My sister’s keeper: her esteem in my hands!


By Caroline Kache

Scenario 1

A woman walking on the streets of Harare; stripped naked for wearing a mini skirt. She boldly continues to walk whilst a huge crowd jeers behind her. Someone gives her a wrap (zambia) to cover herself but even that is taken away from her. Others say she is crazy for continuing to walk like that, but she continues with the little dignity she has left. They have damaged her but have not completely broken her.

This sounds like a script but it actually is the content of a video that has been circulating on social media in Zimbabwe in which a woman was stripped naked for wearing a mini-skirt. The level of intolerance and lack of humanity by those who did this to another human being is unbelievable. She is someone’s sister, mother and aunt! Have we lost all respect for other human beings? Where is the Ubuntu/hunhu we once prided ourselves in? I for one could not believe the number of women in the video who were jeering and following the naked woman. I asked myself, if I had been there what would I have done?

The attack on this woman prompted the #MiniSkirtMarch in Zimbabwe which got social media buzzing. Of particular interest were the comments from women, who felt that a woman should not show her body in that way on the streets. Others felt that the #MiniSkirtMarch was a worthless cause; “couldn’t there have been amarch against child abuse or something more meaningful, hapana mukadzi wemunhu anoita zvakadaro” (no married woman would be part of a march to wear miniskirts in public) they said. This is despite the fact that a number of women have been subjected to sexual harassment on the streets of Harare; married or not.

Scenario 2

“I said her dressing in front of a young man was inappropriate. I was not impressed especially for someone of her stature…That’s when I said she was inappropriately dressed, inappropriately attired. Displaying the thighs,” – in Parliament women approached me about her dressing, saying they had talked to her but she persisted without mentioning any names… – “She wears mini skirts. She must change her style of dressing. Even some of us who have attractive bodies don’t wear mini-skirts that show our thighs, especially in front of children. As mothers who have young growing daughters what lessons do we pass on to them? That is all I was unhappy about.

A few weeks ago the First Lady Grace Mugabe made headlines with her public attack on the Vice President Dr. Joice Mujuru. AmaiMugabe attacked not just the office of the Vice President but she attacked her person and this left many with jaws dropped at the inappropriateness of her actions and words.

If the other female parliamentarians did go to Amai Mugabe to complain about Dr Mujuru’s dressing (though I believe how Dr Mujuru dresses is not anyone’s business) I don’t believe the female parliamentarians’ expectations were that Amai Mugabe would address this issue during her ‘Meet the People Tour” or that she would publicise these concerns in the manner she did. Could she not have handled this issue with the same measure of discretion they did?

Sister’s keeper

My definition of a sister’s keeper is best illustrated by a typical scenario in any gangster movie. There are usually two rival gangs in an area and when two individuals from these gangs get into a brawl, the rest of the members from both gangs will join in the scuffle. Most of the members may not know what the cause of the scuffle is or who is to blame for starting it, but in a heartbeat they jump in to assist their fellow gang members.

That to me is the epitome of sisterhood. Imagine if all men knew that they cannot mess with any woman on the streets of Zimbabwe because all women would join in? Imagine if women walked on the streets in miniskirts and when all the hwindis (touts) started whistling and shouting women would come together and dare the men to touch any woman! Sisterhood is not about right or wrong or whether you feel strongly about an issue. It is about something in you refusing to remain silent when a fellow sister is being humiliated, assaulted or abused.

A friend once told me that true friendship is hearing people say something about a friend and you publicly defend your friend even without verifying if the issue is true or not. I am not saying women should not be admonished or reprimanded when they do wrong; quite the contrary. I am saying it should be done in sisterly love to build each other up instead of looking for a public platform and humiliating a fellow sister, Wisdom says you call her to the side and address your issues in a private space so that when you come out in public no one will know there was a private matter between you! Was it necessary, for Amai Mugabe to address issues of gossip and what happens in Dr. Mujuru’s private life on the public state broadcaster? Dare I say Amai Mugabe painted a picture of herself far worse than that of the person she meant to discredit.

The women who came before us, worked too hard for women’s empowerment for us for us to tear each other down in this way. Being our sisters’ keepers means we protect each other in the public domain; it also means we stand up for each other because for generations women have been said to be cruel to one another. In Shona we say mhandu yemukadzi mukadzi (a woman’s enemy is another woman). We have become our sisters’ enemies. We subject each other to emotional and psychological abuse, force each other to endure painful situations, humiliate each other and break each other’s spirits.

As we commemorate the 16 days of activism against gender based violence this year we must remember that violence is not perpetrated by men alone but can be by other women who have forgotten the true meaning of sisterhood. May Jodi Picoult’s words resonate within our hearts that ‘you don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.’ Let us be our sisters’ keepers!

 

 

Women’s privacy no longer guaranteed


By Fortune Madhuku

As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the World in commemorating the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, it is time to reflect and check how much has been done to empower women so that they do not continue to be victims of violence and abuse.

While great strides have been made in many facets of women’s life, which is quite commendable, there is one area where women are worse off. This area is about the invasion of women’s privacy. It is quite disheartening to note that with the advent of technology and high use of social media, many women have suffered as they have found pictures of themselves in the nude exposed to all and sundry on the internet without their consent. In most of the cases the perpetrators are jilted lovers who post photos and videos of their ex-wives and girlfriends in their birthday suits just to fix them. Such behavior is quite disgusting. A woman’s body is sacred and there is no amount of hatred, disappointment or bitterness that warrants displaying a woman’s naked body on the internet for the whole world to see.

While many people may be quick to blame the women who pose for the photos, knowing fully well the risk involved, the greater portion of the blame should rest on the men who post the photos on the internet. These actions should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

A case that quickly comes to mind is that of Desire Luzinda, a Ugandan songstress, who made headlines recently when her former boyfriend posted her nude photos on the internet in a bid to fix her, a bad trend referred to as ‘revenge porn.’ The songbird has had a colourful music career that saw her releasing several chat topping songs and being regarded as one of Uganda’s finest contemporary musicians. But with her bathroom photos going viral on the internet, her reputation has suffered a major hammering and her ego seriously undermined. Imagine her walking on the streets and everyone she meets knows everything that is behind the skirt and blouse, all this because of an ex-boyfriend who failed to stomach rejection. Very disappointing.

It was quite disturbed to hear the Minister of Ethics and Integrity in Uganda calling for the lady to be arrested as she participated in the shooting of the photos, appreciating that this is seriously prohibited under the East African country’s conservative laws. What is sickening is that no one said anything about the mischievous ex-boyfriend who posted the photos despite that the songstress had posed for the nudes.

The world seems to judge women harshly without apportioning the same amount of blame to the men involved. It is clear that the poor lady allowed her lover to take photos of her in the nude, in private, hoping that the photos would remain the private recording that they are. However, not all love relationships live until the end of times and it is during the rocky times of a relationship that the character of both parties is tested. Some people go to the extent of washing all the dirty linen in public, but it should be emphasised again and again that there is no amount of hatred that can justify displaying photos of naked women to the public, dampening their ego and reputation. Every person has a right to privacy and this should be respected.

While some people may argue that there is no bad publicity as any publicity, good or bad, can propel someone to greater heights, citing the Pokello Nare case where her leaked sex-tape seems to have made her even more popular, there are numerous other cases of women whose careers were seriously shattered by the exposure of compromising recordings on the internet. Think of Tinopona ‘Tin Tin’ Katsande who lost her celebrity status and job as a presenter at ZiFM radio station following the leak of her sex tape. The young and vivacious lady has found it hard to stand on her feet again and is now a pale shadow of her former self.

It is clear that women’s privacy is no longer guaranteed. Many women now live in fear as they have no assurance that tomorrow could be the day that the world will be watching their nude bodies via the internet and social media. For a country whose laws prohibit pornographic material it is strange how the men who expose these pictures and videos are never arrested nor the cases properly investigated. Instead the inclination is to castigate the women and slut-shame them. We clearly live in a patriarchal world!

The Price of Virginity


By Kuda Chitsike

During this year’s 16 days of activism against gender based violence with the theme “From Peace in the Home to Peace to in our communities: Promoting safe spaces for women and girls,” I am going to focus on child marriage.  The perpetuation of child marriage in our society is a sure way to never reach the desired goal of peace in the home and in communities because child marriage is a union entered into without the consent of both the parties.  What is marriage in the eyes of a playful 12 year old when she is probably in her early stages of puberty, becoming a woman- yet- still a child? What does marriage mean to her when she should be playing, going to school, doing homework and not wo/manning a household or getting raped by a grown man.  Is the ‘marriage’ about the child or really about the adults who have connived and agreed to it?

A couple of months ago I was part of a focus group discussion with women on child marriage in Goromonzi. I found these women’s thoughts particularly interesting.  One woman stated that her standing in society is much better as the mother of a married child, notwithstanding the child’s age, rather than being the mother of a single mother. Other women agreed with her, stating that their dignity was at stake. The matter of marriage ceased to be about the child.

In Shona, when someone gets married it is said “wadadisa” you have made us the envy of the neighborhood. Again this is not about the bride but about the parents and the family. The family is seen to have raised their child well so much so that someone wants to marry her. This is seen as more important than the fact that the child is under-age and likely to face extreme challenges as a child bride. Actually, the younger the child the more likely she is a virgin, and the higher the value of the bride-price.  This price is the price of virginity and that is the reason many of the women gave for allowing their children to be taken as child brides.

Often, the reasons given as causes of child marriage are religious or cultural practices and poverty. However questions always come to mind about why, if it is poverty, the parents choose to sell younger girls instead of the older girls or the boys. The answer was provided by these women we talked to – virginity.

When we asked the women whether they would prefer their daughters to marry later, after they had finished school and over 18, the answer was a resounding Yes which came with a big BUT. These mothers and grandmothers wanted their children to stay in school and get a proper education which most of them admitted they didn’t have, but they said they were finding it hard to keep girls in school because it is difficult to ensure that they remain virgins until marriage. They stated that young people of today are secretive and ‘vanoda zvinhu’ – they like things. .  What I found shocking was that some of the women wanted to bring back virginity testing as they said that the fear of being found a non-virgin could keep the young girls from being intimate with boys. There was however an acknowledgement that we now live in an era where children know their rights and they report any form of abuse to the police.

As many organisations do their anti-child marriage campaigns; it is critical that they should address this issue: the value of virginity. Critical questions should be asked to parents, religious leaders, traditional leaders and society in general. Is virginity more valuable than the life of a child? Should a child’s future, health, ambitions, hopes, dreams and aspirations be jeopardised by the desire to marry her off as a virgin? Is virginity worth the suffering she endures when she is forced into sudden adulthood facing difficulties in giving birth and taking care of a husband, children and a home?

There is a drive, currently, to realign marriage laws to the constitution and ensure that marriage is for adults over the age of 18 who have given their consent. The law would be one step towards providing safe spaces for women and girls.  However, the way we think, reason and act as a society matters more. We should let girls enjoy their youth and marry men of their choice, virgins or not.

The power of words: Addressing verbal abuse in promoting safe spaces for women


By Wendy Tagarira

I have observed that most women feign mental and emotional stability in public spheres whilst they are suffering from within. They try hard to paint a sunny picture of their lives and hide beautifully the dark clouds of the reality transpiring in their lives. It is fact that many women in Zimbabwe are subjected to gender based violence; their husbands, fathers or partners being the chief perpetrators.

Through my discussions with various women, I realised that most men abuse their partners or wives physically but more so verbally, thwarting and undermining their ego and capabilities in private spheres. The victims further work flat out to shield their counterparts’ reputations in a bid to avoid further abuse. The greatest tragedy in the matter is that the male counterparts rejoice in and derive pleasure from emotionally and psychologically torturing their wives, crippling their integrity and confidence in the outer world.

Women live with the unceasing reminders of their inadequacy from their male counterparts such as ‘You are doing me a disservice here… you are a liability… you have nothing to offer… you are only after my money…you are a gold digger… I regret ever meeting a monster like you…you are not as beautiful as… you are too fat…too thin…too dark.”

This affects women’s self-confidence and pushes some women to engage in harmful practices. These practices such as skin bleaching, vagina tightening, use of appetitos to enhance body curves have serious health consequences. It is tragic that women will harm themselves as they try to become what the men say they are not.

The constant verbal abuse also limits women’s participation in the social arena. For the woman to contribute to society effectively, she needs to have her confidence built within her home. For the woman to establish good rapport with others in the society, the good rapport must begin at home. If a woman is appreciated and regarded as a useful asset in the home, it will also reflect in the entire community as she will live up to her potential, proving her usefulness as an asset in a larger spectrum. What a productive world it would be, if every male celebrated the women in his life.

Verbal abuse is a challenge we face in Zimbabwe as husbands and partners in the home are rubbishing their wives and partners, treating them like nonentities. This destroys peace in the home.  Telling someone that they are insignificant or a mere chattel will unquestionably affect them and kill their confidence in their interactions with the world.  Cultural and societal expectations are biased towards men and usually, women are encouraged to endure in such circumstances where men are continuously verbally abusing them. Women are expected to endure as the men relentlessly remind them of how useless they are yet common adages confirm that women are very important entities in various societies and the world at large. There is the Shona proverb which says ‘Musha mukadzi’ meaning that the woman is the pivot and the crux of the home. It can also be extended to mean that the woman is the hinge of a  nation’s success.

A nation cannot be successful without the contribution of women. Women are naturally endowed with influence. It is imperative that men promote peaceful environments in the home for their spouses and partners, to promote peace in the entire society. Peace for the woman begins in her home.

STOP IT!!!


By Lloyd Pswarayi

Recently the leading story in the local media was about the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe on her “Meet the People Tour.” The assumption I had was that the primary role of the Secretary of the Women’s League was to advance the cause of women at both party and national levels.  I expected her on her tours to address issues that affect women and what her grand plan to address these would be.

But alas, the real agenda was revealed when the First Lady began to talk about the Vice President, Dr Joice Mujuru. Amai Mugabe went on to attack Dr Mujuru and all her “demonic” clan, declaring that she (the VP) is incompetent at her job of 10 years. The first lady  also ‘exposed’ that the Vice President is corrupt, an extortionist of the highest order, wears ‘short’ dresses in front of boys in her house and has been doing this since her husband, the General was alive.

There is something seriously wrong with this scenario.

First, we the ‘povo’ have castigated the President in the past for recycling incompetent ministers since Independence. We have raised the issue of corrupt ministers in past and present governments who have plundered the nation’s wealth with some owning whole towns and neighbourhoods. These people remain in office today, “advising the President.” Perhaps Amai Mugabe forgot all the others and only remembered Dr Mujuru?

Second, as Secretary for Women’s affairs in the party, we expected Amai Mugabe to use her position of influence to campaign vigorously to promote the rights of women and children in Zimbabwe. One of the issues currently affecting women and children is child marriage. 3 in every 10 girls get married before they turn 18. Societies keep using the excuse that it is their culture or religion to abuse children by forcing them into marriage.

In a case study we conducted as RAU in Goromonzi early in 2014, we established that most of the children in these marriages come from poor families. Most of them drop out of school due to lack of funds.  Having dropped out of school, they are forced to marry early. In some cases, even the traditional leaders are perpetrating this ugly practice. Perhaps with her influence, Amai should have used the “Meet the People Tours” to tell perpetrators of child marriage to “STOP IT!!” She could have concentrated on figuring out how to raise funds for women so they can send their children to school. Perhaps she should have applied her mind to how the economy can work again so that young girls are not pushed to marry out of desperation to escape poverty.

Child marriages compromise the position of women in society. They rob children of a chance to an education and to pursue their dreams. It denies them a chance to be equal members of society competing fairly with men in contributing to society.

Young girls and women are looking up to people like the First Lady to use her position to ease their burdens. As a leader, “Amai Mugabe should have used her Tour to address these challenges.

All hope is not lost, however, there is still the 16 days of activism against gender based violence- an opportunity for her to stand up and say to everyone responsible for violating Women and Girls “STOP IT”!!!

My state of Predestined Misery


By Anonymous

What is it that I could have done differently? Should I have worn fuller skirts, should I have not worn the hipsters that were all the rage, should I have gone on a diet so that my ample behind did not show so much, should I have smiled less brightly, should I have avoided conversation with him, should I have been invisible, should my father never have died? Should he have left me a trust fund that would allow me to be self-sufficient and never lack? Should I never have gone to live with them in the first place? So many questions and no answer as to why he sexually molested me.

I remember standing outside of myself and wondering how I should respond to his sexual advances, his clammy hands clawing me, the lewd sexual innuendos directed at me, the leery looks cast above my aunt’s head as we sat at the dinner table…. He was after all my guardian following my father’s death. I wondered if he felt, and whether or not he was actually entitled to the fringe benefits accruing to him by mere fact of his having sent me to school, having provided me with a roof over my head and food in my stomach.

I had options: I could play along just so I could be out of harm’s way and not ruffle feathers unnecessarily. I could report him to my aunt whereupon I would put an end to his predation of me even though it meant destroying their marriage and alienating me from the people who provided a roof over my head. I could report him to the police and risk alienating myself from the bigger family by taking matters into my own hands; the matter’s resolution which, by cultural right belonged to vanababa vemhuri yangu (who by this time knew about this predation but had chosen to let the matter rest- it was more important that I finish my school with a roof over my head and meanwhile I needed to do whatever It took to protect myself from this man in his house).

My aunt was willing to forgive him this one transgression among innumerable indiscretions he committed against her but she was unwilling to disbelieve him when he told her I lied about his molestation of me even though it was not the first time he had sexually molested someone, having molested a maid once before. Doing so would shatter the perfectly embroidered lie of their marriage and depreciate her standing among her church peers. Even though she had suffered sexual abuse at a young age and I felt she should have known better about the trauma which I had gone through,   her condemnation of me only made things worse.

I found myself being judged along the lines of the perpetuated purity myth that places the emphasis on women having to remain chaste; conflating abstinence with responsibility and the construction of a good girl paradigm. My case was judged too, along the lines of the myth of male weakness which suggests that all men are cavemen; brutish and hyper-sexual, that their civility is a mist which can evaporate at any time. They suggested that men, driven by the irresistible forces of the Y chromosome and testosterone, are to be applauded for even the most half-hearted efforts at self-restraint. For some reason their ‘inherent’ vulnerability to temptation and their concomitant single-mindedness, suggested that, after all had been said and done, it was my job to protect him from himself.

I remember all too vividly the shame I felt when I shouldn’t have felt shame. The horrible guilt I felt when I should not have felt guilty. Feeling like I owed it to the both of them to keep them together, that I owed it to my family to forget my own pain because it was more important to recognise the collective good that would be the result of my shutting up. I was socialised to think in terms of the collective, never mind the individual harm caused, but it grated with me that the very system ostensibly designed to protect me, patriarchy, was working to stifle the very life out of me.

When sexual abuse happens to women I will them with everything that is in me to fight using the law at their disposal but I am aware that the same law was available to me then as it is now but I have not used it to bring the perpetrator to book. So many factors inform my decision, least of which is that I will let sleeping dogs lie, reliving the trauma is not something I particularly relish doing. I imagine that there are plenty of women like myself who have been faced with the same dilemma and have not done as justice would have them do because there are so many other factors to consider other than merely bringing the perpetrators of their violence to book.

My notions of what women need to be secure are informed by such things as I have first-hand knowledge. I envision a world where women do not have to apologise for being women as I had to and still continue to do. I hope that someday, the family, so highly esteemed in our social structures, will protect women and young girls and stop apologising for men where they have wronged women. I hope that someday women shall rise and cease to live in a state of predestined misery.

Masculinities under economic strain: Too macho or just fake?


By Daniel Mususa

The mini skirt phenomenon has been a hot potato in public debate for some time now. Lately, events like the “Mini-skirt march” held in Harare by concerned women, has brought this emotionally charged dispute to the fore of public discourse, drawing contrasting reactions along the way. Women have for some time been calling for society to respect their right to wear what they want while society and its self-appointed custodians of morality have castigated this, labelling the proponents of these views with all sorts of names including “prostitutes” “uncultured” “of loose morals” and “HIV-carriers.” Whether clothing alone can indicate a person’s “unculturedness” and “HIV carrying capacity” cannot be adequately explored in this discussion. What matters is that society shapes our response to other people’s behaviour. As men, society teaches us to accept, and justify our beliefs even if they are prejudicial to others. I am made to see prejudice only in my fellow men’s individual actions, not in invisible systems that confer male dominance over women as groups.

Much of the resentment and disdain for the mini-skirts and the abuse of women wearing them is because people have problems in their private lives. Women wearing mini-skirts is nothing more than an easy outlet for people’s frustration with their own lives. Society has taught me, as a man to be fake about the goings on in my life; to hide my fears, to use any excuse I can find to blame someone for doing something-anything. This is the source of the male problems: society wants us to be macho-strong, aggressive, unemotional. Society is not willing to adapt its expectations of how men should behave, society says you must not cry, you must have money, to show your woman that you are in control (even if you have no whiff of a clue of what is going on) then so be it. When a relative passes on, as a man you cannot wail and throw yourself to the ground in anguish- you must be strong, hold it in and watch while your female folk cry-it is their duty to cry, to ask God why he has taken one of us.

I grew up being told that “you are the father of the house” “your sisters must kneel when giving you water to drink/wash hands.” Resultantly, I have a sense of entitlement that women should do what I want and if they don’t, they must be punished for it. This is far from who I am. When I hear of a woman (some woman somewhere) who has been raped, murdered or publicly undressed because of whatever flimsy reason, I want to cry, my heart cries inside me. I do not want to celebrate; I do not blame her for wearing a short and ‘provocative’ mini-skirt. I want to strangle the culprit, to feel his last breath leaving his nostrils but I cannot. Why? Society has taught me to be macho in fact to be too macho and fake. It has instructed me since infancy, that when a woman is raped it is because she has done something to induce the rape. Society has taught me to be a “man,” to be ‘strong’ and not show my emotions but focus on so called important issues. It has taught me to be outraged by women who ‘loiter’ in the CBD at night, that there is no error in men chasing after these ‘loiterers’ and transacting sex with money. Society has wired me into NOT seeing the logic, strategic and practical needs that make women call for the end of gender based violence. It has successfully installed a ‘pro-culture’ software in me which instructs me to detect, detest, mock and question the sanity of the husband who lets his wife go out to march, to engage the powers that be in demanding adherence to legislation which promotes the equal treatment of women and punishes perpetrators of violence against women and girls.

I am not asked by society to say who I think I am, rather I am instructed to adhere to how society defines me and how I must behave as a man. When I grow up and become a man, society has these things that I should live up to. I have no options because if I don’t I will be given names, nasty and belittling names. I cannot ask myself if I want to strip someone’s wife, daughter, sister, mother or aunt because she is wearing a mini-skirt? Am I provoked by the mini skirt? I am dazed by her beauty more than provoked by what you told me is her ‘nakedness.’ Do I want to wolf-whistle at her because she is walking alone? Do I want to join the bandwagon of dagga-smoking, bronco-drinking and sweat-filled hwindis and airtime vendors in howling insults at her because she does not care about what you have to say about how she looks? You have taught me to be too macho as to hide my own fears, insecurities, uncertainties and project them everywhere else besides myself. I find myself a victim of stereotyping, boxed into behavior that does not resonate with my character and personal dispositions. I am and do what you want me to. I am skilled at hiding myself, I was macho but now I am too much, I am just too macho and fake and you know who taught me? You.

Have mini-skirt wearing women increased in number? Have women reduced the length of their skirts since those nostalgically remembered days when life was still life, whichever period that was, if it existed. I think not, economic challenges have deepened. Men’s problems have increased. Their egos are battered and so they take it out on those weaker than them, expressed through violence including women in miniskirts. The length of the mini-skirt has not changed!