New Internationalist

Zimbabwe: it’s a man’s world

We have a lot of programmes in Zimbabwe that are meant to ‘empower’ girls and women. A friend of mine recently argued that we should not have such programmes. He was of the opinion that girls – especially those in school – have not really been affected by gender imbalances and that providing such programmes was not good for them since they basically told them that they are inferior and need a helping hand up the ladder.

Personally, my problem with such programmes is rather different: that the motive behind them is not actually to ‘empower’ women and girls. Rather, it is easier to access funding when you are running a programme specifically for women and girls.

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The abuse of girls’ and women’s basic human rights continues in Zimbabwe. A few weeks ago, three women were arrested and charged with rape – raping men, that is. It is alleged they gave a lift to a man, drugged him and then raped him. They were arrested because some used condoms were found in their car. I wonder if such flimsy ‘evidence’ would be used to arrest men?

What disturbed me most was not the alleged rape, nor the subsequent arrests. What disturbed me was the reaction of the men who were watching when the women were dragged into court: a mob stood there, waiting to deliver ‘instant justice’ to the alleged rapists. If Zimbabwean men are so ‘righteous’, why is Zimbabwe in such a mess? Haven’t we stood by and watched as a few individuals loot state resources? Haven’t we watched as a few individuals kill our fellow countrymen over mundane differences like which political party to support? Haven’t the same individuals bribed young men with cases of beer to rape our women and burn our homes? Yet somehow we are ‘brave’ enough to stand up and show our fake ‘manhood’ in clear cases of abuse against girls’ and women’s human rights.

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I witnessed another incident when I was in the capital Harare recently for a workshop. I was staying with my young brother, who is a police officer at Chikurubi maximum-security prison. Every day I had to travel there from the city centre during rush hour; the congestion of Harare can be unsettling at times. On one of these trips I witnessed something outrageous at Copa Cabana taxi rank.

I had heard stories of guys tearing clothes off women and assaulting them for wearing miniskirts, but I had never actually witnessed it. But as I was waiting patiently for my turn to board the commuter omnibus, I saw a mass of people moving towards us, with much whistling and shouting. At first I thought that perhaps someone had been caught in the act of pick-pocketing. Alas, it was a young woman being subjected to ‘instant justice’ for daring to put on a miniskirt.

‘This is why there are a lot of rape cases. What are men supposed to do when they see such a thing?’ one man stupidly ventured. Really? And here was I thinking that women and girls were being ridiculous for thinking it is their fault when they get raped. I can imagine a man standing over a rape victim and saying: ‘Why did you have to put on a miniskirt? Now look what you have made me do; I have raped you.’

We live in a society that thinks it’s manly to routinely abuse women and girls. When I was a teacher I often saw male teachers sexually abusing schoolgirls and seriously victimizing those who dared stand up against it. We have to wise up: abusing the rights of women and girls is not manly at all.

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