Police blocked dozens of gays and sex workers from taking part in a belated launch procession commemorating 16 days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Girls in Zimbabwe’s second capital city of Bulawayo. This, according to police, Zimbabwe is “not ready for homosexuals”, echoing President Mugabe words from years back when he said gays and lesbians are “worse than pigs and dogs”.
On the first day of December, 2010 Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating 16 days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Girls but for commercial sex workers and members of gay groups, it is still an ongoing battle.
Every year, the 16 Days Against Gender Based Violence (GBV) Campaign kicks off all over the world to create awareness against gender based violence against women. This year marked the 20th commemoration of 16 days of Activism against GBV Campaign worldwide.
With all women affected, from the old to the young girl child, these 16 days of activism highlight the violence against women and calls out for unity and togetherness in combating these issues.
The commemoration was organised by the Musasa Project, an organisation that deals with domestic violence, under the slogan “Structures of violence :Defining safety and security for women and girls.”
Not part of our society?
Among the marchers were a group of forty men and women from the Sexual Rights Center (SRC), an organisation that advocates for the rights of homosexuals and commercial sex workers.
Clad in pink t-shirts emblazoned “Pink and Proud”, they were carrying banners calling for the Zimbabwean authorities to respect the rights of sexual minorities. But after police learnt of their participation they quickly ordered the march to break up.
“We were told the police have something against some of our principles and what we stand for as an organisation. Our main aim in marching was for the women’s rights. Are we then saying lesbians and commercial sex workers are not part of society?” said a Musasa project representative, Gift Ncube.
Zimbabwe is one of many African countries in which homosexual acts are illegal. Zimbabwe, like neighbouring South Africa, there has been a reported increase in what have been termed “corrective rapes” – sexual assaults on women thought to be lesbians.
Lawyer Alex Smith says the police did not have the authority to bar the Sexual Rights Center.
“If it was the police that ordered them out, I don’t find it in order because it was not a question of vetting who participates or who does not because they were also only invited guests at the event. I think it was just arbitrary. From a human rights point, it’s definitely wrong.”
This year, there have been a number of high profile violations of gay and lesbians’ rights in Africa. Malawi sentenced two men to jail after they got “engaged” in a private ceremony; the men were released, but their trial provoked an outpouring of public ridicule.
In Uganda, parliament is considering a law that would make homosexual acts punishable by death. Several people have been attacked there after their names appeared in a list of supposedly gay Ugandans published by a tabloid.
According to Amnesty International, one in three women has been abused physically or sexually, with reports of domestic violence cases reaching well over 70 percent in some countries.