A call to re-own public spaces for women

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I am running towards my car and clearly I am in a rush and want to grab something and dash.

As I approach my car, there is another vehicle parked very closely to mine and the man in the passenger seat looks at me with such an eye of lust and I can almost tell the forecoming danger.

Just as I suspected, he passes some remark about how well endowed I am in a bid to chat me up. I look on like I never heard a thing wondering to unleash my truly radical feminist side or do I play the saint considering that I was in a BIG rush? I decide on the latter and just give him a reprimanding glance and kindly but firmly ask him for my space, unlock my car, grab my business cards with a great sense of accomplishment and briskly walk back to my meeting venue. I might not have been stripped naked, but I felt naked. He might not have done it over a long period of time, but it felt like a lifetime of violence.

Well, that is just a sample of women’s lived realities in Zimbabwe today. Our freedom of movement is violated every day and because of many reasons best known to the victims and survivors, we choose not to share this sad, but painful reality we have to face each and every day of our lives just because we are born female! Or maybe we just grow tired of having to engage these insensitivities.

Unpacking women’s realities in the public spaces

I have often wondered what it is that gives some men the kind of privilege that they clearly abuse every left, right and centre. A closer look at the way we are socialised as people shows a clear distinction of patriarchy that facilitates for men enjoying quite a substantial amount of power and privilege with total disregard of the female species’ desires and needs.

In Zimbabwe today, generally it has become synonymous with public spaces that women face violence. If a woman is to walk into a bar to enjoy the simple holy waters, it is supposed that she is there for other reasons, which might not be about enjoying the holy waters! Walking to the community borehole to fetch the much-needed water, young women and girls face the brunt of some men who take it upon themselves to “access” the beauty of these sisters and haul all sorts of unsolicited-for comments. The unavailability of street lighting and poor supply of electricity energy leaves women to walk in the dark with unimaginable possibilities stalking her realities, some are raped, beaten up and even murdered. The pubic transport sector has become notorious for abusing women wearing what they deem short clothes and some have even been stripped naked much to their trauma.

The whistling, lustful gazes, awkward chatting up, patting of the bum (yes, imagine about to cross the street and a strange man suddenly pats your bum) it is happening in this our beautiful country. Sad. I will not even dare mention the name-calling especially to the more endowed sisters who are stereotyped in all sorts of ways. This sort of public violence is atrocious and needs to stop and stop immediately.

Self-preservation

In order to protect the self from being violated in public spaces, some women have resorted to staying indoors and minimise interaction with the public spaces much to the detriment of their social life. Some have become paranoid and fearful of what could be and hence are forced to choose to stay away from the very places they need to be at so as to access services. The trauma that comes from being a victim or survivor of public violence is unmaginable. I am sure the men that perpetrate this sort of violence think it is a joke or simply being masculine, but honestly this is barbaric and archaic. It is painful and traumatic to the person it is targeted at in most instances. Respect for women everywhere is a vision in the current reality in Zimbabwe that we will not give up on. There is need for a total mind shift that facilitates for men engaging alternative masculinities and facilitating for a peaceful environment for their mothers, sisters, aunts, wives, daughters and you name it. It is just wrong to flow with the crowds as such violence is perpetrated, men themselves also need to step in and say enough is enough we will not violate our own!

Women stepping up

Sisters! For how long do we stand by and watch as we are targets of abuse and violence? This is not a call for us to become violent as women or go full throttle kung fu on the male perpetrators, but just to say, we need to step up and become a force to reckon with in ending violence against women in public spaces. Yes, I know I am well endowed as a woman, I do know my skirt is too short and I keep pulling it down, but it does not necessarily mean I do not know what I am wearing and what is happening as my dressing has nothing to do with you.

How I look is not soliciting an invitation from you to abuse me. Trust me I am calling for a moral degeneration crusade – just stating the obvious. Why do we always talk about teaching our daughters how to dress? Are we not supposed to also focus even more on how to teach men to stop drooling over women and making them the target of their lust? Can’t men just mind their own business? Please do not tell me the we are created different excuse.

We do see a lot of men wearing clothes that make us want to walk up to them and rip their jeans open but we don’t do that, do we? Fantastic! So the same kind of exercise of restraint is actually inherent in all human beings – we need to employ it. We all have the capacity to be barbaric and Zimbabwe becomes anarchy but do we not chose to remain sane even in the face of harshness? The point being that this is the time that men have to stop unleashing violence against women in public spaces and stop it right now.

The women of my time also need to understand that they too have the same right as their male counterparts to live this life with dignity and freedom of movement so they too should step up. Sisters! We need to work beyond our fear and socialisation such that we realise the power we have within ourselves and that power to act by standing up to violence perpetrated against women.

No human is more equal than the other sisters – we are born equally privileged and favoured despite these patriarchal tendencies so we too have a right to safety in public spaces. We say no to violence against women in public spaces. Our duty bearers ought to understand and facilitate for the necessary infrastructure to ensure our safety. No one can do this for us sisters so we stand up and fight for what is rightfully ours – our right to be women whether we are being outright feminine or choose to link with our more masculine side. Sisters, let’s do this!

l Grace Chirenje is a citizen of the world and writes in her personal capacity as one who lives life to the full. She would be excited to hear from you. You can contact Grace on graceruvimbo@gmail.com, follow her on Twitter @graceruvimbo or like her Facebook page Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje.

Chat soon.