One Kilometer. Six Incidents
I took myself for a coffee today. In a country of gripping poverty and staggering unemployment I know this simple statement indicates the privilege within which I live. I have a bicycle—free access to transport any time of day. I have discretionary income to spend as I please. And I live independently, free of any expectations or obligations to account for my time or my whereabouts to anyone.
And yet, despite all this privilege, I am reminded every day that as a woman, I am not free. I went for my coffee at spot maybe a kilometer away. And in the ten or so minutes that it took me to cycle there, I counted six separate incidents of gratuitous male predation:
1) The vendors on the corner hissing at me as I cycled past
2) “Hesi chimoko” from the men in the back of the bakkie that drove passed me
3) “Hello baby” from the man standing idly on the side of the road
4) “Howzzit sweetie” from another man on the side of another road
5) Vulgar kissing noises from a knot of men sitting on the corner
6) “Hesi murungu” from the hwindi of a combie that went past
Zimbabwe is in its 26th year of independence. International Women’s Day is in a few days time. But freedom of movement, freedom from harassment, freedom to go about our daily lives are a long way off for the women here. Do men realise the unfreedom their behaviour creates for women? Is it intentional? Or is it just a side-effect of the arrogance and presumptuousness with which they live their lives? Do they set out to make the streets, the shops, the work places and even the homes feel unsafe to women? Or are they just too wrapped up in their egotistical behaviour to notice the impact their actions have?
International Women’s Day, like other commemorations of non-existent equalities, is a hollow sham of a celebration. This year let’s skip the press adverts, the NGO workshops, the solemn politicians pledging empowerment and equality. Instead, we could try something potentially much more effective. Let us swap gender roles for one day. Let the men for one day experience what it’s like to be a woman, to never be able to relax, to regularly feel intruded upon, to consistently be subject to the routine insults, comments, suggestions and come-ons that women endure every single time they walk out the door.