By the Editorial Board|
Now Daily Editorial|
Having followed the debate on attacks on women wearing miniskirts or ‘short’ dresses, we have come to the bitter conclusion that the discussion has lost direction. It has become plain that some of the people driving this cause are either totally ignorant of the issues at hand or are deliberately vying for political correctness at the expense of justice.
The recent interview between journalist Natasha Musonza and Winnet Shamuyarira, programme officer at Katswe Sistahood, an NGO that organised the so-called ‘miniskirt march’ in October was interesting. The demonstration was in protest against earlier attacks by touts on women wearing clothes deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the mobs.
Admittedly, Shamuyarira articulated the issues very well, stating unequivocally that the dress police should find better employment than harassing women for their clothes.
Where we differ is on solutions. We believe that the Zimbabwe Republic Police are culprits and, therefore, can not offer much practical help. On a nightly basis, the police raid bars, clubs and other places of entertainment looking for skimpily-clad women, who are branded prostitutes. The women, whatever their reason for being outdoors at night – whether on business or just out to have fun – are accused of ‘loitering for the purposes of prostitution’ and made to pay fines even if they are innocent. Those who refuse to pay are often beaten savagely and locked up in police cells. Those who can not afford to pay bribes or fines are forced to have sex with the corrupt officers.
All these abuses are taking place in front of touts and other criminal types, who then feel empowered to attack women in miniskirts in broad daylight. So, while Shamuyarira suggests roping in the cops on marches, we think confronting the police about their blatant violation of women’s rights is more of a better strategy.
The ZRP has an entrenched culture of corruption and general neglect of duty. Where else in the world do police officers see a crime being committed and turn a blind eye? In Zimbabwe, the renegade cops always claim they will not act unless a formal report has been made. What happened to crime prevention, which should be an essential part of police work?
We all know that the ZRP is now an essential part of the criminal underworld. According to Afrobarometer, ZRP ranked among the most corrupt forces in Africa. They torture people to extract confessions. They take bribes from both perpetrators and victims and subvert justice. They chase up female vendors on the streets, sometimes tearing their clothes. At ranks, they busily extract bribes from transporters and befriend criminal touts.
We have also heard elsewhere that touts should be banned. It is not about touts. It is about the general lawlessness pervading Zimbabwe, which Zanu PF abetts for its own political ends. Through this, we have seen the creation of party militias, whose orders are to inflict maximum damage to their victims, especially women, who are routinely raped and abused. Over the years, the police have refused to act on those cases despite the overwhelming evidence presented to them.
The bottom line is that the rights of women are not guaranteed in Zimbabwe as in much of Africa. If the women are not robbed of these rights by family and relatives, they will lose them to spouses, bosses at work, priests in churches or the ubiquitous militias and political thugs.
Violence against women is widespread in Zimbabwe. Some of it is worsened by religion or culture, where self-appointed so-called ‘prophets’ and guardians of tradition impose dress codes on women. We know, for example, of the Vapositori sects where women are required to wear long white dresses to avoid ‘tempting men’. Yet it is a proven fact that horrific sexual violations are taking place in these sects, even though there are no women in miniskirts in sight.
The court system has also proved to be a problem at times by failing to address the issues or failing to deliver justice on time, which has emboldened sexual offenders. A complainant in a rape trial was ordered by officials at a Harare court to go back home and take off her slacks and put on a long dress because, they argued, the magistrate might think she ‘invited’ the atrocity on herself by the way she dressed.
Recently, we have heard a lot of ignorance over this issue. We had Grace Mugabe and Oppah Muchinguri saying, for example, that rapists must be hanged. These are reckless statements by politicians who want to excite crowds with impractical solutions but are not willing or able to follow through on their propositions. It just leads to more frustration for the victims of crime.
Our argument is, we need to reset our moral compass, abandon the phony nationalism and stupid traditionalism proposed by Zanu PF, and allow our women to enjoy their rights at all times, not only when its politically convenient or beneficial to freeloading NGOs.
(c) 2014 Now Daily.