*I would like to sincerely apologise to those who follow my writings for my long absence. Among other things I have spent the past month focused on lobbying the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, (the CEDAW Committee) to, in its review of the state of Zimbabwe, take on board the issues of the women on the ground as represented by our views to them as Zimbabwean civil society*
Each year as we commemorate International Women’s Day personally my heart bleeds as I think of all the troubles, injustices and pains that my womenfolk are exposed to. If you can’t get what I mean look at it this way: Somewhere in this world, right now, at this very moment, a woman is getting raped. A mother is dying giving birth. A woman is being abused, verbally or physically by her partner. A woman is going hungry and her heart is breaking as she looks at her children starving yet she has nothing to feed them. A woman is freezing from cold because she can not cover herself adequately. A woman is walking miles to get water, or firewood or to reach a health facility. Yes at this very moment, somewhere in this world, that is happening, believe it or not!
This year’s theme in commemoration of international women’s day is focused on eradicating poverty among rural women. In my view poverty needs to be eradicated amongst all women not just rural women. Indisputably, our rural women suffer the most as they live in the areas where basic services are the least accessible hence making life much more difficult for them.
But today my view is that the women of this world, not only rural women, and especially on the African continent do not only suffer from the kind of poverty that is measured by their inability to access basic resources such as food, shelter, clothing, shelter and education. They suffer huge deficits in basic dignity subjected to all forms of degrading, inhuman and humiliating treatment at the hands of their governments, their own families, their male counterparts and society at large. Hence the lives of most women of this world are bankrupt in monetary, emotional and social terms. Not by their own design, of course but as a consequence of the circumstances in which they stumbled upon when they exited their poor mothers’ safe, warm and secure wombs.
We talk of human trafficking especially modern day sexual slavery where women are held forcefully and prostituted, feminicide-the widespread killing of women, systematic rape, female genital mutilation, child marriages, domestic violence, wife inheritance, polygamous relationships and the toil they exact on women emotionally, economically and physically (spread of HIV/AIDS), and many other harmful cultural practises that women are forced to endure. We talk of discrimination in the community-where women are considered lesser beings, in the workplace-with women earning less than men or expected to give sexual favors in return for promotions yet they deserve the promotions anyway, discrimination in the family —with the boy child preferred over the girl child.
And I have people asking me why women are still making noise about discrimination and why they still demand for equality when national constitutions say we are equal.
Excuse me! If you are living in a hole where you are not privy to the sufferings of this world then stick to your hole. Not everyone in this world is encased in a little world like yours. Women’s struggle for dignity is far from over. Besides, a constitutional provision talking of equality does not guarantee equality! The substantive nature of equality demands that the law manifest itself in the lived realities of women. Only until that point when women are treated equally, when it is a given that men and women are equal, when women feel and can see that they being treated equally can we say there is equality.
To bring it closer to home, in other countries, International Women’s Day is a holiday. Just across the border in Zambia women are resting today and celebrating their womanhood. In Zimbabwe, we shall commemorate it but our government does not think it important enough to set aside this day as a holiday. Instead we have Defence Forces Day as a holiday to celebrate the militarisation of our state and the consequent impact this has on women as they are abused by the very same people who are supposed to protect them. Police brutality and abuses by the armed forces against women are commonplace in Zimbabwe.
Just yesterday, I witnessed a very disturbing incident. I was using public transport in a commuter omnibus known as a combi in Zimbabwe. As this was during the rush hour, there was a lot of confusion with the traffic and on this particular junction (the Corner of Robert Mugabe Road-(no wonder) and Harare Street it was worse as there is no traffic light. There was a gridlock at the intersection. A police officer, going in the opposite direction, blocked by the combi I was in, got out of his car, started slapping the driver in the face and ordered him to reverse. Right there in broad daylight, in the most humiliating manner the poor guy (the driver) quietly reversed his car.
The police officer’s behaviour was inexcusable. Had he ordered the driver to reverse in an attempt to bring the traffic to order then there could be a slim chance of justifying his behaviour, but alas, it was completely for his own selfish ends. Soon after the combi driver reversed the police officer got into his car and drove off leaving the chaotic traffic as he found it. He was a law officer, one on whom society is supposed to depend to respect, enforce and restore law and order.
This incident reinforced the reality that Zimbabwean society has become so permissive of systematic abuse. Can an abused woman depend on this kind of police officer to handle her case of abuse in a victim friendly manner? Will the same officer hesitate to wield and unleash his baton stick on a woman human rights defender if he finds her protesting on the street? Clearly not! Is it any wonder then that women in Zimbabwe are exposed to all forms of abuse including politically motivated rape when the culture of violence has become so commonplace?
Oh we suffer, we the poor women of this world. But guess what; women are made of sterner stuff than steel. If men had to endure half of what women endure, this would be a women’s world. No men left! We celebrate womanhood today, we embrace our strengths, we remember our sorrows and tribulations but we applaud our convictions and immense willpower to soldier on even in the most difficult circumstances. That is what International Women’s Day is all about.