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!!!

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 tragedy of indifference

Africa, Emancipation, Women

“A man should conceive a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts.” – James Allen.

So what is the purpose of music?Is it just to entertain? Is it to bring society together? Is it to educate societies? Is it to paint narratives and stories of how societies evolve? To mourn, to celebrate, to express love, gratitude or anger? Is it all these things? Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure- the nature of a society is shaped by the things it consumes and values-music included.

This picture illustrates something very important; the marked difference in a society’s appreciation of an artist whose music addressed societal woes and tragedies and one, in my view, whose lyrics consist of nothing more than a cacophony of repeated phrases. Surely, a message calling for the respect of women ought to be a billion hits attraction, or does our society just not care for such ‘incidentals?

I would claim $3000 too

Emancipation, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

I think I can be forgiven if I declare that I really believe that the society I live in is somewhat full of misogynists-men who hate women and female chauvinists and slut-bashers; women who treat other women with disdain. Well, here is why I say so. It takes a commercial sex worker (who my society loves calling prostitutes or hookers) and a male client (whom I would like to call the sniffing dog) to commit an act of prostitution. The client hires the commercial sex worker, and then the two have consensual sex. But guess who is labeled-the woman. Guess who is arrested if they are caught together- the woman. Guess who is arrested for loitering for purposes of soliciting for sex-the woman. As if the man did not want exactly the same things that the woman wanted too.

 Let me give you another example. Boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl likes boy. Boy and girl have sex. Who gets pregnant-girl. Who is responsible-both. Who should have been more responsible and had insisted on using protection-both. But if they were in school most schools will expel the girl and the boy will continue with his education despite the existence of policies and laws that encourage giving support to such girls. Girl will be ostracised for being loose and boy will receive pats on the back for impregnating her-he is a man after all and has proved he can ‘father’ children. Boy will deny responsibility and deny he ever had sex with girl. If girl decides she cannot take care of the baby and would not be able to bear the responsibility alone and decides to abort, boy will be the first person to report her to the police so she can be arrested. Abortion is illegal in Zimbabwe.

 Boy will spread the news about how girl is an unfeeling creature who killed her own baby before it was even born. Girl will again be ostracised by society, men and women included.

 If girl feels strongly about abortion, decides not to abort, keeps the pregnancy but decides she still is not ready for the responsibility and informally gives the child for adoption by leaving the baby on the doorstep of an orphanage or formally gives the baby up for adoption by choosing a couple that wants the baby; the same boy and society- by and large- will castigate her for being unfeeling and cold. How can a woman give up her own child for adoption? They ask.

 If girl decides to keep the pregnancy, give birth and keep the baby, then all her life she will be referred to as ‘the’ single mother. The derogatory term in Shona is “mvana ine mwana wayo.” Mothers will not want their sons to marry such a woman and in most cases if she finds a man who loves her and marries her, she always has to contend with the monsters-in-law, especially the sisters in law and the mother in law. Men will assume that she is easily available for nothing more than a romp between the sheets.

 Anyway to tell my story, I was reading the Herald-online of the 15th of June 2012 when I came across this headline: “Lawyer demands US$3 000 maintenance.” As the story goes, the lawyer is a single mother, Zimbabwean, based in the United Kingdom who has been taking care of her son single-handedly for the past 14 years. However the father of her son is a known individual, running a very successful transport and fuel business, which all in Zimbabwe know has big money and profits.

 The lawyer requested $3000 maintenance for her child per month from this filthy rich man who probably spends that much on beer and whisky or small houses (concubines) every month. The man refused to pay that sum and said he can afford to pay $200 only because he has a big family of 7 other children and that his business does not make that much money.

If you are going to produce as much sperm as this in one ejaculation, as a man you must be prepared to be responsible should the sperm result in a baby. Fatherhood is not about making women pregnant, it is about taking care of the children born out of those pregnancies.

 Apart from this man’s attitude, the comments that readers of this article also made left me livid, for a lack of a better word. Here are a few that especially made me furious:

 KuDiaspora zvinhu hazvichafaya! Dzoka kumusha kana zvanetsa….but you risk becoming one of the unemployed 80%! Life in the Diaspora is not working for you anymore. Come back home but you risk becoming one [part] of the unemployed 80%,

 Usamupe shagi iroro. Ari kuda kupihwa mari yekunolazwa nedzimwe boyz. Ngaachengete mwana akanyarara. Ari kuda murume kupfuura zvese zvemaintanance zvaari kutaura. Who doesn’t know kuti varume vanonetsa kuwana kuDiaspora. Do not give her that money. She just wants to get money that she will spend with other men. She should take care of her child and not complain. Infact she wants this man more than the maintenance and is using the maintenance claim as a front. Who doesn’t know that men are hard to find in the daispora?

 All these years where was the mother, [the] recession yamukwadza [has affected her]. The father should demand parental rights 3 days a week and request the judge to force amai ivava nemwana [the mother and the child] to return to Zimbabwe so that the father will have a relationship nemwana wavo [with his child] since she said he has Zimbabwean citizen[ship].

 You do not just harvest where you have not sown like the MDC.

 Well here are some facts to all these people who made these comments:

  1. A man should not pay maintenance because he wants to; he has to pay maintenance because it is his responsibility to do so. The same way a father who lives in his home should take care of his children, so should a father who impregnates a woman anywhere. He fathered the child and he must take care of it.
  2. Women do not ask for maintenance because they can not afford to take care of the children alone. Yes, there are some women who will desperately need that help and without it would not manage. But all women have a right to claim maintenance as a matter of principle. If you bring a child onto this planet  then you must be responsible for that child’s upkeep. If you know you can not do so, then giving up the child for adoption is a far  nobler decision as the child will be with people who want him/her and will have his/her best interests at heart.
  3. A woman has the right to claim for maintenance from the father of her child at any point that she feels she wants to. Her reasons for not making the claim earlier are her own. Maybe she was too traumatized by the ordeal of his rejection to want anything to do with him. It may be that she could afford to take care of everything and now she can’t. It may be that he could not afford to take care of his child and she actually felt sorry for him. It may be a lot of reasons and none of them matters. What matters is that in the case of this woman lawyer, at this moment the man can afford to take care of his own child, he ought to have tried doing so all his life and should be ashamed for even trying to talk his way out of it.
  4. In every situation, where adults have wrangles over the welfare of their children, the best interests of the child are the priority. In other words, whatever circumstances work best to give the child the best care, best welfare, best peaceful and safe environment that promotes his/her growth physically, emotionally and mentally should be the one that he/she should be given as a matter of choice.
  5.  Also, visitation rights by a father who has no custody or guardianship rights over a child are not a precondition for a claim for maintenance from a mother who is taking care of the child. There are some men who pay maintenance but do not want to see the child at all. In this case, should the man want to see his child then he would have to work out an arrangement with the mother to see the child. The mother has created the best conditions so far, for her child to have a life. The decision to move to the UK was probably in the best interests of her child because had she not done so she would not have been able to take care of him- and the father has not contributed a single penny to the life of this 14 year old. Surely demanding that this child be brought back to Zimbabwe to live here permanently may not be in the best interests of the child.

 All those who think this woman is being vindictive or that she is being a gold digger should try taking of a child for 14 good years with no help from anyone else. They should go through the stages of giving birth to and bringing up a child from 0 to 14, all alone and if they still think it is a stroll in the park they can come back to me and convince me that this woman is making an unreasonable claim. Why is she expected to continue suffering in silence? Why is her claim being questioned at all when it is her right to claim maintenance and the right of her child to be taken care of by his own father? If I were this woman and if I knew the amount of money this man makes yet he has not done a single thing for his 14 year old child since birth, I would claim a reasonable sum like $3000 per month too.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 19: The Women of Doors of Hope

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

I suppose for some people, when they have never worked with real victims of certain circumstances, they just can’t understand the gravity of the situation you are talking about. The first time someone made me extremely upset was when my colleagues and I presented the documentary ‘Hear Us’ to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Gender and one traditional Chief said. “They are lies. This film was staged and these women were lying. Men are not dogs that can sleep with one women one after the other without using protection.” There we were, with one of the victims who had volunteered to accompany us to make her appeal to the representative body of the people of Zimbabwe, Parliament and she had to listen to such nonsense and get re-traumatised. I get equally upset every time I hear people ask “what was she wearing” when they hear that a girl was raped by a random attacker. What women wear, or how they dress does not rape them, it is the warped mind of the perpetrator that conjures up images of the person before him naked that causes him to then take advantage of the victim. More so, in the case of politically motivated rape, the victim’s body is used as a tool of war. She is raped to spite her husband, father, brother or uncle with whom the perpetrator will have bad relations. So why would she lie that something so terrible happened to her if it did not and why would someone who has no idea what forensic evidence the woman gathered after her rape, deny that she was ever raped?

 Many a times, I have talked about the nature, the causes and the consequences of politically motivated violence and rape against women in Zimbabwe. I have written articles on it which those of you who have not had the chance to read can read on my worldpulse journal. My colleagues at RAU and I have consistently documented these violations in many reports such as ‘Preying on the Weaker Sex: An account of Violations against women’, ‘Forced Concubinage in Zimbabwe’, ‘Women and political violence and update’ all available on the RAU website. We have also produced documentaries, ‘Hear Us’ and ‘What about Us’ in which the victims themselves have told their stories at great risk to themselves and their families.

Some excerpts of the accounts of victims from the political rape report RAU, together with Doors of Hope and the Zimbabwe  Association of Doctors for Human Rights produced are as follows:

A woman from Manicaland testified that, “On the 22nd of June 2002 at 1pm three men came to my homestead. They entered the kitchen where I was and stood by the door. The policeman said they had come for a final search for the gun. They started searching for the gun everywhere. They did not find anything. One of the men said,” let’s burn the house. I pleaded with them not do so because my husband was away and I would not have anywhere to stay. Then one of the men covered my head with a cooking pot and told me not to remove it. Then they kept beating me with sticks me on my left leg around the hip area.  I fell down and the pot fell off my face and they put it back and continued beating me. They said, “You refused to give us the information that your husband is hiding, so we are going to make you our wife.”

Another woman from Manicaland stated that, “When I woke up the following morning on the 26th of June 2008, they had put a skirt on me and a ZANU PF t-shirt, I had blood all over my skirt and my thighs were swollen. My vagina was full of semen; I had wounds and cracks from being raped continuously. I could not walk because my legs were swollen. At around 5 am 5 men came to me and told me I could go. They carried me and left me by the road near a primary school. Two of my friends found me lying down by the road. I told them to go and get my husband. My husband came back with a wheelbarrow and carried me home. I told him that I had been raped
 

But even as we continue to do our work one thing bothers me. That thing is the inaccessibility of justice for the victims of such violence. The women of Zimbabwe just like the men have suffered so much at the hands of political parties and many of them live with their wounds both psychological and physical with no access to trauma counselling, medical care and medicines.

 However there is a group of women, who took their own initiative to find their own form of justice. These women began their Foundation in 2009 and called it Doors of Hope Development Trust. It operates as a non governmental organisation and a support group giving hope to victims of rape. The members are mostly victims of politically motivated rape some who have contracted HIV/AIDS from their rape as some of the rapes were gang rapes and most of the perpetrators did not use protection. Politically motivated rape has unique consequences apart from the usual stigma attached to rape. Mainstream institutions that assist victims of rape are intimidated and scared to address victims of politically motivated rape. The victims are therefore forced to find somewhere else for help or get the help in those institutions but suppress the political element in their accounts of the incidents. This amounts to re-victimisation and hence the victims never get healed.

 The strength that the women of Doors of Hope have within themselves and the willpower they yield to pick up the pieces and continue to rebuild their lives never fails to amaze me. Each time I interact with them I wish they could get the assistance they need to set their support group for victims of rape running as smoothly and be as well established as the support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS. And so today I want to recognise their resilience and celebrate their strong spirit.

 Currently Doors of Hope operates in ad hoc meetings of members. Their vision is to bring life and hope to rape victims. Their mission is to empower women victims of rape from the victim to the survivor mode. Their objectives are to find and attract other victims and encourage them to speak out, to assist women to access medication and counselling and to provide emotional support to victims. They have specific needs for capacity building including how to communicate with funding partners, identifying victims, separating partisan affiliations and professional space, proposal writing skills and organisational management skills.

 They also need empowerment workshops that will help them to find their voice as Doors of Hope. Currently Doors of Hope does not have proper office space or equipment to create a database of their members. Any well wishers, moved to assist these women to find new meaning in their lives and rebuild their crumbled castles let us know so you can help these women.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary One: Dr Amy Tsanga

Activism, Emancipation, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Radical, somewhat rebellious, robust. Those were my first impressions of this woman when I first met her. Then I was a naïve-mousey thing, studying for my undergraduate degree in law. I observed how she had embraced her feminine self and African-ness yet she had also surpassed societal stereotypes of who an African woman is and what she can be. I mean here was a woman who lived through an era when the education of girls was not a priority yet she had done it and done it well too. She was my lecturer and I simply idolised her or maybe was it, uh, hero-worshipping. Gentle, yet firm, she spoke so eloquently and confidently and I was hanging onto her every word. She convinced me that women’s rights are human rights; as inalienable, indivisible an interdependent as any other right in relation to other rights. And from then on I have been fighting relentlessly for the empowerment of women and the realisation of their human rights.

Dr T on a tea-break at a transitional justice workshop exploring the Nairobi Declaration on Girls' and Women's right to a remedy and reparation in 2009

Her name is Amy Shupikai Tsanga, but I, like many others who have had personal contact with her, like calling her Dr T. Maybe I may be blowing my horn too loudly, but I would like to think (an impression which I hold to date) that we took an instant liking to each other. Over the years she has become more than just my lecturer, she is my mentor, my (free) career guidance consultant, my friend, my big sister and my role model.

One cannot talk of women, law, gender and education without mentioning Dr T.

She earned her Ph.D. in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1998, a certificate in Law and Development from the University of Warwick (UK) in 1991, a Diploma in Women’s Law from the University of Oslo, and a BL/LLB in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1986. During her undergraduate studies she received the university Book Prize as the best Law student in 1985. She was also a Fulbright Scholar and visited the University of San Diego in 2010 as part of the Fulbright Scholars’ Occasional Lecturer Program.

Currently, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe ( UZ http://www.uz.ac.zw )and the Deputy Director of the Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women’s Law (SEARCWL http://www.searcwl.com ) famously known as the Women’s Law Centre, Dr T is a woman of outstanding achievements. The Women’s Law Centre is popular for its excellence in gender, women’s studies and the law. As a lecturer she is responsible for teaching the modules in women’s law and the law of succession for undergraduate Law students (which she taught me and ably so too). She also teaches numerous courses on the regional masters in Women’s Law which is designed to bring students from Southern and Eastern Africa to pursue studies in women’s law. So far the Masters has pooled students from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, DRC, Botswana, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

She has an outstanding record as an academic, challenging the patriarchal system and advocating legal systems and processes that correspond with the lived realities of citizens. Her many publications in the areas of violence against women, women and development, human rights and gender are evidence of her academic prowess. Among her publications is the book ‘Taking Law to the People: Gender, Law Reform and Community Legal Education in Zimbabwe’ which explores the myriad of challenges that organisations face in transmitting the law to the people on the ground.

’She also co-edited with Anne Hellum, Julie Stewart and Shaheen Sardar Ali the publication ‘Human rights, plural legalities and gendered realities-Paths are made by walking,’ which addresses the failure of human rights norms at the national, regional and international levels to afford ordinary citizens at the grassroots the projected human rights benefits and protections. Her featured articles in that publication are entitled “Reconceptualising the role of legal information dissemination in the context of legal pluralism in African settings’ and ‘The widows and female child’s portion: The twisted path to partial equality for widows and daughters under customary law in Zimbabwe,’ the latter which she co authored with Professor Julie Stewart.

She featured the article ‘Dialoguing Culture and Sex: Reflections from the Field’ in the Pambazuka publication ‘African Sexualities: A Reader.’ She also authored ‘Women and law: innovative approaches to teaching, research and analysis’ together with Professor Julie Stewart. The book looks into the manner in which legal teaching methods can be tailored to engage and explore women’s experiences with the law in various legal disciplines.

Dr T also designed together with Ige Olatokumbo a Manual entitled ‘A Paralegal Trainer’s Manual for Africa’ which is a publication with the International Commission of Jurists. She was featured in the African Yearbook of International Law with article such as ‘Moving Beyond Rights in the Realisation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Challenges in Contemporary Africa.’

As a gender activist Dr T has played a pivotal role in influencing legal, policy and institutional reforms to ensure gender equality. She sat on the Board of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association as its Chairperson from 1998 to 2001. ZWLA provides legal assistance to indigent women. She is an award jury member on the Body Shop Human Rights Award, an award that was set up to give recognition to groups working in the field of socio-economic rights and other fields of human rights that are usually not recognised. She was also board member of the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights from 1995 to 1999. Since 2005 she has sat on the board of Musasa Project, a Zimbabwean organisation that challenges and addresses violence against women and since 2010 sits on the board of the Institute of Creative Arts for Development in Zimbabwe.

In July 2010 she briefed Parliament on how to ensure a democratic and inclusive Constitution for Zimbabwe that addresses gender equality. In that article she emphasised the importance of an inclusive constitution-making process; the expansion of grounds for non-discrimination; improving women’s participation in politics and decision-making; ensuring women’s equal status before the law and in marriage; and a proper enforcement of the Bill of Rights as some of the prerequisites for achieving gender equality in Zimbabwe.

For all her outstanding work Dr T received the national Women’s Human Rights Defenders Award in 2009.
I always look at her and admire the dexterity with which she has mastered the art of methodologies, which happens to be one of my biggest nightmares. The vivacity with which she pursues the empowerment of women is beyond words. And that is the story of one of the women in the women’s rights movement in Zimbabwe whom I admire verily.

The unsung ones

Uncategorized

The unsung (s)heroes/heroines

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

However my heart bleeds for the forgotten freedom fighters…

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

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

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

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

“whom I will leave alone in the last days of her pregnancy and will leave her alone to oversee the workers who are preparing Khaled’s (their unborn son) room, I who shall be detained and she who shall be burdened while she is running around for my demands, my sustenance and my visitation permits as well as the campaign that was founded for my case.”
(Full article available at http://sultanalqassemi.blogspot.com/2011/11/egyptian-activist-alaa-abdel-fattah.html)

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

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

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

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

Sex is (not) easy in Africa

Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Uncategorized, Women

Shall we be silenced?

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

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

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

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

No-we stand firm-up in arms

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.

Rationalising sexual harassment in Egypt

Africa, Gender, Human Rights, Violence Against Women, Women

Before I came to Egypt I was warned several times to be prepared to face sexual harassment. However the warnings had not prepared me for the reality that I have had to live with, in the past 6 months. Sexual harassment in Egypt is chronic and it has to stop. It does not matter whether you are black, white or everything else in between, just being a woman makes you a victim.

The first one slid his hands onto my lap, groping at my thighs and touching my breasts. Lesson Number one- never sit in the front seat of a taxi in Egypt unless you have other people you know with you in the same car. He was a taxi driver. I had not given him permission to touch me. I walked out of a moving taxi. My body is my sanctuary and if I cannot have total control over it then what am I-A tree that bears fruit but cannot eat of it?

The second one stalked me. I remember he was smartly dressed in khaki pants and a sky blue shirt, but beneath his neat exterior lay a rotten mind and rotten intentions- to harass me because I am a woman.

The third one grabbed my buttocks as I made my way into the subway station. I shouted at him and he ran away. Of course he had to, I was furious to say the least. I used to be feisty but Egypt has turned me into a fierce tigress. That is the only way to deal with a culture that is so pervasive it is almost normal.

The fourth, fifth and hundredth all whispered obscenities in my ears as they passed me by. They whistled and passsed snide remarks as I passed by. They ‘accidentally’ brushed their hands against my breast and my behind as they passed and when I turned my head to ask they raised their hands to say ‘I did not mean to.’ Of course what they all did not mean was to get caught and be embarrassed for it.

The one who drove me to write this story also grabbed my buttocks on the subway on the morning of Tuesday 4 October. A few hours earlier someone had stolen my purse and all the money, bank cards and identity documents in it were gone. I was already upset so I turned and shouted. He showed no remorse. In fact he had an evil sneer on his face, showing satisfaction for having accomplished what he wanted, he had made me upset and so derived power from knowing that he had made me upset. Passersby looked at me as if I was the crazy one. Coupled with the racism I face in this country I retreated from Cairo and took days to find myself again and rebuild my strength. I also took time to reflect on the levels of sexual harassment in Egypt and I tried to rationalise it. I reached one conclusion; there is no rationalising such a terrible culture.

Could it be religion? I ask myself. But what religion condones the degradation of women and their treatment as mere sexual objects? What Deity condones the mal-treatment of half of its creation? If it is about Islam and its demands on how women should dress then I do not understand the patterns of harassment because whether dressed in a Jalabiya (long robe) and Burka (head cover that leaves the eyes out only) or tight skinny jeans, the men still harass you. If it is about Christianity, then these people are reading the wrong Bible because the word of God in Deuteronomy says “Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you.” If they believe that harassing women is good and right in the sight of the Lord, then I cannot stretch my tolerance to accommodate such misogynistic tendencies.

Maybe it is a lack of education but even the educated ones do harass women. Besides one does not need to be educated to know what respect for another human being entails. It should be one of those innate values that transcend religion, culture, education and gender.

Maybe it is a way of redefining their masculinity. I know under the previous regime men were humiliated, suppressed, denied room for expression and personal growth and so they could not provide for their families, they could not voice their opinions out of fear of arrest and detention. So maybe the whole political, socio-economic context emasculated them and made them feel worthless but how does harassing women make you more of a man. Does it not actually make you less of a man and a coward if you spawn your anger and frustrations on a ‘weaker’ sex? As one of my friends Christele Diwouta pointed out when they pull women down because they think it makes them better than us that confirms that they are already beneath us. That makes them cowards. What man calls himself a man when he derives a sense of worth from belittling women. That is pathetic.

I have a right not to be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I have a right not to be leered at and treated like a sexual object. I have a right not to cower and wonder what a man will say when he passes me by. Real men treat women with respect. Real men protect their womenfolk. Real men do not hiss like snakes to express their interest in women, they engage them in decent conversations. So I declare today to all the men who sexually harass women in Egypt and anywhere else in the world. You are not real men. You are unknown creatures. You are diseased and you need healing. You are cowards!