The Sunday Mail
Gender and Community Affairs Editor
DEALERS of various wares have turned the Central Business District area into a harassment zone against women, bringing to fore the safety of women in public spaces.
Hotspot areas include the stretch from Jason Moyo Avenue, Angwa Street, and Inez Terrace through to the Main Post Office along Julius Nyerere.
In addition is the Road Port as well as Copacabana zones which lie more in city’s downtown.
Some of the streets have been rendered impassable by dealers of foreign currency, clothing, gadgets and other wares who, in waiting or luring potential customers, use the opportunity to direct insulting gestures and attacks at female pedestrians.
Women who spoke to The Sunday Mail recently revealed that they have been subjected to body and name-shaming while others have been physically insulted by being caressed or had a body part groped while walking in these areas.
They noted that they were hurled insults for their hairstyles, body shapes or the way they walk among other issues.
“They always body-shame me, I now avoid walking along the Road Port area. Along Angwa Street, one guy said I resemble a horse in terms of my body shape and another said you need to go to the gym. I am so comfortable with the way I look but those people are making me feel like I am ugly,” Rumbi Chiza said.
Said Yvonne Dzvairo, “I now avoid the area because I always get nasty comments because of my hairy legs and beard. It’s not fun at all.”
As the supreme law of the country, The Constitution of Zimbabwe, Chapter 4 makes a Declaration of Rights and Freedoms which can be enjoyed by all.
Among the rights is the guarantee that every Zimbabwean citizen and anyone else who is legally in Zimbabwe has the right to move freely within the country, reside in any part of the country and leave the country.
However, this provision continue to be impinged on as the dealers enjoy free reign as alluded to by women, who highlighted that they had to think twice whenever they needed to pass through these hotspots.
“For some of us, just passing through is a crime. You endure insults on every corner,” Maria Nenyasha said.
Tanya Mudziwashe added that, “Yesterday one of the guys followed me all the way to Kwame Nkrumah. Initially he was marketing his cellphone, laptop and car until he started requesting that we be friends. When that did not yield results for him then he started asking me to look for customers for him.”
Some now fear that if the conduct continues unabated, muggings and attacks will take root even in broad daylight.
“I am personally always unsettled when I have to pass through there. I also have to check my dressing before passing through that area because anything tight or semi-short will attract insults from these guys. It is sexual harassment.”
Some have devised ways to ignore and resist the various gestures and comments as a measure to negotiate through the hostile environments.
These include putting on earphones, either playing loud music or to be in pretence, to avoid any form of interaction when passing by these hotspots.
Ekenia Chifamba, the director of Shamwari yeMwanasikana, a community-based organisation which seeks to promote the empowerment of the girl-child said the influx of vendors, touts, illegal money changers and car dealers has left the security of women at stake.
She said illegal activities like trading in drugs subsequently left women exposed as victims.
“There is an urgent need to tackle unequal power relations and challenge harmful social norms that perpetuate public violence, not only coming from street dealers but also from transport operators and the increasing presence of unemployed men who verbally and physically harass women and girls in the streets,” she said.
“The sad part is that women are usually at the receiving end and most police officers and city council police take the reports for granted whenever women’s rights are violated on the streets,” Chifamba added.
In 2014 the safety of women in public spaces came under spotlight when touts stripped a 28-year-old woman for wearing a short dress.
The touts were later sentenced to eight months in prison, with human rights activists leading an outcry against the safety of women in public spaces.
Last year a “safer cities programme” was launched by Plan International Zimbabwe in partnership with other civic organisations after an influx of abuse reports on women boarding public transport.
Gender equality is an issue the Government of Zimbabwe holds in high esteem as evidenced in its aligning with protocols like the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, otherwise known as the Maputo Protocol.
The protocol highlights that State parties which have ratified it shall adopt and implement appropriate measures to ensure the protection of every woman’s right to respect for her dignity and protection of women from all forms of violence, particularly sexual and verbal violence.