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Mini skirt march: Women inch closer to freedom

DOZENS of women took to the streets in bright mini skirts and skimpy dresses, shocking people at Copacabana bus terminus.

DOZENS of women took to the streets in bright mini skirts and skimpy dresses, shocking people at Copacabana bus terminus. It was both an assertion of their rights and a challenge to the touts, who had stripped a woman naked for wearing a mini skirt.


On March 11, 2014, touts who ply their trade at the popular pick up point, were awakened by a procession of the women, who invaded their territory waving placards that ordered the group to respect women’s dressing.

The sanctioned protest, popularly known as the Mini skirt March, and the second in Africa after Kenya, was received with mixed feelings.

The protesters were insulted by people in the capital, who called them “prostitutes”, but they continued with the march and conveyed their message.

Almost two years after the historic march, the women are still to taste freedom over their dressing, as their male counterparts are still disapproving mini skirts.

Talent Jumo, the director of Katswe Sistahood, a women’s movement that organised the Mini Skirt March, said the results of the march are being felt, as men are no longer as aggressive as they used to be towards women clad in mini-skirts.

She, however, said instead of exercising “physical discipline” on women dressed in mini skirts as before, men have resorted to verbal assaults, following the arrest of touts recently over assaulting a young girl in the capital.

“Feedback from women and girls shows that although some men still pass rude comments to women on the streets, they are no longer as aggressive as they used to be. We believe the arrests of the touts was a wakeup call to would-be offenders. They now understand the seriousness of the offence and now know that they are being watched,” Jumo said.

“In fact, a few months back we went to Copacabana bus terminus and staged a scene where a girl in a mini skirt was being harassed by another woman.”

She said they wanted to gauge whether there had been any shift in attitudes and to their surprise, market women, touts and other passerbys came to the defence of the girl and confronted the women “harassing” her.

“The response was so positive that we actually have started working more with touts and about 30 of them are leading parts of our Making Cities Safe for Women and Girls Campaign. Soon you will see kombis branded with positive messages that reinforce the idea of men respecting women as equals. So indeed, the mini skirt march was very helpful in challenging society’s attitudes,” Jumo said.

On March 26 2015, Harare magistrate Rekina Dzikiti sentenced two touts, Marvellous Kandemiri (32) and Blessing Chinodakufa (31), who had stripped a Harare woman naked for wearing a mini skirt to an effective eight months prison term. Initially they were sentenced to one year in prison before four months were suspended on condition of good behaviour.

According to Jumo, the landmark ruling came at an opportune time, as women are now safer in the streets. “Many girls and women now feel safe and can now navigate the city as equal citizens, without fear of intimidation and harassment.

“They are now aware that the law is on our side. If they are confronted with any form of violence, women’s rights organisations are there to support them in accessing justice. We, however, are still concerned that some men and boys out there do not realise that passing sexual comments and obscenities in the name of giving a compliment is still a form of sexual harassment and that too should be challenged. Women are not sexual objects. We need to feel safe, everywhere, at home, at school and in our communities, including in the kombi ranks,” she said.

A tout at Copacabana bus terminus, who identified himself as Bornwell Timba, said the incarceration of Chinodakufa and Kandemiri had resulted in him and his colleagues changing their attitudes to women’s dressing.

“We are now aware that if we harass women because of their dressing, we will end up in jail. These days we just see and leave those in mini skirts,” he said.

Responding to Chief Chikwaka from Goromonzi area, who had asked about women’s dressing in Marondera during a government constitutional outreach programme a few months ago, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also the Justice minister, said women have the right to wear whatever they want without fear of victimisation.

“Some of us, including (former Education minister Aeneas) Chigwedere, who were there around 1918, women used to wear nhembe (loincloths), but no one protested. The men would put on madhumbu (rags) and no one protested. Then came the whites with clothes that covered the whole body,” he said.

“If a woman parades herself in mini skirts, leave her, that is what she wants. We went to war for freedom, fighting so that all people will be free, so there the new Constitution speaks of freedom of choice and freedom of expression.”

Chief Chikwaka had bemoaned that at his traditional court, women were attending while wearing skimpy dresses and mini skirts, which he described as unwanted at his court.

However, some sections of society still view wearing mini skirts as immoral.

Recently, First Lady Grace Mugabe told a Zanu PF rally in Mberengwa, Midlands province, that mini skirts were a sign of moral decadence. She said women should wear long dresses like she did or put on trousers to avoid being raped.

Tag a Life International founder and gender activist, Nyaradzo Mashayamombe said women are not being sexually harassed because of their dressing, but because of lawlessness in the country.

“The reason women are being harassed is not because of their dressing, it’s because of lawlessness and really bad public transport system, which is not centred or crafted with human rights and dignity in mind. Protesting in mini skirts, was a way of having the government think about the importance of human dignity and well-being, especially in public spaces,” she said.

“I keep referring to ranks because this is where a whole lot of these crimes are taking place. We call on the government, first, to make sure that its departments deliver, such as the transport ministry and the city council.

We need sanity in this country. We also call on the police to do their jobs at these ranks. A week or two ago, a close relative was harassed at the Mbare terminus in broad daylight, while a police officer was 100 metres away.” Mashayamombe called on authorities to be serious about women and girls security.

Marondera-based pastor, Nathaniel Antonio, from Family of God Church, said women were supposed to be modest in their appearance.

“I also believe that ladies in the church should not dress like those in the world. People should not mistake the two. The ladies in the house of God should be a standard, so that those out there can learn and emulate from them,” he said.