By Caroline Kache
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.
“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?
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!