Happy International Women's Day


DESPITE MY SEETHING, I WILL ACT!

I am a woman’s rights advocate, and I should be celebrating right? I should be in red, on strike, taking bold steps for change in line with this year’s theme of being #BeBoldforChange, right?

Wrong.

On the contrary, on the eve of #IWD2017 I find myself, again, seething against seemingly increasing violations of women’s rights in the media, by State institutions, the law and society in general. Now I know this sounds so generalized and many of my legal friends will accuse me of being “vague” to the point of being frivolous. But let me contextualize my anger.

On the 22nd of February, a local daily carried a report in which a woman was sentenced to an 18-month prison term for using “excessive force” against a man who had wanted to rape her, resulting in his death.

While it does not appear that the court disputed the facts surrounding the alleged rape, the court however found that she could have found other means of defending herself from the alleged rapist, including calling for help. The court decided that since the now deceased had a pregnant wife and children, who now had to move to live in the rural areas after his demise, it was proper that the accused woman serve time in jail.

Never mind that one is entitled to self defense at law, and it is established fact that when a human being feels threatened, rationality is the furthest thing from them, however today I am not focusing on the critique of the judgement. I am just a woman’s rights advocate aggrieved.

Today, the same daily carried a most offensive story about the former Vice President’s political woes in her new political identity as leader of a fledgling opposition political party. I hold no brief for her, and in fact I have my issues with her as a feminist, but again that is a story for another day.

However, whatever my difference with her could not and do no stand in the way of being outraged at her vile sexual harassment by a national daily as happened today. The sexual innuendo of the article was denigrating not only to the former Vice President, but also to men. At my most civil, I can only call the article disgusting. I couldn’t read it beyond the first paragraph.

It is in this context of constant violations of women’s rights, the denigration of their bodies and sexuality in the public and private domain that I find myself seething instead of thinking of celebrating anything tomorrow.

I honestly ask myself, what there is to celebrate? Should I celebrate the fact that in spite of the laws protecting women’s rights, the rights afforded women by the Constitution and the institutions ostensibly in place to protect human rights generally and gender equality specifically; women’s rights and dignity are trampled upon with impunity?

Statistics show that sexual and gender based violence continues to rise, both in the private and public domains, and yet the media and the courts seem to be sending the message that women actually do not have the same rights as private citizens and even as members of society.

My anger and disappointment comes from the fact that tomorrow in Zimbabwe and indeed across most of the world, women’s rights activists, organizations/movements and governments will collectively or in some instances separately, celebrate #IWD2017.

Various forums/dialogues will be held, and many a communiqué, statements of commitment and other such high sounding resolutions will be made to further enhance gender equality and the rights of women. There will be long speeches in which governments will showcase the many steps they have taken for the advancement of women. Women will be reminded of the laws passed, institutions created and actions taken to protect and advance their rights. However, when the curtain comes down on the show that is #IWD2017, what will really have happened other than yet another commemoration?

Some might even say, what is the point to these commemorations? If after tomorrow, things go back to the way they were, why should we waste time and resources? Yes, I am seething and I am disillusioned but I cannot deny the importance of the commemorations.

There is a case to be made for the commemorations. They serve to remind us of the lived realities of women and the need to do more. They represent that inconvenient reminder to governments, society and women too of the need to trudge along in the quest for gender equality. The commemorations remind us of gaps still to be closed in the public and private domain; they remind governments of commitments yet to be fulfilled and obligations made at the international level to be ratified and/observed.

So as #IWD2017 dawns, I will commemorate the International Women’s Day. I will not fake celebration because I am still be seething, but commemorate I will. I shall go to the stadium, in my flaming orange-red frock. I will make sure to remind my government and governments elsewhere that as women’s rights advocates and the women’s organizations/movements we are closely monitoring their actions towards advancing women’s rights.

I will sign the petitions and conference communiqués that demand greater accountability for women’s rights. That will be my contribution to women’s rights for #IWD2017 and I will do it because I can and as we say in my mother tongue, “ndichazviita madhongi achikuma” as “my thumb my nose” to media, the courts and society that still regard women as not deserving of rights.

Because when all is said and done, there is actually no choice for women’s rights but to speak out and act against a patriarchal system that wants to continue to oppress women. We cannot afford crippling anger, so despite my seething, I will act!

On that militant note, Happy International Women’s Day!!

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