NOVEMBER 25 to December 10 each year is commemorated as the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. It is the time of the year when people from all over the world come together to rally around ending gender-based violence with a very special focus on violence against women.
This does not mean that men do not experience violence, they do. It is about acknowledging the realities that women have a higher rate of being victims and survivors of gender-based violence. The United Nations has noted that one in every three women has suffered violence and an intimate partner perpetrates this violence. As we commemorate the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, I thought it noble to challenge each one of us, at a personal level, to unite and end this violence, starting from our own spaces.
Last week I was talking to a group of brothers that I love dearly and the topic was rape. They challenged me, as a feminist, saying part of what I do involves advocating for women and yet some of these women are guilty of using rape as a weapon against men and so on. I did not understand what they meant because that is not what I do, but curiosity had me enquiring what this meant. It was after one of them told his story of rape that I understood where they were coming from and I empathised with their views. What caught my attention, however, was their hardline stance on women’s inability to agree to sexual relations with an intimate partner. They argued that women do not express their sexual needs and, hence, it was the man’s duty to know when a woman is indirectly asking for sex. This, they said, also involves the man taking it upon himself to “deliver” what the woman is indirectly asking for. Oh my, no wonder we still struggle with issues to do with rape. It is unbelievable.
Rape is defined under the Zimbabwean law as a man having sexual intercourse or anal intercourse with a female person and at the time of the intercourse the female person has not consented to it and he knows that she has not consented to it or realises that there is a real risk or possibility that she may not have consented to it and if the female is under the age of 16. These aforementioned define rape. Having said this, it means that even when a man has worn a condom (if he is that responsible in the first place) the female partner can actually decide to say no, then he must stop. It does not matter how high or aroused this man is. It does not matter what this woman’s body language is saying. It does not even matter whether she was giving you signs of wanting sex or not. If the woman says no, take that no as a no.
Sometimes we are caught up in our socialisation, where we hold onto certain stereotypes as facts. So some men might think that they have the responsibility of being the saviour of women’s sexuality and proceed to do whatever they deem necessary for the woman’s sexuality. Brothers, be warned, this is rape and is punishable under the law once the woman reports that she did not consent to sex. Another very interesting angle is rape in marriage. Yes, rape is possible in marriage and this has to do with consent. When reported and there is evidence it was not consensual, this is rape. Even if you paid lobola amounting to all the cattle demanded of you. The law is not a joke, it is used to bring perpetrators to account. This means consent to sex must be clear and when there is doubt halfway through the consent, it is much better to err on the side of caution than face the wrath of the law. The belief by male persons that a girl always says no to sex when she means yes, is a recipe for disaster for everyone involved. Where a girl says no to sex, it means no and there is no other meaning to it. Just respect the no and leave her alone.
As we commemorate the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, this is a call for you and I to take a critical stock of our lives and check where we stand when it comes to rape. It is a call to respect a no when it comes to issues of sexuality. Zimbabwe’s social fabric is disintegrating at shocking levels, but if we can come together to talk openly about sex and hold each other accountable, then we will contribute fully to curbing violence against women and in particular rape. I believe in the power of humanity to regenerate itself towards a progressive and supportive nature. No one is born a rapist. It is not about what one wears because then no one would rape two-year-olds, whose clothing is nowhere near enticing. It is not about blaming women for what they wear. It is about a culture of rape that is shrouded in impunity, that cases continue to increase and sometimes corruption within the legal system can continue to perpetuate rape.
It is high time that you and I speak up and say no to rape. This is not the time to hold onto culture and egos and cover up cases of rape to save our legacy. No legacy is built in a family by remaining silent about rape. Let us talk about rape, condemn it in the strongest terms. In so doing, we support the already established campaigns on rape by various development partners and this will help make the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence worthwhile. It is not only during the 16 days, Zimbabwe has declared a 16 days-365 days campaign against gender-based violence, so every single day is a day of activism to contribute towards the end of violence against women. We must end it now. We must end it today. Let us take responsibility and stand up high to become the change we want to see. Imagine if it were your daughter, your sister or mother being raped.
Zimbabwe can become a country free of rape, you and I can stop this. We must hold hands and end this and end it right now, let’s do this!
lGrace Ruvimbo Chirenje writes in her personal capacity and loves stimulating conversation. She would be excited to hear from you. You can contact Grace on firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on twitter @graceruvimbo or Facebook: Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje. Chat soon.