Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Verbal harassment of women on the rise in Zimbabwe

TOP del.icio.us

On her way from work one night two men approach Cecilia and say, “Happy new year”. She responds and says, “Happy new year” and continues to walk. As they pass her one guy says, “Damn girl, Santa must have left you as a late Christmas present for me”. As Nyasha walks down the street passing a bus terminus, a group of kombi touts comment about her figure, “Iri iheavy” (‘You tight’) and before she even knows it she is the centre of attraction and the men are singing, ‘mutumba asekuru!!’ These are remarks women are given in the public and most women can relate to Cecilia or Nyasha’s experiences.

Holla Back, a group that works to fight against street harassment by encouraging people to speak out against gender based harassment provides a definition of public harassment as:

“Occurs in a public space when one or more individuals (male or female) accost another individual-based on the victim’s gender-as they go about their daily life. This can include vulgar remarks, heckling, insults, innuendo, stalking, leering, fondling, indecent exposure and other forms of public humiliation. Public sexual harassment occurs on a continuum starting with words, stalking and unwanted touching, which can lead to more violent crimes like rape, assault and murder.”

Public harassment has serious adverse effects on women. Susan Griffin in her book ‘Feminism and Psychology’ discusses the ‘protection racket‘, where harassed women seek male escorts in public to protect them. In addition women associate their bodies with shame, fear and humiliation due to the lewd remarks they hear from the streets. Victims can also become suspicious of innocent gestures and hostile towards non-harassing men.

The Sunday Mail of December 12-18 2010 had a feature in their In-depth titled “Relief for Heavily Built Women“. The reporter wrote that as a heavily built woman made her way past a bus terminus in Harare she was subjected to whistles and lewd remarks. ‘Mutumba asekuru’, a derogatory slur was being used to describe her heavily built woman’s stature. Lawyers and non-governmental organizations have pointed out that calling women offensive names is a sexual offence.

Chapter 9:23 (77b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act says that:

“Any person who knowingly or realising that there is a real risk or possibility that he or she will be heard, utters or makes use of indecent or obscene language in or near a public place, or in or near a private place within hearing of another person shall be guilty of public indecency and liable to a fine not exceeding level nine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.”

In November of the same year a beauty queen who held the Miss Big Matofotofo pageant title had a hugely embarrassing moment in a local bar. As she entered the bar people started to sing ‘mutumba asekuru’. As if this was not enough, two young men blocked her way and fondled her buttocks. The beauty queen took the two to court in December 2010 in December 2010 and they were slapped with a US$80 fine or two months in prison. Public verbal harassment is a growing issue of concern and has multiple depressing effects on women and society at large. However very little attention is being directed towards this matter. This could be because both women and men view harassment as minor and with a tender heart. Gardner (1995) reported that many women use romanticised rhetoric in response to harassment. From this perspective women may view harassment as flattery, due to the nature of men (i.e “boys will be boys”) or as harmless.

It is interesting to note that in countries like Japan, Mexico and Brazil ‘Women Only Public Transportation‘ has been introduced to prevent the sexual harassment females face. However, I feel that such measures where there is gender segregation to try and curb harassment will not work in most situations, as it does not address the root problem. What I think is more ideal is that women should be encouraged to speak out and take their offenders to court. At the same time men should refrain from making comments about women.

One comment to “Verbal harassment of women on the rise in Zimbabwe”

  1. Comment by Verbal harassment of women on the rise in Zimbabwe | The Zimbabwe Situation - Zimbabwe News updated daily:

    [...] http://www.kubatanablogs.net/kubatana/?p=4785 - [...]