25 November 2018 marked the beginning of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence. The theme this year is ‘End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work.’ Gender based violence is something we all know too well in Zimbabwe, only we did not call it GBV, it was ma-domestic or swept under the carpet and only the immediate family would know. We all have that one aunt who we heard in the rumor corridors that anororwa nemurume wake ( her husband beats her) or that one uncle who really shouldn’t drink because the moment he drinks he exposes the beast in him. Yes, we all know that one in the family that no one really wants to talk about or confront. It has become so engraved in our society that the famous song Tozeza baba by Oliver Mtukudzi portrayed GBV that we all know too well. The song is about the experience of a child with GBV and the many questions they have with what they witness in their family. The child in the song wonders what their mom does wrong to warrant beating only when he is drunk, he/she wonders also wonders if its alcohol which causes him to beat up his wife.
The nature of GBV in Zimbabwe is not confined to the home, it also shows its ugly heard in the public spaces. Ask any woman in Zimbabwe who has been on the receiving end of sexual harassment in the public space. One cannot walk around without men finding the need to comment about her body or the way she dresses. Comments like sister makabatana , sister munodonedza musika or mune zvinhu zvenyu. Comments that make one self-conscious and uncomfortable and when one does not reciprocate these feelings they quickly turn from praise to hate in a split second.
I will never forget one experience I had as a teenage girl. In those days the touts played god, if they felt your dress was too short they would strip you. On this day I was with my mother after a long day we were on our way home and as soon as I got to market square one tout started whistling and more and more joined it. I didn’t understand what was going on and my mother held me closer. At that moment I realized all this attention was towards me. For some reason they felt my dress was too short and needed to strip me. They started following us, the sheer horror and fear I felt that day I will never forget. That day I understood the horror that women in Zimbabwe experience in public spaces. I did not know about sexual harassment then but deep down I knew what had happened to me was completely wrong.
Sexual harassment does not affect women in the home and public spaces alone but follows women to the work place. Sexual harassment is defined as ‘Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or •such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.’ Sexual harassment takes two forms i.e. Quid Pro Quo, when a job benefit – such as a pay rise, a promotion, or even continued employment – is made conditional on the victim acceding to demands to engage in some form of sexual behavior; or; hostile working environment in which the conduct creates conditions that are intimidating or humiliating for the victim. It can be physical, verbal or nonverbal e.g. touching, comments about appearance, whistling, sexually-suggestive gestures etc.
Over the last few months alone the media has been abuzz with cases of sexual harassment in the workplace in Zimbabwe. With high unemployment and insecure work contracts many women find themselves experiencing sexual harassment. The laws and policies are inadequate in protecting women in the work place and fear of being unemployed plays a huge role in silencing victims of sexual harassment.
As the world commemorates 16 days this year, we as Zimbabweans need to understand that GBV in rifle in women’s lives and we need to do more than just talk about it during 16 days alone. It is not acceptable for a woman to experience GBV in the home, in public spaces and in the workplace. We must end GBV now!
by Caroline Kache