When I was nominated for an Award

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

I HAVE NOT WRITTEN IN A WHILE…

A lot has been going on in my life. You must be thinking that I have been too busy to write. Although you are right in thinking so, you are probably wrong in why you think I have been busy. Of course, I meant no disrespect to you and your appreciation of my writing. I just had to devote my time to my new project, The Law Hub. When you pay the site a visit, I hope you will forgive me for my long absence.

While I was away, I was nominated for an Award. I was to be voted “Humanitarian of the Year.” At first, I was excited to have been nominated so I shared with my friends, asked colleagues and family to vote for me, ran around like a headless chicken to ensure every person who could vote for me voted. I even took the banner that the organisers of the Award Ceremony created and made it my Facebook Cover photo and profile Picture on Twitter and Linked in. Vote! Vote! Vote! I urged.

Then I sat back and reflected a bit more. It was and still is a tremendous honour to have my passion awarded the recognition that it has received through this nomination. It is even more exciting to see women creating an initiative to recognise the hard work that other women are doing. However, when I reflected on the reason I had been nominated, I felt like a fraud. I became wary of what actually winning such an award would mean. Do I really deserve an award? Should I even be the one nominated for this award, any award for that matter for the work that I do?

I thought of the several women I interviewed, documenting their horrific stories of gang rape for merely exercising their choice via the ballot. Yes I may have built dossiers for criminal prosecution and yes some of the perpetrators will face prosecution, but I still wonder how these women, the victims would feel about my nomination.

I pictured the many child brides I talked to, and whose stories I documented, whose stolen innocence will never be recovered and whose future is as bleak now as it was when the choice to marry was foisted on them. Yes I may have tried very hard to push for new legislation that criminalises child marriage, but even then the fact that the big red-eyed monster that made them vulnerable –that monster called patriarchy-is still alive and strong makes me feel like I haven’t helped them much.

I remembered Mai Mpenyu (not her real name).  I remembered the scars on her back, the fear in her eyes, the hopelessness and dejection as she talked about those who assaulted her, burnt her home and destroyed her barn of tobacco. I remembered Abby, and her tale of loss-she will never be able to hold a baby in her arms because someone decided to step on her stomach when she was pregnant, caused her miscarriage and damaged her beyond repair. The reason for all this; she was fighting for a new constitution. Doesn’t she deserve the award?

I thought of the poor woman I met in Pretoria; a refugee, driven from her home and comfort, rendered an orphan, forced to be a mother to a child whose father she knows not, rendered stateless and an outcast in one blow. I wrote about her many years ago, and I said,

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 at 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. She 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 a 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.

Her name and her story sits in a pile of documents, created to be used at a time when there is political will to address the past injustices committed against my people. I still remember her today. I do not know if she is still alive. Maybe the cold winter nights, or the windy rainy days had their toll on her frail frame and she gave in. I wondered about her and asked myself if she would think I deserve this nomination.

I recalled the woman in Gweru. Her child was gone. They put the baby in a sack and hit it to the ground. “This one goes with your vote,” they said. “When you vote right, the right child will come.” The baby cried until her voice got hoarse, until her cries died out, until she cried no more. They took her from her mother’s arms, a bubbly bundle of joy and returned her cold as stone, blood and froth around her mouth. I remembered the grief, in that mother’s eyes. I told her, transitional justice would take care of it. When a figment of transitional justice came, those in charge only wanted to reconcile and smoke pipe (kuputidzana fodya). She never got her justice, her baby is gone. Someday, her story shall be told but for now grief and pain, loss and despair reign. How would she feel to hear I am up for an award?

Nowadays, I sit and adjudicate-case upon case. Each one different from the previous one, but ultimately the same. Governments turning on their own people. Africans against Africans. Displaced people, tortured people, assaulted people, unlawfully arrested people, detained people, jailed for demanding their rights, some disappeared, never to be seen again. All of them denied dignity- human dignity. Faceless names, drops in an ocean of never-ending injustice. How will my contribution end their suffering, if at all it succeeds in abating it.

I have seen horror, pain, loss, dejection. I have tried to empathise. I have made promises to myself that justice will be done for all these victims, yet so much more remains to be done. I want justice done, the justice that each and every one of these victims desires and deserves. Should I consider myself a humanitarian? I only did what I could do, and continue to do as much as I can- what my circumstances enable me to although I still feel I should do more. I am pretty sure I do not deserve an award; for what is my humanity if I do not seek to have the human-ness in those around me recognised, respected and protected. Surely working to see that happen should not be outstanding; it must be the norm.

Njengoba ubaba njalo wangitshela , umuntu ungumuntu ngenxa abantu!

As my father always told me, a person is a person because of people!

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!!!

Nudity cheapens women yet it sells

Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

Misogyny-a deep hatred of women- is the sentiment that the media is brewing with the content that it is spawning each day and yet we have allowed them to get away with it-even becoming accomplices to the crime ourselves as women.

Representation violence! Anyone ever heard that expression before?  When people hear of violence against women, physical violence comes to mind-the one that leaves bruises and scars on women’s beautiful skins.

Yet everyday representation violence is in our faces yet we hardly see it and we do not even comprehend its consequences and how it fosters mindsets that make the other forms of violence permissible in our society.

Naked women on advertisements of cars-do boobs drive cars?

Surely by itself if the car is worth buying people will buy it. How does the naked woman make the Lexus the car of my choice?

Naked women on realtor’s websites-what has that got to do with selling houses?

Movies in which men beat up their girlfriends because they caught them cheating-what happened to dialogue?

Music videos with naked women caressing and (whining up) to a fully dressed man-and the songs are about making money-explain the link between nudity and money please?

Yes each day the media, print, electronic is prostituting women’s dignity and perpetuating violence against women.

Oh yes some of you right now are thinking-but the women want it. They love posing naked. They consent to these adverts-They are paid for it so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the media has cheapened the body of a woman to such an extent that any advertisement without an attractive woman will not sell. What sells is not the product but the face of the advertisement.

So if the industry has already laid out its rules driven by masochistic tendencies, what choice does a woman who is fighting for survival in a  harsh world have besides capitulating to its demands.

If the first advert had not had a naked woman, would this woman have such a terribly sexist precedent to fend off?

The reality of today is that nakedness sells and the choice is limited to selling or not selling. At the end of the day, that is no choice.

People buy perfumes because they smell good, not because a naked woman is used in the advertisement. Why do women continue to be abused in this manner?

The media names and shames a woman, blaming her for being sexually assaulted and imputing that she “asked for it.” In films teenage girls who get raped will  either be wearing a short skirt, flirting with the guy or get drunk and so when they get raped the sentiment is why were they doing all that-. They should have been more careful. -But what excuse ever justifies a man who forces himself upon an unwilling woman-drunk or not, naked or not??? In other words, the media through such films represent rape more as a sexual act rather than focus on the violent aspect which makes it a crime.

Criminologists have conducted studies which have shown that the majority of child sexual offenders, child molesters and other perpetrators of sexual offences are regular consumers of pornographic material-be it films or magazines. Pornography increases behavioural aggression and cultivates views of women as objects rather than beings. Again the media’s representation of women is to blame.

The media has normalised the face of rape as that of a woman and so no one is shocked anymore when they hear that a woman was gang raped by 12 men.

The media has made it seem as if fat and big women are unattractive and so women starve themselves, deprive themselves of the food they love in a bid to be smaller and hence more attractive. Is this not psychological violence?

How do we make it stop when few women worldwide own the media? How do we restore the value of women? How do we negate repair terrible representations that paint women as objects? How do we repair those who already view women in this manner?

I was inspired by the lyrics to the song Times like these by the Jamaican artist Queen Ifrica in which she bemoaned the negative role that artists and the media have played in ploughing under society’s decency and exploiting women when she says:

“They took away the voices, that gave the people pride
Now we’re plunging into darkness
We all have to play our part, make a bold start
Every disc jock[ey], tell every artist
Media houses, we notice you love [to] support the slackness
How so much alcohol [is] in our parties
While the girls are broke out
And the something she drinked [has drunk has] knocked her out
Now she don’t [doesn’t]care where they prop her up”

Watch the rest of the video here

Feminst Chronicles: Diary 28: Rebecca Chisamba

Uncategorized

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 13: Betty Makoni

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Security, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

Anyone  who has ever been manhandled or sexually harassed, the way I have will agree with me that it is one of the most enraging and disturbing experiences that any woman has to ever go through. That feeling of powerlessness when someone, without your consent, touches you or whispers something in your ears and you cannot do anything about it is one of the most frustrating moments in life. Worse still the knowledge that the person who just did this to you will walk away and nothing will happen to them drives you mad and you feel like lashing out at everything within a metre’s radius. The frequency with which ‘things’ which like to call themselves ‘human beings’ deliberately encroach into women’s personal space and their non-remorseful nature for their lurid behaviour remain two vivid memories I carry of my experiences with sexual harassment in Egypt. But while I look back with anger and angst at what these people did, I realise I have abrasions but not scars. I have flesh wounds but there are people with deep embedded wounds, both physical and emotional. These people are victims of rape.

In Zimbabwe, being raped is a nightmare for a number of reasons. First, in most cases victims cannot report their case. They cannot report because if it is a politically motivated rape the police do not want to receive the report. If it is domestic violence and they are subjects of marital rape the police urge them to go back home and resolve the issue amicably. If the perpetrator is a close relative in some cases again the police send them back home to ‘talk it out’. Some do not report because they are too scared of the stigma attached to being raped. I cannot understand why, when the woman is the victim of the rape people blame her for the rape, while the man responsible for that terrible act walks away shameless and blameless. Fundamentally, the victim has to live with the trauma and pain of having been violated in the worst way possible.

Victims who are brave enough to report are sometimes re-victimised either by the police with taunts that they brought it upon themselves or by the justice system which forces them to relive every single moment of the rape in proving that they were raped. It is short of unbelievable that in every criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the state prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and the police will carry out every possible investigation to prove an armed hijacking, a murder, a theft without much help from the victim of the crime but with rape they just shift the burden onto the victim. Yes, rape is unique in that it usually occurs in the presence of two people, the perpetrator and the victim alone hence the cooperation of the victim is needed but then if the reliance of the police on the victim were so heavy in all cases, murder cases would never be resolved since the victim would be dead and gone. It is merely the attitude of the police and the prosecution towards the crime of rape that makes them feel it is not their place to prove that a woman has been raped. She must prove it herself!!! And so the cycle of violence never ends as would-be rapists realise that they stand a good chance of getting away with their crime.

However today, I salute one brave woman who has made it her life commitment to create an environment that makes it possible for every rape to be reported and for every report to be received by sensitive, well trained officials. She helps to track cases of abuse and bring them to the eyes of the police. She conducts training with police officials to sensitise them to respond appropriately to the plea of a victim. She haunted the Victim Friendly Unit of the police department to keep track of incidences of insensitivity to victims of rape. She fought and continues to fight to ensure that victims of rape find healing and learn to outlive their traumatic experiences. What impresses me most about her is how, as a victim of rape and abuse herself from the time she was 6 years old, she has managed to emerge a survivor and resolved to create a network of support for women going through the same experiences.

Popularly known as Muzvare Betty, Betty Makoni is a wife, the mother of three and the Director of Girl Child Network International. Girl Child Network International supports and promotes the rights of girls, advocates their empowerment and education. It aims at advancing the circumstances of girls especially those that are economically deprived, at risk of abuse, subject to harmful cultural practices, or living in areas of instability. This organisation has its roots in Zimbabwe where Betty founded the Girl Child Network Zimbabwe in 1998 aiming to defend the rights of the girl child. The methodology that Girl Child Network uses in executing its functions has been replicated in Swaziland, Malawi and South Africa. Through Girl Child Network, Betty has created a network of safe houses where girls can get healing, find a safe haven and can rebuild their lives in the aftermath of sexual abuse.

Betty Makoni receiving the CNN Heroes award

Her outcry against rape, whether committed in random acts of violence on the streets, in the homes or as organised political violence has been loud and consistent. As she declares herself she is driven to “remind policy makers and leaders to change policies, attitudes and laws that are detrimental to the growth and development of the girl child.”

In the run up to the 2008 elections, Betty was threatened, arrested and interrogated for her work for five days. Betty also recorded an unprecedented number of cases of politically motivated rape (amongst both women and children) during the Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) that government carried out in 2006. The findings of her research were disputed by many, including other civil society actors (without providing alternative and credible proof that the rapes were fewer than what Betty had reported). She made many politicians upset with her findings and she was forced to leave the country for her own safety and security. She challenged the abuse perpetrated by and successfully secured the conviction of a church sect leader, Madzibaba Nzira who was raping women in the name of religion. Her organisation has also challenged big people in power such as the advisor of the reserve bank governor for abusing young girls. On her personal blog, Betty continues to place in the spotlight incidences of abuse, and discrimination of women. She was one of the individuals that picked up and widely shared my article in which I cried foul against the treatment of the suspected female rapists that were being persecuted and subjected to media trials in Zimbabwe in October 2011.

Betty has won awards for her outstanding work defending victims of rape. In 2007 Betty was honoured with the Global Friend’s Award recognising her efforts in assisting Zimbabwean girls to escape trafficking, sexual abuse, child labor and other assault. She also received the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child’s in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2009 she won the CNN Hero award for protection of the powerless. She was also the recipient of the United Nations Red Ribbon award, Zimbabwe National contribution award, and in 2011 she was nominated amongst the top ten Goddesses of Africa, an effort that recognises influential African women fostering development and emancipation of African women and girsl.

She now lives in England where she continues to fight against the degradation of women and girls through heinous acts such as rape and other forms of sexual violence. As a Trustee for the Global Network of Christians which is based in the United Kingdom, Betty continues to fight against domestic violence. She has been featured in the first chapter of the bestselling book, Women Who Light the Dark by Paola Gianturco which was launched in New York in September 2007.

I do not wish that I or another woman today, tomorrow or the day after be subjected to rape. However I find comfort in knowing that should we fall victims to this terrible crime, we have doors to knock on which will be opened for us to get help at that difficult time. All thanks to Muzvare Betty.

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.

When men get raped

Gender, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

On 11 0ctober the headlines in most Zimbabwean newspapers were blazing with the title “Dozens storm female ‘rapists’ police station.” These headlines followed the arrest of three women suspected of raping men based on the 31 condoms filled with semen that police allegedly found in their vehicle.

Since these women’s arrest the police has had to ward off mobs trying to get a ‘glimpse’ of these ‘monsters’ with others eager to mete out street justice because these women are ‘evil’ beyond imagination. The police has gone to great lengths to publicise mere suspects and the media has sensationalised the whole case.

Every day 3 year olds are raped. Young women are molested. Old women are raped some for political reasons by men young enough to be their grandchildren. Fathers rape their daughters, uncles-nieces, brothers-sisters and strangers force themselves upon women yet not one of these men has been paraded to the whole nation so others could identify them as possible rapists.

Has the rape of women become so normal that it does not shock people anymore? Is this case much more of a priority because the victims are men? Sexual abuse against men is a crime and is a violation of their human rights to the same extent that it is the same when committed against women.

This case is reflective of the investigative incompetence of the police in Zimbabwe. It is also telling of the extent to which the rape of women has been normalized yet it is the most abnormal thing that men do. For newspapers to sell the headlines need to show the ‘oh-so-shocking’ tales of men getting raped because the stories of women simply do not catch the eye of the reader. This is not only depraved but quite saddening.

The women are now charged with seventeen counts of aggravated assault because rape as a crime only applies with regard to women and not men in Zimbabwean law. These women deserve to be treated with dignity. As suspects to a crime they must be presumed innocent until a properly constituted court of law finds them guilty. They deserve a fair trial. In this case their guilt can only be proven if one of the complainants who came forward’s DNA sample matches one of the samples of semen that the police is said to have. The semen remains the only legitimate piece of evidence that could link the women to any crime. In the absence of such a match the state has no case against these women and any outcome without such evidence would be a travesty of justice.