child? Women want and need a society that recognises that no amount of provocation justifies the use of violence against any woman.

So let those sitting in their high horses of privilege- or maybe halos of ignorance- be they men or women understand that the struggle for women’s emancipation is far from over!

World Mental Health Day-10 October

Governance, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Transitional Justice, Violence Against Women, Zimbabwe

This article first appeared on the Research and Advocacy Unit Blog and was written by Jocelynne Lake, a colleague…

Today is World Mental Health Day with this year’s theme being “Depression: A Global Crisis”.

The aim of having a day which highlights Mental Health  and especially depression is to raise awareness and bring this important health issue, which is often trivialised, into the open to get people talking about and understanding it.

Whatever the symptoms, depression differs from normal sadness in that it engulfs the day-to-day ability to function of the person affected, interfering with work, study,appetite, sleep and one’s ability to enjoy life. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness are intense and unrelenting.

Although depression is treatable the majority of sufferers are unaware that they are depressed and therefore do not try to seek professional help.

One wonders what the statistics for depression are in Zimbabwe given the rampancy of violence and intimidation which is often committed with impunity?

Unfortunately, there appears to be very little research into this mental condition and it’s prevalence in Zimbabwe with the exception of research paper that RAU published in November 2011 in conjunction with our sister organisation The Tree of Life entitled ‘Trauma and Mental Health in Zimbabwe.’ In this research paper results from a survey done in Mount Darwin, an area badly affected by political violence around elections in 2008, showed that 24 percent of the people interviewed stated they were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 21 percent from depression. These statistics are similar to figures quoted in a medical article by Dixon Chibanda based on a case study conducted in the high density suburb of Mbare, Harare which stated that 25 percent of people attending primary healthcare services as suffering from depression or kusuwisisa (deep sadness) in Shona.

These are numbers based on two small sections of the total population of Zimbabwe and the people interviewed were probably only adults. The effects of both experiencing violence oneself and also witnessing it are extremely traumatic and far reaching so one wonders whether these figures are actually much higher and what will the effects be in the future…

Tsvangirai and Locadia: Foes or victims?

Activism, Gender, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

For the past week, local news has been buzzing with the ‘bizarre’ things that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been doing in his personal life. It is alleged that in November 2011, Tsvangirai paid $US36 000 lobola/roora/bride price for one Locadia Karimatsenga and dumped her barely a week after. Tsvangirai denies marrying the woman and claims he only paid damages as he believed he had made her pregnant.

In Zimbabwean culture, when a man impregnates a woman he has three choices. First, he can marry the woman by paying the lobola, entering  into what is known as an unregistered customary law union which he can then ‘upgrade’ into a registered customary marriage [Chapter 5:07], or a registered civil marriage [Chapter 5:11],  popularly known as the Chapter 37 marriage. Secondly, a man can refuse to marry the woman, but acknowledge the wrong done and pay a token of shame and apology known as dhemeji (damages). However, in paying these damages,the elements that are observed in paying lobola are not observed. Hence, damages are not the equivalent of paying lobola. The third option is one that many men have chosen to the detriment of many women’s lives, that of refuting responsibility and running at the speed of a bullet away from the woman and the baby.

It is not clear which option Prime Minister Tsvangirai chose in his relationship with Locadia and now the High Court has been tasked to decide. The hullabaloo in the press has been precipitated by Tsvangirai’s marriage to his new belle, Elizabeth Macheka whom he married customarily, and now wants to tie the knot with in a civil marriage. Locadia, with whom Tsvangirai is either in an unregistered customary law union, or just paid damages for, has taken him to Court. She argues that he married her, that their unregistered customary law union is valid, and that has not gone through the requisite customary rites of divorce, ordinarily observed through the payment of money/livestock known as gupuro.

Although the majority of comments have focused on either castigating Tsvangirai for being a double headed snake – tsukukuviri – in marrying one woman, divorcing her, and immediately marrying another, or on ridiculing  Locadia for being desperate and refusing to accept that Tsvangirai does not want her for a wife, the importance of this saga lies in its exposure of the chaos that is Zimbabwe’s marriage regime.

A few months ago, prospective brides and grooms had their plans to begin enjoying marital bliss thwarted when the Registrar-General (R-G) suspended all marriages in order to implement a new marriage system. The R-G’s actions were inspired by his realisation that there were many men committing bigamy, the crime of being illegally married to two people.

The R-G’s efforts clearly did not change much. Zimbabwe still has 3 recognised marriages: the unregistered customary law union (where a man pays lobola to a woman’s family and from then on the two are considered married), the registered customary marriage (where a man and a woman do the lobola but are then married in court and the man is still legally permitted to have more than one wife), and the civil marriage (the one man-one woman type). As the Tsvangirai case proves, the fact that these different marriages are allowed remains a problem. That problem is worsened by the fact that these marriages do not have equal weight before the law; they do not give the partners equal rights within and outside the marriage. For instance, under the unregistered customary law union, a man can divorce his wife willy nilly by simply paying gupuro, and chasing her out of his house, while under the civil marriage, if he wants to divorce her, then he has to convince the court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. In the two customary marriages, the man can have more than one wife leading to multiple partners, a dangerous factor in today’s HIV/AIDS ridden Zimbabwe.

Women face huge disadvantages because only the man has the prerogative to ‘upgrade’ the marriage. Picture this- In rural Zimbabwe, Robert marries Sarah by paying lobola. They live together, farming for more than 10 years as man and wife, acquire property in town, and amass huge sums of wealth. Robert moves to the big city to manage their business and properties, while Sarah farms in their rural home. After 10 years, Robert meets Precious, a young, sexy urbanite. He pays lobola for her and immediately Precious pushes for a wedding. Robert agrees and off he goes with Precious to the Magistrates Court at Rotten Row. Precious, being the devious person she is, pushes Robert to register all properties (that Robert and Sarah bought) in both their names (Precious and Robert’s names). Robert agrees. Precious then sues Sarah for adultery, accusing Sarah of having an affair with her husband. She actually succeeds, and Sarah loses out on everything she ever worked for.

This is the reality of Zimbabwe’s marriage laws and the impact they have. Locadia is laying a claim believing she is in a valid marriage with Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai married Elizabeth believing his arrangement with Locadia does not constitute a valid marriage. If we had one marriage regime these uncertaintieis would not exist. In the end should the two be enemies or both are just victims of a chaotic system. The marriage system is a mess and needs cleaning up sooner rather than later.

Perpetual prisoners we shall not be!

Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Violence Against Women, Zimbabwe

When I look at what our country has become, I consider my life as a woman in Zimbabwe to have been reduced to that of a prisoner. You think that is extreme? Then you must be a man reading this. If you are a woman I am sure you will agree.

How else can I describe living in a country where:
• Police discriminate me based on my sex;
• If I walk alone at night or even with a male friend I can be arrested for loitering with intent to solicit for prostitution;
• If I speak my mind I get arrested;
• If I draw a cartoon of the President I spend months on end in a prison cell;
• If I demonstrate against incessant power cuts, high school fees, scarcity of medicines in hospitals and other social grievances I am also thrown in a prison cell;
• If I dress well and style my hair I am told I am a prostitute and that my looking good is the reason why AIDS is rampant but that I should be bald headed not to attract male attention; and
• If I do not agree with certain government policies and actions and say so, my citizenship could be revoked.

The list is endless but I will stop there. What I am really concerned with today is the law on soliciting and how the police have taken liberties to arrest all and sundry for alleged loitering with intent to solicit for sex. The conduct of the police has caused public outcries with demonstrations being staged. Just 2 days ago, the women of Zimbabwe took to the streets against this rampant and outrageous discrimination.

The law on soliciting, as it is, gives the police unfettered discretionary powers which are prone to abuse and which have clearly been abused. Who, in their right mind, would give a police force like the one in Zimbabwe wide powers to determine what is loitering and what isn’t? Of course the police are famous for assaulting demonstrators, for abusing women in detention, for raping commercial sex workers and for wielding their baton sticks on anything in sight when they feel like it including people’s car windscreens, women and even children. So, who polices the police when they abuse their power or so called mandate to keep prostitution off the streets?

Perhaps what is more disappointing are the sentiments from some members of the public as captured from a Herald Article that featured the demonstrations by women against the conduct of the police. To mention but a few, the people said;

“100%, musamboterera zvinotaurwa nevakadzi ava,pfungwa dzavo ipfupi,ngatichengetedzeyi hunhu. Do not listen to what these women are saying. They are short-sighted. We need to safeguard our values.”

“Police are doing a good job. Not one single woman I know of was arrested in error.”

“Kana riri business, kongariitwe masikati.” If it is a business, why is it not being done during the day.

“Imi vemasangano emadzimai musakurudzire chihure. Kana iwe uri umwe wemahure usakurudzire vamwe. AIDS yakauya sungaiwena!!!”You women’s organisations, do not promote prostitution. If you are a prostitute do not encourage others to become prostitutes. AIDS is real. Arrest them [referring to the police]

In all these comments, what the people missed is that;
1. The police are not arresting prostitutes, they are conducting indiscriminate arrests on all women whom they perceive to be loitering whether they will be loitering or not;

2. The police are using these arrests as an excuse to solicit bribes from the women who will be so scared of the prospects of being announced to the world as prostitutes that they will pay any amount the police asks for;

3. The police are only arresting women and not the men, which is a clear discriminatory act. If prostitution is a crime then both actors; the solicitor and the client must be arrested;

4. Consensual sex between two willing adults should not be criminalised anyway!

5.Policing every woman in the name of fighting prostitution is a waste of resources which government must inject into the health and education sectors where they are much more needed

I did enjoy some comments that were more open minded than others;

“Icho chihure chanyanya [there is too much prostitution] but both men and women should be arrested for loitering. Arresting women only appears as if we are now in a Moslem state where women are marginalised and in some countries not even allowed to have a mobile phone. Zimbabwe should be above this nonsense, this is the 21st century. We do not condone loitering for the purposes of prostitution but prostitution is really bad for our society.”

“Hazvishande zvinoitwa nemapurisa zvekuvhima vakadzi vachisiya matsotsi ,taneta nekubirwa nematsotsi ivo vari kutsvaga vakadzi vanozvifambirawo zvavo. This business of the police hunting after women is useless. We are tired of getting robbed by thieves while the police is busy hunting down women who will be moving around innocently”

“Munhu anonzi arikuhura anenge atobatwa akarara nemurume kwete ari kuzvifambirawo zvake kana akamira pabus- stop achimirira michovha onzi ari kuita loiter, ‘HAZVISHANDE mapurisa ngavatsvage zvimwe zvekuita mari nazvo kwete izvi, HA-ZVI-SHA-NDE!!!!!!!!!A person[woman] can only be said to be committing prostitution if she is caught having sexwith a man not when she is just moving about or if she standing at a bus stop waiting for a car only to be told she is loitering. This doesn’t work. The police should find other means of making (bribe) money but no this. It doesn’t’ work!”

Imi mabharanzi zvibvunzeyiwo kuti dai vakadzi vanoita chipfambi muma Avenues dai vaishaya macustomer enyu echirume anoda kuvabhadhara dai vaimira-mira ikoko here?[ You fools, if the women who engage in prostitution did not have male clients who want to pay them would we still see them there.]Where there is a customer there will always be a seller. If the police arrest the buyers for a change then the sellers will also automatically vanish. Full stop. Fungaiwo imi mabhambi![Use your brains you daft people]

I speak my mind and say I, representing the women of Zimbabwe refuse to be a prisoner in my own country. My ancestors died so I could live in a free country. I shall not be a prisoner of thought, conscience, or anything for that matter-and definitely not be a prisoner to a DAFT police-force that is cowering under the cover of soliciting to solicit for bribes!

Mothers’ Journey

Activism, Gender, Politics, Violence Against Women, Zimbabwe

Most if not all of the so called female political activists in Zimbabwe are in fact not political activists. They are social justice advocates. Most women in Zimbabwe are not preoccupied with the overarching male oriented perception of power as success but rather a collective sense of well being as success. Hence the availability of food on the table, access to healthcare, the availability of safe sanitary wear, the cleanliness of the environment where they bring up their children and other socio-economic guarantees matter more to women than  the number of women in parliament. No women are not apolitical beings, and that is not what I am saying here, but their concern with the quality of life they lead matters to them more. Yes women are concerned with the quality of leadership, such quality being measured by the ability of the leadership to deliver the bare essentials that women require to live decent, fulfilled lives.

Hence political freedoms become an essential component of Zimbabwean women’s lives and livelihoods –as a precondition for their access to and negotiation for basic rights. It is through the exercise of these freedoms without fear or censure that women champion the cause for social justice.

The Zimbabwean scenario is unique in that any expression of dissent, dissatisfaction, dissonance or disgruntlement is perceived as political propaganda or opposition to the seating government. Elements within Zimbabwean politics’ appreciation of politics as the discourse of divergent views  with a view to pitch  one’s views and buy the support  of the populace based on what citizens perceive to be the best policies in their best interests is next to nil.

Today’s blog is about mapping mothers’ journeys and understanding why political activists, social justice activists, human rights activists and women’s rights activists risk their safety, security, lives and well being. Here is a short amateur clip that I put together to explain why Zimbabwean women take up activism and take to the streets and risk facing the same consequences as Sisi Abby suffered for the work she did with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).

Click here to view the photo slide show.