Lawmakers say they are lobbying for legislative reforms, including the setting of a Sexual Harassment Act, as part of efforts to tackle existing underlying systemic barriers which continue to stifle gender equality and women’s participation in all spheres of the economy.
Speaking during a breakfast meeting organised by the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) in Harare yesterday, several MPs said the act will go a long way in curbing sexual harassment of, mainly, women and girls, who are more susceptible to sexual abuse.
“We managed to go around, we held our public hearings and we submitted the report to the parliament. the report is now at the second stage. we are waiting for the process to be done so that the law will be enacted, unfortunately, as far as a know, this time around, the parliament is very busy with budget issues, so I think after that, we will be able to push for the process to complete so that it can be enacted, ” Honorable Emma Ncube, Chivi Mwenezi Member of Parliament told the meeting.
There is no specific law on sexual harassment in Zimbabwe. There are no national statistics on sexual harassment in Zimbabwe as no research has been openly carried out or conducted.
The greater population of sexual harassment victims are women and girls who find themselves at the receiving end of various forms of violence with little to no reprieve at law because of the lack of legislation that addresses how such matters ought to be handled and the penalties thereof.
This is despite provisions of Section 51 of the Constitution which highlight that “Every person has the right to bodily and psychological integrity which includes the right to freedom from all forms of violence from public or private sources.
Chipinge Legislator, Constance Chihururu weighed in saying there is a need to engage community leaders who are the gatekeepers of our communities,
“They need to be integrated into this fight so that they teach their subjects how serious sexual violence is. We also need to have laws that protect women. there should be set s years for sex offenders. we all know how cattle rustlers are treated, they have a minimum sentence, and we need to adopt the same thing,” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by Norman Marikisi, Mount Darwin East MP who argued some practices and church beliefs are instigating the spread of sexual harassment of women and girls.
“In my view, we are sleeping on this scourge called sexual harassment. It starts from our old practices which perpetuated sexual harassment, back then there used to be the practice of chiramu. we need to go back and address these things because they still exist.
“Even our religion perpetuates sexual violence, and some churches are instigating the spread of sexual abuse, especially of women and girls, we need to engage them and address these issues so that we put an end to such. it is sickening to find out that an eight-year-old child is giving birth. that is the worst form of sexual abuse and some people normalize it. I think we need to engage more traditional leaders, church leaders and everyone involved so that we increase awareness because some might be ignorant of such abuses and they end up perpetuating abuses,” he said.
WALPE’s Program Manager, Tatenda Madziro noted that the impact of sexual harassment on the participation of women in leadership and developmental processes has resulted in more women shunning away from politics.
“Perpetrators of sexual harassment in most if not all cases go unpunished and victims suffer in silence. Women in both public and private spaces face sexual harassment that happens at the bus terminus, churches workplaces, political parties and water points among several other places,” she noted.
She said a Sexual harassment bill will protect women political activists and this will increase the number of women who will participate in leadership processes.
“This will automatically result in the increase of women in leadership and decision-making processes and their participation in the country’s developmental processes,” she said.
CHipinge West MP Sibonile Nyamudeza stated there is a need to address the perpetrators more than the victims because they are the ones who know that what they are doing is wrong.