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!

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