When Prejudices are exposed: “The ‘gay’ problem”

Some call it the gay problem I call it intolerance of difference. The topic on LGBTQA is one that is always avoided by many at any cost. I remember very well attending the African Union Summit on children’s rights and when we were discussing the multiple discriminations faced by different groups of children I mentioned the LGBTQA children and the multiple untold discriminations that they encounter on a day to day basis. I must say it was as if I had taken my clothes off because of the response that was given. I guess for fear of engaging deeper into the conversation the facilitator evaded from engaging in an open discussion on the issue.

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One old woman just outrightly said ‘we cannot discuss this issue here’. Being in this space where already I had been labelled a ‘lesbian’ I coiled glad that even though people were not ready to engage they had heard the point that I had raised. After the session I was so relieved when one of the facilitators came to me and thanked me for raising that issue in that meeting as they said, ‘it was about time’. In a split of a second I had been made to feel like an outcast, speaking obscenities. A few months later I find myself in America with a number of my colleagues from different African countries. We are confronted with the issue and we have to talk about the issue of sexual orientation in a way that many are not comfortable to talk about as to many there is just one set of human beings, the heterosexual beings.

The discussions starts with the screening of Milk which shows the story of Harvey Milk who struggled as a gay activist and his perseverance after years of persecution saw him being elected as the first openly gay elected official. As the documentary starts playing, the initial scenes unsettle many, I look around the room when there is scene when 2 gay guys are being intimate. Most faces could not hide the disgust and during a break many talk about how they were repelled by the intimate scene.  After the screening of the documentary the questions that are put forward to the facilitator of the session expose the deep seated prejudices. One of the issues that strongly come out is that anyone who is queer chooses to be queer and should not then force people to accept them or to ‘tolerate’ them. This raises the critical, frequently asked question, ‘Is homosexuality a choice?’  Usually two responses are proffered. One is that YES IT IS and this leads to the conclusion that well those that choose to be homosexual are making an immoral choice and it is the government and society’s duty to discourage it. The other could be NO IT ISNT, a response indicating that sexual preference is biologically determined. But what if both answers are not correct? Because in as much as we want to fit people in neatly packed boxes it is not necessarily a correct reflection of how life plays out. Maybe sexuality is fluid and so does sexual preference and maybe we do not necessarily have an exact answer to it but as human beings can we not respect people as they are even if it does not align with our moral compass especially if they have not harmed anyone.

In all this we tend to forget that even the heterosexuals choose their sexual preferences either as a way to conform to society or because that is genuinely how they feel. To imagine that a society can punish someone for making a choice different from theirs is morally unimaginable. It’s ok to acknowledge that it’s not every time that we should have an explanation for something; it is ok to have none. There is no black and white in life as we are made to believe, there is purple, green and all the in-betweens…

I have had an opportunity to have a discussion with my male counterparts who are disgusted by this whole notion of homosexuality and yet they are adulterers. It is appalling how they simply justify their acts over homosexuality by saying, ‘atleast it is natural,’ and again it reminds me of the biblical teachings I got as I grew up that before I point at the twig in someone’s eye I must remove the log in mine’.

Religion and specifically the bible has been used as a tool of oppression in this regard. It is also funny and an irony to see how the same bible was used years ago to justify slavery and even the slaves themselves saw sense in the biblical passages that were spelt out that showed that slavery was sanctioned by ‘God’. If ‘god’ is love then indeed those that are believers should never be found to discriminate, condemn and victimise homosexuals on the basis of the ‘bible’. Prejudices are so real and if we do not acknowledge the deeply seated prejudices we have we could hurt many people in the process.

It is not even about tolerating or empathising with homosexuals but society just has to respect and accept that indeed human beings are different. In the same vein one’s sexual orientation does not essentially define them as we are all more than our sexual orientation. We never hear when one is being introduced that , ‘This is so and so and they are heterosexual’, labels victimise certain groups in society and if we are to experience and enjoy equity we should be able to embrace difference and know that we might be different but indeed we are equal.

Again this last week I asked myself the question that as a humanist I always ask myself what is it that I can humanly do to make the world a better place for those that make different choices from me and I am inclined to say RESPECT and LOVE does it all. I keep learning and unlearning…

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#YALI2016 Fellows

 

 

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INDEPENDENT BUT NOT SO IN-DEPENDENT

At such a momentous time in Zimbabwe I feel like if only I was in Zimbabwe right now to participate in such history making events. I am so proud of being a young Zimbabwean right now because I am happy that we as Zimbabweans’ have managed to positively embrace modern technology in a way that is geared towards changing our narrative for the better. As we are saying #taneta(we are tired), #hatichadi(we don’t want this anymore), #hatichatyi (we are not afraid anymore) Zimbabweans are boldly making a clear message that Zimbabwe cannot continue business as usual. Things are just not right and honestly Zimbabweans cannot sit back and relax.

We always boast about being an independent nation, but hang on, what does it mean to be independent? Who is independent? I learnt at school that 18 April the day we celebrate our independence we will be celebrating how our freedom fighters fought against all odds to get us independent, removing the shackles of colonisation from us. I always knew that independence is not to be taken for granted, it is a privilege and as a ‘born free’ , meaning I was born after the war ended I felt greatly indebted for such sacrifices.

Growing up like many of my peers we realised that independence was a relative term. And as is stated in Animal Farm we got to know that indeed, ‘some animals are more equal than others’. Independence day celebrations of late are evidently for the Government and not for the general populace. People who come to Harare to celebrate this day are bused under threat and coercion of being excommunicated from their communities, not getting food subsidies from government or enjoying any benefit from the government and to some extent fear of victimisation. Very few Zimbabweans celebrate this day as it has ceased to have a meaning, for many it is a great day from work where they can catch up with friends and relatives.IMG-20160704-WA0003

We expect our government to govern, legislate, and make laws and policies strictly for the good of the nation. But all this at the moment is a fallacy. Zimbabweans are not free, they have no power to act or speak or think without externally imposed restraints. Speaking out and asking reasonable questions will make one disappear leaving behind orphaned children. What sort of a government does not want people to ask questions? what kind of a government thinks that the majority are not right, they are always right? What kind of a government disregards the views and concerns of its citizens? What government governs with threats and instils fear in its populace? What kind of a government is not receptive to change? What kind of government is always concerned about lining their pockets? What kind of a government boasts about their good educational system but their children are educated out of their country whilst ours have demoralised teachers teaching them? What kind of government boast about their success in improving the health system but they all run away to seek health services outside the country and yet its citizens should use the health facilities where the health personnel is so demotivated and underpaid?

For fear of too much verbosity Zimbabweans are not happy, we are far from being independent. All we want is to enjoy true and sweet Independence, freedom and liberty. We want equal opportunities, we want jobs, we want happiness, we want good governance, we want food, better health, better education, clean water and shelter, we want equality before the law, and we want free mediaFB_IMG_1467554368934

Enough of this repression and and mental slavery and on this day I am reminded of Bob Marley’s words, ‘emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind….’

Well Done ZIMBABWEANS, you have not only done this for yourself but for every generation to come. ALUTA CONTINUA!!!!

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VIVA #ShutdownZimbabwe2016

My experience with sexual harassment at the University of Zimbabwe Law Faculty…

Today I choose to write about my experiences with sexual harassment at the University of Zimbabwe Law School following a post by my friend that a number of junior lawyers are being exposed to sexual harassment within the legal fraternity. This cancer that is robbing the potential of so many girls and young women has to be uprooted.

Coming from St Theresa kwaBvekerwa and finding myself at the University of Zimbabwe as a first year law student was the best thing that ever happened to me, it was indeed a dream come true. All the injustices I had experienced as a child, a girl for that matter I was finally going to be empowered to deal with similar injustices. I was over the moon but not so fast this cindirella tale of me being at the University and studying and getting my degree flawlessly was yet to be challenged. I failed to get accommodation at the University and this was the beginning of most of my problems many of which I am not focusing on today in this article.  A month or so after starting school I saw a notice on the notice board asking me to go and see one of the senior staff members at the Law Faculty. I suddenly remembered that my sister had told me to see him when I had come to law school but I had not.

Upon entering his office he asked me if my sister had not told me about our relationship to which I told him I had been advised. He noted that when I had failed to secure accommodation I should have gone to see him and he would have sorted it out because with my heart condition I should have been given accommodation. Fast forward among other interactions he called for me again and I went to see him wherein he asked me if I was dating some senior law student as he had heard rumours to that effect. He went on to tell me how this senior student had come to the University without necessarily having the requisite points but because of some special entry and he mentioned something to the effect that, ‘ a headboy and a headmaster cannot fight for the same cake,’. I did not make anything out of it. I just thought it was a genuine question. Looking back I always say, ‘foolish me’, that should have been a red light but I never thought my ‘brother’ would cross that path.

One day as had become the norm that when he would not have seen me in a while he would put up a notice, he put up one and I went to see him. This time he informed me that he was going to UK and he asked if I was coming to the library the weekend to follow and I said yes I was. He asked me to see him me when I came. Saturday came and I went to see my ‘brother ‘in his office. He had a plastic bag full of groceries in his office which he handed to me and told me that since he would be away from the country for a while he thought I might get desperate. I was honestly overjoyed by my ‘brother’ s thoughtfulness. I found myself saying a prayer and thanking God for being the God of orphans and sending angels on earth to make provisions for his orphaned children. Back at home we said a prayer of thanksgiving with my sister.

‘Brother’ was to be away for some time. When he came back from UK he sent for me again. As soon as I entered his office he showed me insurance documents for several cars and houses which he owned. To be honest I was in my first year and I could not read anything into those documents he gave me, I did not fully appreciate what they really meant. I did not want to appear as a fool though to ‘brother’ so I did not expose my ignorance, I told myself after leaving his office I would surely google and know. He told me that if I worked hard I would also get properties for myself. He then gave me a bottle of perfume that he had bought for me, I was euphoric that finally I was for the first time in my life going to use perfume in a glass bottle not a can. Wow, me a village girl. What came afterwards baffled me. To my utter shock, horror and disbelief ‘brother’ had bought me red parachute panties. My mouth dried up, words could not come out, my throat failed me. I just found myself saying I can’t fit into them without holding the panties. He then asked me to try them going ahead to lock the office. I died and woke up in a split of a second. A million thoughts went through my mind, ‘what was going to happen to me’, ties  ‘what would I say’, ‘what had gotten into the mind of brother who was an angel sent from heaven’, ‘what had I done to call for this’, ‘maybe I smiled at him too much, maybe I showed him wrong signals, maybe I covertly agreed to all this without paying much attention,’ ‘so all this while that is how ‘brother’ looked at me, he was luring me’. I really could not believe what was happening, I then broke into tears, I really never saw this coming, I was so naïve thinking that he was genuine. I learnt from that day that things are not always as they seem. He then asked what was wrong and I said nothing but sobbed. He then said what would happen if people heard me crying. With my bottle of perfume, ‘yes with the bottle of perfume’ I left his office, left the panties on the desk and went.

imagesI could not control my tears and his secretary saw me, I told her what had happened and I also told the Registrar at that time. Nothing procedurally happened but from that day I knew never to go to his office, I knew I had to avoid him by all means possible and this included, ‘running away from him’ if he was walking in the direction I was going, I knew that I had to make sure I studied hard and passed well because I knew that if my paper was ever to pass through his hands needing calibration if I had not performed well he would fail me, I knew I would never study the course that he offered, ‘thank God it was optional’, now I will have to study it for my PHD. I was so sure I would never see ‘brother’ in the same light and that was the death of ‘brother’ in my life.

Poverty exposes one to so much abuse and violations. My dream of finishing Law school was in doldrums as I did not have money for fees. I was resolute I had to complete my law degree if ever I would be able to change our family narrative of being one of the poorest families amongst my relations. A lady assisted me with getting sewing skills and I started selling my wares, ponchos, children’s tracksuits and some clothing items. The money I made out of this business assisted me in my day to day needs but hyperinflation made it difficult for me to be able to raise both my fees and money for my busfare and upkeep whilst going to University. One of my high school teachers introduced me to a Professor within the Law Faculty highlighting my financial challenges. He told me to go and see him on a Friday. I went to his office and he gave me some chocolates from Netherlands and busfare that would last me the following week as I stayed in Chitungwiza with my little sister. He was to look and ask around at the University if there was some work I could do to cushion myself especially with regards transport and part fees payment. As a catholic believer those days that evening I said the rosary thanking God for being faithful and seeing me through it all. My dream of becoming a lawyer, the first one from my remote community was falling into place.

When he returned back to the University I went to see him to find out if he had good news for me. I had even dreamt of myself working and getting a paycheck at the end of the month in the waiting period to see him. He said because he had been away from the University he had not managed to speak to the responsible people. He tried to call one or two people to no avail. Again he handed me another box of chocolates which I gladly accepted and money which would last me more than a month for busfare. I openly praised God and shed a few tears because I was amazed at the kindness. When I was about to leave his office he asked me to go to his desk as he was on a wheelchair, close to him purporting that he wanted to show me something. Innocently I went and he put his hands on my shoulders and said he is sorry everything would work out well. Before I knew it he kissed me on the cheek. I did not say anything, I just walked out of his office and that was the last I went to see him. I only heard about him when he had passed on.

I knew then that finishing my law degree with any genuine and innocent assistance from any man was to never be a reality. These experiences and what I had gone through in my life before taught me to treat all men with so much suspicion because experience had taught me that I lived in a world with sex predators waiting to pounce on the innocent, powerless and poor. I told myself that indeed just as I had grown up being treated as a sexual object that narrative was real, I was a sex object. I did not even know where to report these cases and when I had told a friend about the chocolates I had received without saying the rest of the story she just said to me, ‘ be careful I hear that man loves women and has been involved with a number of students’. In the corridors I also started hearing about how ‘brother’ would date students who stayed at his house close to the Campus. In my mind I concluded that this was the order of the day. I knew then that I could never get any help. I also told myself that if I knew what was good for me I should shut my mouth if I really wanted that degree and indeed I kept it to myself but it killed me. This was the common truth for so many so who was I to talk about it. Years later when I spoke about it with senior authorities at the University, upon reflection that having this predator within the campus meant more and more girls were being exposed to his predatory tendencies, I was told about the difficulty of gathering the evidence considering the time that had lapsed and I knew I wanted to fight a lost battle.

Sexual harassment is linked to value systems that favor male authoritarianism and aggressiveness, and at the same time expect women to be subservient and passive.  This is the reason that has made sexual harassment be regarded as the norm.  There is generally a spirit of solidarity amongst man such that when you injure one, you injure all, so survivors of sexual harassment from my work experience regard reporting sexual harassment a futile exercise as it will only negatively impact on them as they are either fired from work or they fail to graduate from college. The hierarchical nature of the Universities and the patriarchal cultures of leadership creates various zones of vulnerability to sexual harassment especially in the students and junior employees. This often results in the difficulty of survivors of sexual harassment to voice their experiences due to pain, self-blame, humiliation, anger and confusion as society is quick to blame survivors for their experiences. These hierarchical relations seem to have neutralized a sexual contract in which some male academics and senior management consider it their right to demand for sex.

Now that I am older I will continue to talk about sexual harassment and how it impacts women because I have experienced it and would not want to see any other girl or woman experience it. Sexual harassment should be addressed if at all the playing field is ever to be levelled for women to reach their full potential.