Last week, Katswe Sistahood organised a community meeting which aimed to discuss the state of women’s safety, mainly in urban centres, and identify ways to reduce the abuse of women at the hands of the general public and law enforcement agents. The gathering, which included feminists, women’s rights activists, journalists, touts and commercial sex workers, was a follow up meeting to the Safe Cities campaign launched by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Gender and Community Development earlier this year.
The famous ruling against ‘the miniskirt touts’ was also a used as a yardstick to measure how this had influenced a change, if any, in the attitude of men towards street harassment.
Grace Chirenje, Director of Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building (ZYWNP) started the discussion with a look at the relationship between poverty, lack of access to constitutional information and absence of laws that protect women on the streets.
“If these men had something to do, they would not have all the time to question about a woman’s dressing,” said Chirenje. “Because some of these women are not aware of their rights, they do not know how to react and are usually abused because they are vulnerable.”
Chirenje argued that the 8 month jail sentence given to the touts for stripping a young lady at a bus terminus in Harare was no guarantee that there were no other women falling victim to abuse in public and private places.
A commercial sex worker identified as Cecilia pointed out that her livelihood, and that of many other sex workers, is negatively affected by the fact that sex work remains illegal in Zimbabwe.
“Our clients put our lives at risk, sometimes you only realise that someone has torn up the condom way after the act and this subjects us to STIs and unwanted pregnancies.”
Cecilia went on to highlight that since it is difficult for sex workers to negotiate for better fees for their services, they cannot afford necessary medical treatement associated with the risks of their work. She also asked the legislators to work towards legalising abortion as she stated that more often than not, sex workers get pregnant by accident and are not financially prepared to assume the role of parenthood.
A collective of sex workers who attended the meeting also presented a play tilted ‘Dandemutande reutachiona’ demontsrating the virality of sexual networks.
Nancy Chabuda, a representative from Katswe Sistahood read a statement on behalf of women’s rights activists which also called for an end to violence and sexual harassment against women. The statement outlined how the phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘revenge pornography’ was being used to violate women’s privacy by portraying them as sexual objects.
“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,” emphasised Chabuda.
Former Miss Zimbabwe, Emily Kachote also spoke against revenge porn as she shared how being dethroned on allegations of leaked nude pictures had affected her social and professional life.
“I did not appear in any of the pictures that were in circulation yet my reputation was ruined,” she said. “Why is there no law to protect women who are always victims of leaked videos and pictures?”
Lawmakers including Bulawayo East legislator, Tabitha Khumalo and Umzingwane legislator Pricilla Misihairambwi, were also part of the meeting with the role of parliamentarians present being to respond to questions similar to Kachote’s while also advising members of the public on how best to work with legislators in policy formulation.
“Your legislators may not be available each time you need them but you also need to make use of the available portfolio committees,” advised Khumalo.
She also urged civil society organisations to organise educational tours that will inform the public on how they can access the Zimbabwe’s parliament so that they can become actively involved in the process of law-making.
In support of Khumalo’s advice, Misihairambwi extended an invitation to Katswe Sistahood to organise a tour that she deemed beneficial towards teaching ordinary people the purpose of parliament.
Touts present at the meeting pledged to return to their work stations and sensitise their fellow workmates on the negatives of abusing women on the streets.
“We are going to start a campaign on displaying messages that speak against gender based violence and sexual harassment,” said Tinashe Manjeso who spoke on behalf of the touts present.
“Personally, I do not mind going around wearing a T- shirt written ‘women friendly tout’.”
Main image taken from www.twitter.com