Harare — The streets of Harare recently came to a standstill when several men sexually harassed a woman vendor who was celebrating her birthday.
This gross violation happened as people stood by and watched. It is a signal that the country is still far from standing up in solidarity to call out against eradicating the fight against Gender Based Violence (GBV) in society.
Zimbabwe has made a commitment to eliminate all forms of violence against women and it is a signatory to international and regional instruments in place to end GBV.
If men, who are in this case perpetrators, violate a basic human right in full view of the public without shame or fear then one wonders to what extent violations against women happens in private spaces.
The incident that also captured the media's attention left many unanswered questions. In the eyes of the public, the incident may have been taken as a mere joke and something to talk about.
This incident left a lot to be desired about the attitudes of men towards violations of women's bodies. What is a man who does not see anything wrong in trampling on another person's basic human right in public capable of doing in private? Let us assume that it was just "a moment of madness" since it was reported that the woman was celebrating her birthday.
This brings us to another question, are we living in a society that approves "fondling" of women? Have we evolved into a society that stands aside, watch, and enjoy sexual harassment? Unfortunately, anything that happens in public some members of society will take it as a lesson, imitate and implement it elsewhere. Such a scenario if not checked would fuel the spread of GBV.
Society has just watched and ignored it. The victim will be left with the only option of retreating into shame and embarrassment. The idea of going to the police to file a case will be another episode of embarrassment in her mind.
Young boys who witnessed grown men fondling a woman in full view of the crowd without being restrained went home thinking that the act is acceptable in our society. Chances are that they are going to practice it at some point. The incident will remain intact in the minds of many. Therefore, what was treated as a "non-event" successfully perpetuated GBV.
What are the implications of this on the lives of young girls who witnessed such human degradation? If they encounter such violations, they will never speak out, as they will be assuming that there is nothing wrong with the act. No matter how hard we are going to tell them that it is a crime, chances are that they will not believe anyone, and they will not report such cases. If anything, they will blame themselves for falling victim.
The country needs to be aware that Zimbabwe has a constitution that defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome and unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or offensive environment." It is a criminal act and must stop.
Baseline studies done by Gender Links Zimbabwe on GBV revealed that 68% of women who conducted the study, in Zimbabwe experienced some form of gender based violence in their lifetime (within and outside intimate relationships) while 46% of men who were interviewed reported to perpetrating violence. One in every eight women (12%) reported experiencing any form of sexual harassment in Zimbabwe.
Women in Harare recorded the second highest number of women experiencing sexual harassment in their lifetime at 23%. (See http://genderlinks.org.za/shop/violence-against-women-baseline-study-zimbabwe/). There is need for awareness raising on the forms of GBV to both perpetrators and victims.
Zimbabweans must be reminded that what they saw happening that day on the streets, laughed at, and proceeded with their business has no place in our society and should never be tolerated.
Women must know their rights and be able to demand them. They must know what the law says in relation to GBV and their rights. It is high time we put a stop to GBV.
Priscilla Maposa is Gender Links country manager and Tapiwa Zvaraya is Gender Links Monitoring and Evaluation Officer. This article is part of the GL news and Blogs series.