Why #Tomana ‘s Comments Are not Surprising

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

Tomana’s sentiments

Prosecutor General, Johannes Tomana is on record for telling the Chronicle that 12 year olds can consent to sex, that it is right that the law permits them to consent because without such consent, they would not have the option to marry. He is also reported to have said that 12 year olds’ ability to marry is important because it gives them an option out of poverty or being idle once they drop out of school.

In one breath Tomana gave paedophiles a pat on the back and justified child marriages.

As much as I am troubled by his comments, I am not surprised. A man’s desire to have sex with a 12 year old girl, or the reasoning of a parent who would marry off a 12 or 16 year old daughter to a man-whether she is pregnant or not- is indistinguishable from the reasoning that a magistrate would use when he declares a 15 year old girl a woman and defends two adult men who molested her after plying her with alcohol. This behaviour is anchored in the same context-from which Tomana’s sentiments derive-a patriarchal culture that offers very little protection to women and girls and sees them as sexual objects.

Tomana’s sentiments are not isolated, they exist in the psyche of many; Madzibaba sects who prophesy that God wants them to marry 12 year olds, Makanaka’s mother who thought letting her 15 year old daughter marry a rich man would solve their financial problems, as well as many parents who say to their young daughters “go back where you were” and condemn their young daughter into forced marriage.

More tragic is the fact that these sentiments are entrenched in the letter of our laws. These laws are a reflection of us as a society because they are made by people, interpreted by people and enforced by people. As a society we are permitting the exploitation of our children and have stolen our children’s innocence. Only until we change the way we think as a society, will our children become less vulnerable to exploitation.

What does the law say?

Our criminal law, as contained in the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, (Criminal Law Code) provides that the legal age of consent to sex is 16 (Section 61). Sex with under-age girls (aged below 16) is prohibited (Section 64 and 70).

You may have noted that I did not say “strictly” prohibited. This is because the law is not strict on this issue. If a man has sex with a girl who is less than 12 years old he commits rape. It does not matter whether she said yes; she lied about her age, looks mature or not. It is rape. I call this “strict liability rape.” If the girl is above 12 years but below 14 years, the man who has sex with her commits rape unless he can prove that she consented. There is therefore a presumption that a girl who is 12 years old can consent to sex. The law also provides that proving that the girl (12-14 years old) consented will reduce the charge from rape to the lesser crime of “having sex with a young person.”

The Criminal Code also states that sex with girls above 14 but below 16, (unless they did not consent) is not rape but “having sex with a young person.” If the girl did not consent then the correct charge is rape. This crime of “having sex with a young person” carries lesser penalties than rape and often Magistrates go for the lesser sentence of community service.

My problem with the law

Tomana said, “if young girls were asked what they want, most of them would say they should be allowed to have sex at 12.” Let us just say he is right and most of these girls might actually say they want to have sex at 12; first question- is that consent and second thing-does that mean we should do away with statutory rape laws?

The issue of consent
We need to understand what consent means. In simple English it means to agree to do something, to assent to, to allow something to happen, to give permission. In legal language, particularly where sexual crimes are concerned, it means more. Consenting to sex means; willingly agreeing to have sex, with full knowledge of what you are doing, who you are doing it with and the possible consequences. For a woman to be capable of consenting to sex, she must be mentally and physically mature, and capable of making a fully informed decision. She must not be mentally ill, drunk, or drugged or disabled in a way that prevents her from expressing her consent. If she is drugged or drunk, one cannot have sex with her and say she consented. If you hold a knife to a woman’s throat and ask her to say yes to sex, if she says yes you may say she agreed but she has not consented.

This may sound like semantics but it is critical when we relate it to young people. While a 12, 13, 14 or 15 year old girl may say yes to sex; agreeing to have sex should not be equated with consenting. Girls under 16 years of age and even up to 18 years, just like a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are not capable of informed consent. This is why in many countries 16 years is the legal age of consent with no derogations to that rule, the way Zimbabwean law is.

Girls under 16, simply lack the emotional and mental maturity to consent. Most of them fail to realise that they are being manipulated and see themselves as the adults that they think they are. Some under-age girls may make sexual advances, and, some may have already learned how to bargain with their sexuality at a very young age, but at the end of the day they are still children merely experimenting with their sexuality. Like all children, they test the boundaries that adults set and maintain and the law should not let that boundary be weakened by giving paedophiles room to escape.

The purpose of statutory rape

Instead of defending Magistrates who protect paedophiles, Tomana should have asked himself why laws on statutory rape exist. The purpose of the law on statutory rape is to correct a major imbalance of power created by age where young girls may be seen as willing but in truth are being taken advantage of, physically, mentally and emotionally. The law protects these girls by creating a presumption that even when they say yes, psychology has proven that in the same circumstances, were they more mature, they would probably have said no. Their immaturity lends them vulnerable and open to abuse by sexual predators.

At the moment- in practice- our law is failing our children. Instead of adult men (sexual predators and paedophiles) being found ‘strictly liable’ for taking advantage of young girls,’ young girls are being found strictly guilty of seducing men and wanting to have sex. The message that courts and magistrates should be sending is that 12-16 year olds are INCAPABLE of consenting to sex and it should be the adult’s responsibility to say no.

What to do…

Our legislators must change ‘statutory rape’ and ‘having sex with a young person’ to ‘strict liability rape.’ This means there should be no excuse for men who are caught having sex with minors. This should deter sexual predators. Lawmakers must increase the legal age of consent to sex to 18 years; the same as the legal age of marriage in the Constitution. We cannot say adults can marry at 18 but say children can consent to sex at 12 if we are to do away with child marriages. The distinction of under 12s, 12-14 year olds, and 15-16 year olds defies rational logic. Assuming that an increase in girls’ years inherently reduces the blame of the men who sleep with them is wrong. It makes older girls seem blame-worthy and exempts perpetrators of violence; the paedophiles and rapists who must always carry the blame.

We, (people of Zimbabwe) must police each other. Let us demand laws that protect children and use the laws to report paedophiles. Let us chastise our children who may think they are mature and want to have sex with older men. We must stop marrying off our children to save face when they fall pregnant or to use them as a solution to our financial problems. We must value girls’education. We must call out individuals who think like Tomana and challenge them to be humane.

Children need our protection not licenses to be exploited by sexual predators, the way Tomana has done with his comments.

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*

African women on fire!!!

Africa, Emancipation, Gender, Politics, Sexual Violence, Women

2012 has been a progressive year for African women in global politics.

In April Joyce Banda of Malawi became the first ever female president of Malawi and the Second Female president in Africa. In June, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia became the first female and African Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004. In June again, Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone was appointed as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under-Secretary-General.  She replaced Margot Wallström.  Just yesterday, Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma became the first female Chairperson for the African Union Commission.

Whilst others do not celebrate her appointment given the political debates, politicking and struggles that characterised her election, it still remains fact that her election preludes a significant shift in African politics and in the history of the African Union (AU).

In my view Dr Dlamini-Zuma was a strong candidate not only because she had the requisite experience and skill having served as Foreign Affairs Minister for South Africa for 10 years between 1999 and 2009 and led a number of peace and security initiatives with the AU in Lesotho, the DRC, the Comoros and others but also because she represents a new paradigm shift as the first female Chair and bringing a new face to AU politics where Southern Africa is given its rightful place as an integral member of the AU. Previously it seemed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region was repeatedly sidelined, in what appeared to be legitimacy battles given that there was not a single representation of SADC at the inception of the AU then known as the Organisation of the African Unity as all the Southern African countries were still under colonialism and doubts about SADC sharing a common Pan-African vision given its population demographics.

While some people may choose to look at Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s main challenges as the new AU chairperson in country specific terms, for instance, resolving the conflict in Mali, in Somalia and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as a woman I perceive her biggest challenge to be that of forging ahead a dispensation that addresses African women’s plight.

I am hopeful that should Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s vision for the AU be fulfilled, seeing as how it resonates largely with women’s agenda, then African women are going to be in a better position than they have been so far.  She articulates her vision with the following strategic aims (adapted from the Press statement by Mac Maharaj, spokesperson for President Jacob Zuma):

(i) To implement programmes supporting the AU Decade for Women (2010-2020);

(ii) To prioritise integration, peace and security and conflict resolution as key pillars of Africa’s developmental agenda

(iii) To consolidate the institution of the AU as a formidable, premier, Pan-African institution;

(iv) To reinforce the importance of NEPAD infrastructural development projects as an important programme of the AU;

(v) To focus on the youth of Africa in development programs;

(vi) To spearhead Africa’s continued advocacy for reform of the global governance architecture.

The AU has largely been about rhetoric, focusing on sugar coating a semblance of unity and Pan-Africanism at the expense of the most vulnerable members of its society, especially women. Hence despite the rape and mutilation of women in Zimbabwe, in the DRC, in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Liberia the focus of the AU’s efforts have not been on giving these women an effective remedy but about reaching compromised solutions. Of course, the peace vs. justice debate had raged on and partially consumed the African continent. So never mind the scars that Omar Al-Bashir inflicted and continues to inflict on the bodies, spirits and minds of Sudanese women and children, and men for that matter, but the AU was prepared to protect him and rescue him from the clawing paws of the huge, ferocious and African-hating mammal called the ICC than afford justice to the individual women on the ground.

“Every man [and woman] must decide whether he [or she] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” (Martin Luther King) I hope that the former- creative altruism – is what Dr Dlamini-Zuma represents. The AU Chairpersonship requires a seasoned diplomat not a politician and certainly not a proponent of certain African leaders’ political ideological standpoints! Her statement to the press ignites hope in my mind;

“South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is, [ I] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution.”

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.

Of course; they have a lot to hide!

Activism, Africa, Gender, Human Trafficking, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

When I first heard this piece of news I was shocked, then I became angry and then I turned defiant and decided that I would chart my own destiny. The piece of news is that out of the 192 member states of the United Nations, Zimbabwe has decided to declare itself so special, setting itself apart by changing the theme on the Commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence to suit its own ‘context.’

The official United Nations and global theme for this year’s commemorations is supposed to be:

“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”

The new (Indigenous) Zimbabwean theme now reads:

“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge All Forms of Gender-based Violence.”

To back-step a little bit let me start from the beginning…

The 16 days of Activism against gender based violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. The 16 days begin every year on the 25th of November which is earmarked as the International Day for the elimination of violence against women to the 10th of December celebrated as International Human Rights Day.

This year’s commemorations cover five (5) sub- themes namely;
 Bringing together women, peace, and human rights movements to challenge militarism
 Proliferation of small arms and their role in domestic violence
 Sexual violence in and after conflict
 Political violence against women, including Pre/During/Post-election violence
 Sexual and gender-based violence committed by state agents, particularly the police or military

The 16 days’ campaign is a time to educate one-self; to spread the word; share knowledge, to organise events and activities, to engage with the media; celebrate women human rights defenders and activists, advocate for women’s human rights, and lobby the government. Usually these things are done with the particular theme for the year in mind. What this means is that during this year’s commemorations we must educate ourselves on militarism, spread the word about it, share the knowledge we have on it, celebrate the women who have been subjected to it and lobby the government to end it.

Is anyone wondering why the Zimbabwean government changed the theme?

Maybe this should bring us to the question of what militarism is, in the context of gender based violence.It is an ideology. That ideology creates a culture of fear. It condones violence and induces fear by cultivating a culture of terror among populations through the use of military warfare, aggression or other forms of violence.

Why must we reject it?

Militarism has grave consequences. It is coercive, intrusive on the dignity of people and poses a huge challenge to human security. Since it is a way of looking at the world; it influences how we perceive those who surround us; family, neighbours, the general public and the rest of humanity. If we embrace militarism then we are condoning a culture that perceives every individual as the enemy and embracing violence as the only effective way to resolve disputes. That is unacceptable!

Why is it important for Zimbabweans to discuss militarism?

If there ever was a more appropriate for Zimbabweans to talk about this issue, then this is the moment we should seize. Our past experiences with politically motivated violence in the context of elections need to be aired. Militarism has been used to suppress dissenting voices and those who think that they have an inherent right to take this country to its purported historic destiny feel the need to rid it of any contrary views and positions. Violence has become an instrument for these people to achieve their grandiose end.

In 2008 when Zimbabwe had its combined municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections, violence was used to force people to vote for certain political parties. Such violence wrought havoc on the lives of many. The killing, maiming and scarring of children, women and men, traumatising and shattering their lives was never accounted for. The women who contracted HIV/AIDS from the rape now have to live with the disease and the wounds on their hearts remain fresh to date. Mothers bore children whose fathers they do not know consequent of gang rapes during elections. Homes were burnt and destroyed. The memories of the insertion of sharp objects and hot substances such as ash and chillies into the private parts of women remain vivid yet no one wants to talk about it loudly.

Elections are in the pipeline. Probably the campaign plan is to do in 2012 as was done in 2008. Why am I not surprised that the theme for the 16 days of gender activism has been distorted. Of course talking about militarism will bring the dirty linen into the public (as if we already don’t know it all). What is in play is the realisation that talking about it will lead to calls for action to end it, and address its past occurrences, something that those who hold our nation by the horns do not want to see happening. Without militarism they lose their political stranglehold.

So no, there shall not be discussions of militarism in Zimbabwe these 16 days.’ Before we have started speaking to this theme, the government of Zimbabwe has hijacked the process and has distorted the theme to prevent the concept of militarism from being fully explored in the discussions taking place. Of course, there is a lot they have to hide.

Join me in rejecting this blatant abuse of power by speaking as loudly as we can against militarism in Zimbabwe.