Archives for March 2009

The Security of Sex: Hi-Tech Sex

A detective `monitors’ Craigslist’s “Erotic Services” category

Earlier this month, a Chicago-area sheriff’s office sued Craigslist claiming that the website facilitates prostitution through its “Erotic Services” section which Sheriff Tom Dart claims to be “one the largest sources of prostitution in the country”.  The Cook County Sheriff’s Department is asking a federal judge to both force the site to close the offending section and repay the sheriff’s department $100,000 in funds that have been used over the years to police the website.  Dart goes on to claim that the site’s ads are often masks for pimps, child and forced prostitution.  He also claims that Craigslist is at fault for an increase in volume of workers that the force has had to battle and that it allows criminals to elude police more easily.  Craigslist may also be responsible for spikes in teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and global warming; but that’s for another day.

This suit has not only ignored the fact that Craigslist has been exceptionally cooperative with police in many cities by adding requirements such as payments and proper ID for the “erotic services” section, removal and reporting of illegal ads and supporting undercover officers placing ads with no legal requirement to do so, but that law enforcement seems to have an easier time policing the website because of the digital fingerprints as well as faces in photos posted, credit card and active phone numbers that can be traced.  Workers who are online are also less likely to use public strolls and are able to safely and discretely work indoors.  Likewise, Craigslist and workers on the site are potentially protected by certain legal loopholes.  Websites cannot be held liable for the postings of users, which is the entire basis of sites like Craigslist; they also post a number of legal warnings on the site itself.  Also, many workers utilizing the “erotic services” section have been to place disclaimers on their posts claiming “Money exchanged is intended for time/companionship services only. Anything else that may occur is a personal choice between two consenting adults of legal age and is not contracted for, nor is it requested to be contracted for any other matter. This is NOT an offer of prostitution!!! Contacting me constitutes acceptance of these terms”.

Despite this, the suit continues.  However, any more, most major cities have devoted staff, sometimes full time, to policing the site.  This is often done under the banner of searching for underage or trafficked children.  The FBI has also jumped on this bandwagon, starting a full-scale campaign against “child prostitution” in June 2003 called “Operation Cross Country”. The FBI also blames the internet for a growth in instances of child prostitution.  However, neither the FBI nor police seem to question whether or not it is actually more common or just more visible and identifiable by police because of the accessibility of the internet. An article from last October concerning the latest FBI push points to discrepancies in this discussion saving child workers.  The article celebrates the fact that 518 consenting adult workers were arrested while rescuing merely 47 children ages 13-17 and arresting only 73 pimps.  Such disproportionate numbers of adult arrests as well as an account from the Boston Globe about a sting by this team involving another 5 adult arrests (the FBI does not claim that they suspected any of the women to be minors) hints that there is a much larger mission being undertaken by the FBI.  Special Agent Robbie Burroughs comments on the arrests in western Washington state, that most will be charged by the state but only 3 of the 35 will be prosecuted for pimping children.  If getting children out of the sex trade is really the goal of “Operation Cross Country”, why are predominately adult women workers being targeted, abused and harassed so blatantly? The message is clear; either the rights of adult sex workers are not respected by lawn enforcement and are scene as a necessary and deserving casualty of this attempt to “save the children” or “saving the children” is merely a cover for a larger campaign against workers.  The harassment and targeting is justified because the police in this instance are simply claiming to be an extension of the larger “help industry”.

So what is gained by battling Craigslist and other sites of internet-based sex work?  It’s a symbolic victory most. The internet, it seems, is being as heavily gentrified and policed as downtown Washington. This policing is just as violent towards workers, taking away one of the safer modes of work.  Critics of the networking site fail to acknowledge why the site may be so popular for workers, the vast majority of whom are not underage and work for themselves.  Sites like Craigslist provide a safer means for workers to advertise and screen clients.  Workers on the streets have a much higher risk of being attacked or abused because strolls in D.C. and other major cities are being moved into progressively less established, less secure and poorly lit areas due also to heavy policing. Shutting down legitimate websites where workers can network and advertise simply pushes the industry further underground and back onto the streets. Advertising on the web allows workers to skip this traditional step of walking the streets where they are also more prone to manipulation from pimps and blackmail by police in exchange for petty protections.  Workers also need not rely on pimps or brothels for advertising and safety, allowing them to keep more of their own profits.  Stings are also highly disruptive with police claiming computers and cash (often several hundred dollars worth) as evidence while also imposing fines or jail sentences, disrupting business, and requiring the worker to pay for attorneys.  All of this pushes a worker with no labor protections potentially further into debt and further decreases their ability to have legal work, if they so choose, due to their arrest record.  Regulating and policing abuse and slavery within the industry is one thing, using that as an excuse to endanger women is another.

(Photo Credit: The New York Times / Kirk Condyles)

Who pays for the rule of law? Who will pay?

Birtukan Mideksa is currently being held in Kaliti Prison, in Ethiopia. Remember her name, Birtukan Midekas, and remember Kaliti Prison. There will be a test on prison geography and another on prisoners, with special attention to women prisoners. Women prisoners aren’t only in prison, however. Consider Mitmita. She’s an Ethiopian human rights activist. Mitmita is not her name. She can’t write in her own name. Reading Prespone Matawira’s series on Zimbabwe, I’ve been thinking of the anonymous and pseudonymous women, those one knows about, those completely obscured, in the shadows, disappeared. How many named and unnamed are there, officially or existentially political, imprisoned and confined women, in Ethiopia, on the continent, globally? Why do we know some names and not others? How many are hidden under or within, how many are blurred and waiting a proper reading, a proper enunciation? For every Prespone, for every Mitmita, for every Birtukan Mideksa, for every Jestina Mukoko, how many go unheeded, unrecognized? What becomes of their lives and stories? How much of silence, shadows, blurs is gendered? How do these women, and these women’s issues, mark a border between human rights and women’s rights? How is that border different from the militarized U.S. – Mexico borderlands, that actually extend across Central America, that home sweet home in which women are trapped in the transnational household, and how are they identical?

Recently, in Tanzania, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs suggested a review of the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, SOSPA, because the sentences were too severe. Women’s and feminist activists protested the statement and decried the incompetence underlying its reasoning. Between 2006 and 2007, Salma Maoulidi conducted a study of Zanzibari attitudes towards sexual violence: “sexual violence continues to be viewed more as a moral crime rather than as a legal crime. It is thus not surprising that about 34 per cent of respondents consider sexual crimes as private issues. Only 16 per cent think that it is a criminal offence…. only 50 per cent of functionaries interviewed indicated using the Penal Decree in matters concerning GBV, the remaining 31 per cent used religious laws, and 18 per cent used medical guidelines when dealing with GBV cases. The study found knowledge of laws related to GBV to be very low in communities. Over 65 per cent of individuals interviewed were not aware of any law related to GBV. Largely, local customs and religious law are used to solve GBV matters.”

Moral crime, Legal crime. Human rights. Women’s Rights. What does it mean to categorize, to differentiate and perhaps by so doing to make some offenses more equal than others?

In Norway, a Muslim woman police officer requests permission to wear her hijab as part of her uniform, and all hell breaks loose. Is this the hell of human rights or of women’s rights? In Nigeria, a bill is passing through parliament that would further criminalize same sex  relationships and associations. Is this moral criminalization or legal criminalization?In Dar es Salaam, a culture of silence prevails for lesbian women. Is this the silence of morality or of legality?

Women are imprisoned, jailed, confined. In the U.S. almost 3 million children have their parents in jail. This occurs at a period of escalating incarceration of women, most of whom are Black or Latina, two thirds of whom are mothers of young children. What happens to those children? Who cares? Not the State. The State cares about war, war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terror. They’re all wars on women. Women with names, women with pseudonyms. In Quito, Ecuador, as all over the world, women know that the war on drugs is a war on women.

In Tanzania, distinguishing between the moral and the legal is killing women. In the United States as well, where women immigrants in detention are dying for health care. Women are flat out denied or have to wait ridiculously long times for any sort of gynecological care, mammography and breast health care, any sort of prenatal or postnatal care. It’s a gruesome list, indeed, and women are targeted as women. And services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence? “ICE policy fails to comprehensively address the needs of survivors of violence.” Au contraire. Inaction is a policy, non-policy is a policy. If rape during border crossing is `routine’ and routinely unreported, and if those, mostly women, who have suffered sexual violence during their journeys across borders and across streets, at work and at home, if there is no address, is that moral criminalization or legal criminalization?  Human rights or women’s rights? Which state actually cares? Not the United States, not if you’re an `immigrant woman’, certainly not if one recalls that “immigration detention is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States.”

The U.S. immigration detention complex is a black hole. “Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old transgender woman from Mexico, was detained at ICE’s San Pedro Facility in May 2007. Arellano was suffering from AIDS though not exhibiting symptoms. In detention, her condition deteriorated because she was not given access to the antibiotics she needed.  According to The Los Angeles Times, her requests to see a doctor were ignored by facility staff. Other detainees dampened towels to reduce her fever and created makeshift trash cans from cardboard boxes to collect her vomit. Only after a strike and civil disobedience by detainees in the facility did staff take her to the infirmary. Arellano died two days later, after two months in detention, due to an AIDS-related infection.” Women, and children, in shackles. Transgender women violated every which way.

Nomboniso Gasa says all political prisoners in Zimbabwe must be freed now. Furthermore, the situations and conditions, and dreams and dignity, of women must be addressed: “All of the crises affect women more severely. One important issue is the widespread use of rape as a political weapon. And there has recently been a noticeable change in the way security forces relate to women. When Jestina Mokoko was arrested she was in only a nightdress. She asked if she could get dressed before she was taken but security denied her the right to her dignity by not allowing her to change clothing or take her female medication with her. And of course widespread shortage of food affects women more because they are always the last to eat. Even though they forage more food, after the men and the children eat it is the women’s turn, but by then there is nothing left.” The conditions in Zimabwe’s prisons are dire.

Across the United States, states are relaxing sentencing guidelines and softening drug laws. When Tony Papa, a victim of the Rockefeller drug laws, was finally released, he co-founded Mothers of the NY Disappeared. Now he feels truly released, and can exhale freely, if with a lingering sense of disbelief. So, the 70s at last may be laid to rest: “Nearly 40 years after the Rockefeller laws launched America down the disastrous road to wholesale incarceration, a more sensible and nuanced approach to drug sentencing is starting to take centre stage.” Where are the women in this account, in this relief program?

The rule of law targets many: drug users, sex workers, lesbians, immigrants, Muslims, activists, women. Everywhere. These laws have driven the hyperincarceration rates of women, in the U.S. and everywhere. The rule of law is a war zone. The laws change, they may be gone, but nothing changes until women’s names, bodies, lives are brought into the light of day. How many more stories, how many more articles, are required before that action is taken, before the war on women is acknowledged and addressed? Who pays for the rule of law? Women. Who will pay? There’s the question.

(Photo Credit: Ethiopia Forums)

Home Sweet Home

Have you watched any mainstream news—CNN especially—in the past few days? Turn on the tv and you will see insanely histrionic coverage of the U.S.-Mexico border and the “drug war”: “narco killers”; “worst free trade imaginable”; “narco terrorists using guns most likely bought in the U.S.” And guess what they are NOT talking about: women (except for the the narco girl friends who buy guns for their boyfriends south of the border)!

Women are trapped in the border zone.  Although the U.S. and Mexican governments continue to militarize the U.S.-México border, it turns out the border zone is an elusive, flexible, dangerous space for people who migrate north and south, especially women and girls.  In fact, the most precarious, dangerous aspects of the border zone can be found in your neighborhood.

It is common knowledge that the militarization of the México-U.S. border intensifies through policies such as the Merida Initiative (aka Plan Mexico), despite continuing human rights abuses across México.  What is often difficult to pinpoint is the way in which national security programs to combat drugs and illegal migration trap women in homes—if not your home, then your neighbors’ home. On one hand, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly acknowledged during her recent trip to México that “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade”—an obvious and important acknowledgment that the U.S. is responsible for the war next door.  On the other hand, recent reporting suggests that critical discussions about the border zone require thinking about transnational households that depend on women’s unceasing yet invisible labor.

The New York Times recently reported, “Like many people in Juárez, Mayor Reyes has homes on both sides of the border, splitting his time between El Paso and Juárez.” Interestingly, the article’s rendering of an increasingly violent border landscape considers the lived experiences of a drug-saturated, hyper-militarized border life by drawing attention to the intimate space of the home, albeit that of a middle- to upper-class household. While Mayor Reyes and his family supposedly enjoy the luxury of crossing the border on a daily basis without violent repercussions, other families living in the border zone aren’t so lucky.

In contrast, the Gamboas, American citizens who own property in both the U.S. and México, continue to experience violence and insecurity of the border.  According to the San Antonio Express, a house in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, was violently raided by hit men reportedly employed by Mexican narco-traffickers. Later, Alan Gamboa, the owner of the house who lives in Laredo, Texas, experienced more narco-related violence when the same paramilitary unit “torched his nearby communications and home-security shop and kidnapped his brother.” The article highlights the fear felt by the brothers’ wives and families who live on the purportedly safe side of the border—the U.S. side, of course. Reporters visited Veronica Gamboa, Alan’s sister-in-law, at her Laredo home where she sat in the dining room next to “photos of the couple’s two young daughters, 11 and 8, who practically worship their father — and vice versa.” The case of the Gamboas demonstrates that border zone militarization intensifies insecurity on both sides of the border, threatening the stability of the lives of undocumented migrants and middle-class U.S. families alike. 

In another example of a transnational household, the Times-Picayune (New Orleans) reported that a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in Texas and his mother harbored a Mexican woman and her children in their Metarie home in exchange for house cleaning services. In contrast to the Gamboas, the case of the Mireles family suggests that the maintenance of the legitimate U.S. household requires the exclusion of undesirable bodies of migrant women.

In all three instances, the proper household, imagined as an intimate space of protection for the heterosexual family, is threatened by the precariousness of the blurry, fluctuating border zone. While men play active roles in negotiating the movement through the border zone, women—as wives and workers firmly ensconced in the household—remain vulnerable to the forces of the national-security apparatuses of both México and the United States. From the hundreds of women violently killed in border towns to dutiful American housewives and domestic workers, women on both sides of the border, real and imagined, are trapped in transnational households.

(Photo Credit: New Mexico Compass / Daniel Lobo)

CHII CHIRIKUITA: WHAT’S UP?: Eight: A Solo Encounter With Dudu Manhenga

Dudu Manhenga

The stage glows with shades of blue, the glitter ball casts a thousand stars …
She walks in tall and svelte, her eyes dancing
Her passion and enthusiasm is infectious
Her delivery is tight, on par with top music acts in the Southern African region, and indeed the world.
Her style is influenced by the great Afro jazz singers.
The power of her voice and the dignity of her delivery make the audience sit up and listen transporting them on the highways and byways of the rhythms of jazz. 

Meet Dudu Manhenga.  And the Color Blu. 

Involved in music from a very early age and influenced by Bulawayo based Amakhosi productions Dudu says, “the art called out to me, I never intended to be an artist. 

When my Mama first saw me perform on stage using a microphone, at my grade one  prize giving at St Bernards in Pumula, she said, “I knew this was going to be trouble!’” 

She has travelled a long road since and her current offering is Solo Encounter’s running at REPS theatre from the 17th – 21st of March.  It’s a close-up interaction with the afro-jazz artist.  “Most of the time when I perform in clubs I don’t get intimate time with my audience.  A solo encounter makes it feel like the audience has a one on one with me.  It’s an interactive show, people can make requests, ask questions and discuss the songs, they can actively be part of shaping the show”, she says. 

Her songs explore the politics of the self.   She sings different aspects of women being.   It’s an organic performance and it does indeed feel like we’re home, the audience responds, soon leaving their seats to dance in the aisles. 

Backing Dudu for this series is the jazz group Color Blu.  The current line-up is Blessing Muparutsa (drums), Nick Nare (keys), Enoch Piroro (bass), Strovas on percussion, David Machaka (watch out for him) and Victor Muparutsa (backing vocals).  Tino Bimha, and Zanele Manhenga also provide backing vocals or the show. 

She laughs as she says of the 5 men “I am the rose among the thorns” and then more seriously notes, “It’s a statement that says it’s ok for men, lots of them, to stand behind a women.  And still be men. The guys are beautiful, amazing and talented.”  The band also performs music from their forthcoming debut album. 

Solo Encounters will be recorded for Dudu’s next live album offering, and her first two CDs, Dudu Manhenga and the Colour Blu and Jula are available for sale along with her distinctive, funky merchandise. 

The diva is also a major contributor to the Female Literary Arts Music Enterprise (FLAME), for the development and promotion of women artists, run by Pamberi Trust. 

The programme includes workshops and performances for young women entering into the industry.  Sisters Open Mic is one such space, a performance programme for emerging women artists, that runs every second Saturday from 2pm – 5pm at the Book Café in Harare. 

She notes how in Zimbabwe “…being an artist is not considered worthwhile”. She laughs as she recounts how her mother’s friends would ask after her by enquiring whether “she had found a job yet?”  Zimbabwe has so much talent that is often unrecognised within the country.  The music industry is tough on women, sexism is rife and the economic climate means things are tough.  But the workshops provide up and coming performers with necessary skills, support and solidarity to begin navigating through the terrain. 

Dudu notes that the ground is fertile for artists to blossom as long as people think out of the box and pull together, “we need a culture where we are prepared to give to each other and to contribute to the change that we want.”  Ultimately we need to encounter each other as people.  She is under no illusion that it is going to take a lot for things to change in the lcaol music industry and the country, but despite this it is clear that Dudu Manhenga is here to stay. 

The lyrics of her last song in the solo encounters repertoire clearly communicates her message.  It’s hypnotic.  Her voice is clear:  “I want you to create, innovate, elevate, don’t be afraid. I want you to create, innovate, elevate, don’t be afraid.”  She explains in recitative that “if you are creative, I can create, if you are elevated, I can elevate”.

Look out for Dudu Manhenga and if she comes to a city near you go and enjoy the afro jazz of one of Zimbabwe’s foremost women in jazz who continues to thrill her listeners with beautiful melodies and exciting rhythms, fused with intricate contemporary styles and techniques of the world in which she lives. 

(Photo Credit: Bulawayo24)

CHII CHIRIKUITA : WHAT’S UP?: Six: The Day The Rainbow Fell On The Floor

“Look” she said to me, pointing to the multi-coloured powder paint that had fallen onto the tarmac, “the rainbow fell on the floor.”  She stood there, eyes wide, hands on her hips, her oversized school uniform making her look smaller than her 6 years. 

Then, I watched her skip away, satchel in tow, to the school hall.  Yes, the rainbow had come crashing down from the sky and onto the floor landing in the car park of a private school.

In these, Associated Trust Schools (ATS), parents who are unable to pay school fees see their children excluded:  barred from the classroom, separated from their friends, these sprites are exiled to the school hall. There are many parents who struggle to make the fee payments which range from anything between US$500 – US$1500 per term (3 months) depending on the school.

And the handful of private and state schools where parents can pay large supplements to teachers’ salaries to subsidise the running of the school, are the only ones that are fully functional at the moment. 

But in a bold move this week, the new Minister of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture, David Coltart, announced that no child should be excluded from school for non-payment of fees. Arrangements for payment in instalment now have to be made to ensure that every child no matter the school has access to education.

This is just the beginning of what Mr Coltart, who reported for duty only a month ago, has had to deal with.

From once having one of the highest standards of education in Africa, recording a 72% national O-level pass rate in the mid 1990’s, last year it crashed to 11%.  With the mid 1990 implementation of Economic Structural Adjustment the Zimbabwean government spent less and less on education, so that by 2006 expenditure on education was only 13% of the national budget. By this time hyper-inflation had begun to bite, and it is estimated that in 2008, the value of government spending per child was equivalent to just 18 cents.

The many children in government run schools did not receive an education last year. The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe estimates that the majority of pupils in the country had a total of 23 days uninterrupted in the classroom.

The academic year should have just been cancelled!

2008 saw teachers go on strike, their salaries worthless, eroded by stagnation and inflation that was officially pegged at 231 million percent.  Many teachers simply could not afford to go to work because their monthly pay was less than the bus fare for the same period.  This, coupled with election violence, the assault of teachers by ZANU PF militia, the looting of schools and the use of some school premises as torture centres dealt the final blow to Zimbabwe’s education system.

And now, virtually all rural schools are closed as well as some urban ones.  Even if they were open and teachers tried to teach the vast majority of schools do not have desks, they do not have textbooks, chalk, exercise books.  Overwhelmed by water and power cuts, buildings are in a state of disrepair and children are adrift.

Nothing is more true than for some of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable, homeless, hungry and abused:  street kids.   At a workshop held at Streets Ahead, a care and drop-in service for street children, girls write and paint their dreams – murals of beautiful visions of healthy and happy futures.  Here girls and boys can drop in during the day, take a shower, have a meal and engage in activities such as art, drama, craft.  It’s a classroom even though it may not be formally recognised as such, there are many such classroom spaces in and around Zimbabwe, without walls or desks. Its an unidyllic idyll.

The girls talk and discuss as they work. As economic orphans (children are left behind whilst their parents go in search of forex) girl headed households mean that girls shoulder the burden of care.  Sexual violence and rape has meant that many girls now nurse babies. 

But the small people go on with the business of living and learning.  There are many ways to learn, formal and informal and life in Zimbabwe teaches children skills to survive.

No matter where they are located, children always find time to play, run, laugh, have mud fights, right in the midst of everything.  Life always goes on for the living.   Children dream dreams even though the rainbow has fallen out of the sky.

In the formal learning domain, teachers have threatened to go on strike at the end of April 2009 if their salary demands are not met.  Coltart makes no bones of the fact that right now the coffers the empty.  Before he can fund teachers demands, he needs to know how many teachers he has.  There is no computerised database at present and the departments records are apparently in a chaotic state.  In the past few years, many teachers have left Zimbabwe, for jobs elsewhere. It is believed that the number of teachers currently in Zimbabwe is less than 50 percent of a full complement of 140 000.

A think tank comprised of educationalist from various sectors has been put together in order to provide strategic direction and advise in rebuilding and reviving education in Zimbabwe.  The board includes amongst others, former Minister of Education Dr Fay Chung, Zimbabwe Teachers Association President Tendai Chikoore, politician Ms Trudy Stevenson, clergy man Father Joe Arimoso as well as Dr Stanly Hadebe.

Infrastructure is important.  Having the teachers in place is important.  Having the money is important.  But one of the lessons that we can take from history is that it is not enough.  Education is one of those rights that requires active mobilisation, organisation and vigilance.  We have to think outside of the current parameters.  What kind of country do we want?  What kinds of citizens do we want in this country?  What kind of curriculum is going to facilitate that? 

In Zimbabwe today, education includes the participation of everyone from children, women, men, the young and the elderly, everyone has to work to construct new relations and consciousness both inside and outside the classroom.  This includes a broad, relevant and dynamic curriculum, healthy cultures of questioning, debate and critique.  It includes an expanded understanding of what constitutes education.  Participation in seminars, assemblies, walks, volunteer work, acts of solidarity, coming together across the divides to learn and teach reading and writing, to talk and discuss, and more than this, to read and write the reality of life.

This is the hard work.

The work that will reflect and refract a gazillion rainbows in the lives of that six year old little girl standing in the school parking lot and for hundreds and thousands like her all  around the country.    


CHII CHIRIKUITA : WHAT’S UP?: Five: Walking Parliament in High Heels

9 March 2009 

In an unprecedented move in Harare last week women cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs), from across party lines, gathered over lunch.  They gathered to celebrate the women who contested the March 2008 elections and to continue the process of building and strengthening a cross party women’s alliance in Parliament in order to push forward a women focused agenda. 

First to arrive was Lucia Matabenga MP (MDC-T), she was followed by Margret Zinyemba (MDC-T). Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga Minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation (MDC-M) and the new Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Paurine Mpariwa (MDC-T) were joined by Flora Bhuka, head of ZANU-PF women’s league.  Next came Deputy Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Jessie Majome (MDC-T), Sekai Holland MP (MDC-T), Fay Chung and Rudo Gaidzanwa who stood as independents (linked to Muvambo) were followed Mai Dandajena (MDC-T) a long time community activist and now a senator. Oppah Muchinguri (ZANU-PF) former Minister of Women’s Affairs called in an apology, along with Olivia Muchena (ZANU-PF), current Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and former Minister Shuvai Mahofa (ZANU-PF).  Still they continued arriving.

Despite the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development which stipulates that women should hold equal position to men in both public and private sectors by 2015, there are no provisions for quotas as a way to advance the representation of women in publicly elected bodies in the current Constitution of Zimbabwe (1980) or the electoral laws. 

Political parties are left to their own devices on this score and effective participation of women has been dramatically limited by the closed political environment and the “political competition and contestation” that has characterised opposition politics in Zimbabwe in the last 12 years. 

Women were caught and sacrificed in the party politics that characterised the last elections, literally and figuratively. Subsequently, there is a low representation of women politicians in the inclusive government, in fact the lowest in 15 years: only four women are part of the 35 member cabinet. Women make up 14% of the House of Assembly and 33% in the Senate. 

But getting bogged down in the math is tiring. 

Quotas are a step forward, but the numbers are not enough.  Quota’s arose out of a feminist strategy to get women into parliament in order to represent, fight for and be accountable to the needs and issues of women as a constituency. It was ultimately one of a number of strategies to ensure transformation and subsequently true and meaningful freedom for women.   But as we’ve discovered, just because you are in a women’s body, doesn’t necessarily mean you embody a transformatory politics.  As we’ve discovered too, a depoliticized uptake of quotas prevents the adoption of a political culture whereby women, however they may be positioned, are integrated into the political system.  Quotas  can circumvent meaningful structural change. 

Listening to the conversations around the table that day, I realised that once in, women face different challenges: quotas do not ensure real political participation or leadership by women; women’s activity in Parliament can often remain marginal and “women’s issues” become ghettoised and reduced to the implementation of “gender policies” often with the lack of financial resources to support their implementation. 

The dominant model of political leadership remains competitive, masculine, territorial, violent and dehumanising.  This limits not only women but also men with “non-traditional” approaches and now more than ever we need not only alternatives, but people who are willing to break rank in order to make them a reality.

The status quo is not going to do it for women in Zimbabwe and the women sitting around the table know this.  They know it for they have been in the patriarchal party political trenches.

There are no “women’s issues”.  Every issue facing Zimbabwe right now involves and impacts on Zimbabwean women. Ask them, they will tell you.

So.  Where does that leave us?

While I will always have a healthy skepticism about the extent of parliament as a radical site for change.  My hope lies in the energetic and vital link that some of these women parliamentarians have with their constituencies, through Constituency Consultative Forums, more commonly known as CCF’s.

Facilitated by a cutting edge Women’s Political Support Organisation, since 2005 these structures have been systematically established in constituencies where women MP’s committed to women served a term of office and/or were contesting elections, either under a ZANU PF or MDC ticket.

The CCF’s are comprised of a minimum of 70 women drawn from the various wards in the constituency.  Members participate in political education programmes and exchange visits to other, rural or urban, constituency forums.  The CCF’s provide both a support base for the women MP’s during elections and the vibrancy and dynamism of the CCF’s means that they also provide the necessary checks and balances in terms of accountability after the elections.

“In areas with CCF’s women contested elections and won.  In the two areas where women lost, the tide of internal party politics was too strong.  The CCF’s are powerful structures and the women members know what they want”, said a key organizer within the facilitation team.

In the chain of public participation in governance, we move from the CCF’s to another interesting women’s only space: The women’s parliamentary caucus. Many of the women who broke bread together that day were members of this body. From here, women MPs share, learn, support and startegise.  Women can and have caucused on issues, put forward positions and have even creatively blocked things detrimental to women at large from passing through parliament.  It’s certainly “safer” for women MP’s to come together under the banner of the women’s parliamentary caucus in order challenge the status quo, than for individual women to do so!

The party whip is never far away. It’s a fragile space.

In this period of “transition”, I guess my hope lies in the potentials and possibilities of  the space to contribute to a radical politics:  a politics that centers the needs and demands of ordinary Zimbabwean women wherever they may be found; a politics committed to real and sustainable change, not just the transfer of power from one elite patriarchal group to the next; a politics that interrogates our current political cultures and that refuses a paternalism that “allows” women to have their quotas, thereby fulfilling regional and international obligations around governance, with very little else.

No, this is not enough.

In this period of transition, whether the women’s parliamentary caucus and the CCF’s will haemorrhage from the wounds of partisan politics, be suffocated by the quest for individual power or be nurtured so that it can grow and form the beginnings of this new politics, remains to be seen.

I for one will be listening, following the click click of those heels as they walk from the far flung districts through to the corridors of parliament. 

Increase the peace, not the police

As someone who lives in deepest Southeast DC (Alabama Avenue and Stanton Road), I’m living in an area where the global collapse of capitalism has stalled gentrification. Of course, in my predominantly African American neighborhood, it wasn’t called that. My new neighbors are participating in “revitalization,” which has meant the literal razing of the old projects and the construction of flimsy new townhomes.

What hasn’t been built is the community center for all the youth, many displaced from closed low-income housing in NE and NW, like Sursum Corda, now living in this high-density zone. Summertime has been getting lively around here, to say the least. In anticipation of the coming summer:

“DC Council member Jim Graham has introduced a bill to the DC City Council that would create Hot-Spot No-Loitering Zones. The police chief would be able to declare one of these zones at any time, thus giving police the power to move people off the streets in the targeted neighborhood. The zones would make it a crime to be gathered with two or more people on public property. If people did not disperse when told to by the police, they could be arrested and given up to a $300 fine and/or 180 days in jail. This all just for being on public property.” (from an email to the CCJP listserv).

I’m not sure the bill, if passed, will even have any effect on my neighborhood. It seems likelier that it will be used in NW and NE neighborhoods, where gentrification has more of a foothold, to harass youth and others who just want to get out of the house. From what I can see, the police already have all the powers they need to stop, intimidate, search, detain, and generally make miserable ordinary folks going about their business.

While I haven’t been able to identify the original composer of the information below, I do agree that greater police powers are not the solution to high spirits (pun intended). My neighborhood is desperate for folks who offer a middle way between shooting craps on my doorstep and jail. A fabulous new community center, the ARC, has been built eight blocks from where I live. More than increased police presence, we need a shuttle bus running between the ARC and my neighborhood every 15 minutes to pick up and drop off the young folks for all the activities there, and provide a safe space for youth from different blocks with different beef to meet up and question their differences.

Here’s what we can do to divert energies from increasing policing to increasing the peace:

Talking Points

*      Being outside in a city should not be a crime!
*      We need more programs, like recreation centers, quality schools and housing.
*      Anti-loitering laws have a long history of discrimination and racial profiling; this is not a part of history that the DC government should participate in.
*      We need viable, community-based strategies for safety, not more policing and incarceration.

What you in DC can do:

*      Write your city councilmember and the at-large council members (contact details below)
*      Call the councilmembers
*      Testify at the hearing on March 18th at 10am. To testify send an email to or call (202) 724-7808 by 5pm on March 16th with your Name, Address, Phone Number, and Organization and Title, if you have one. Everyone who testifies will have 5 minutes to speak. You may also submit written testimony, which can be longer, and you can do without being at the hearing.
*      Talk to people about this bill, why it’s a problem, and talk about other solutions to create safety and justice in our communities.

And you everywhere, this is an issue that concerns Right to the City, and this is an issue that concerns Women In and Beyond the Global. Its particular form and application may be local, but the issue is global. We need to take action now!

[For those in DC, here are the contact details:

Vincent C. Gray – Council Chairman (undecided):

David A. Catania – Councilmember (At-Large) (co-sponsor):

Phil Mendelson- Councilmember (At-Large) (undecided):

Kwame R. Brown – Councilmember (At-Large) (co-sponsor):

Michael A. Brown – Councilmember (At-Large) (undecided):

Jim Graham – Councilmember (Ward 1) (Introduced bill):

Jack Evans – Councilmember (Ward 2) (co-sponsor):

Mary M. Cheh – Councilmember (Ward 3) (undecided):

Muriel Bowser – Councilmember – (Ward 4) (co-sponsor):

Harry Thomas, Jr. – Councilmember (Ward 5) (undecided):

Tommy Wells – Councilmember (Ward 6) (undecided):

Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7) (co-sponsor):

Marion Barry – Councilmember (Ward 8 ) (Undecided):].

(Photo Credit: DC Jobs with Justice)

CHII CHIRIKUITA : WHAT’S UP? Two: In Search of a River

At 6.50am today, International Women’s Day, I joined hundreds of women all around Harare in search of a river. 

The search took me down the beautiful tree lined Josiah Tongogara Avenue, past what Zimbabweans now know as the hanging tree.  The tree where Mbuya Nehanda, a spiritual medium and revolutionary war heroine of Zimbabwe’s first chimurenga, was hanged, after capture by colonial forces in 1896.  

But the freedom from oppression for which she fought and died remains elusive.   Zimbabwean women are still waging wars against oppressions, a reality made even starker on this 8th of March.

Today the struggle takes the shape of resistance to deprivation.  To the lack of a basic need – water.   The entire city of Harare has been without water for the last 4 days. 

Harare City Council, which recently reclaimed water management functions from the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) said it was battling to restore supplies. 

The grapevine tells a story of sabotage.  That Zinwa is withholding much needed chemicals because of the takeback by the city council.  But Harare is a city rife with rumour.  The more conventional understandings speak of a lack of chemicals for water purification, an outdated and dilapidated water treatment system and a lack of electricity to pump.

Whatever the reason, the taps are dry and Zimbabwean women are taking to the streets.

Walking or driving, carrying plastic bottles, buckets, containers of all shapes and sizes, pushing wheel barrows or bearing the weight of full buckets on their heads women go in search of water.  It’s a massive movement that will continue throughout the day. Like a relay. A rolling demonstration for life, against all odds. It is a form of resistance.

For some women the only water source they have is unprotected and the chances of contamination are high. There are boreholes that are also contaminated due to the overflow of sceptic tanks. There are schools with wells and there are some private residences who have installed taps near the roadside of their properties for public use.

The one I found had a queue.  It took me an hour to reach the tap.  You learn to make the water stretch.  You bath in a litre – 4 cups. 

While waiting for my turn, we talk.  We talk about sanitation, cholera and how difficult it is to live in this man-made drought. 

Death is always imminent in this demonstration for life.  On this women’s day, standing around a tap on the side of a suburban road we also talk about Susan Tsvangirai. 

Mainstream news in Zimbabwe has been circumspect around the details of her death. While late last night the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) reported that the wife of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, bore the full impact when the landcruiser they were traveling in was sideswiped by a USAID truck near Beatrice, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and roll three times.   Today the news is more circumspect.  They are giving minimal detail.  Rumour, speculation and conspiracy theories are rife.

But for now, my bucket is full.  Who knows what will happen next in this place where water = life and where death is never far away.

Prespone Matawira

CHII CHIRIKUITA : WHAT’S UP?: What’s More Free Than A Free For All

In Harare now, some say heaven can be found in the middle class suburbs of Arundel, Borrowdale and the Avenues. This heaven comes in the form of Spar supermarket and the queues of people waiting to get through the metal gates are long.  After all, “Spar is good for you”!

Once inside you would be forgiven for thinking you are in any South African Supermarket. A walk down the aisle will land you ricotta cheese for $1.10; oven baked chips at $3.90; Flame grilled honey and mustard chicken breasts, $5.60 … anything and everything can be found here.  People navigate their way up and down the aisles their shopping carts rolling on the well oiled wheels of “hard currency”.

If you do not have the ma usa or ma rand, you are not permitted to enter heaven.  Infact currently in Zimbabwe, if you do not have the US dollar or South African rand, there is very little you can do. 

Venturing out of Harare, rural women run a roadside equivalent of a US dollar store.  They sell home-grown fresh produce to get forex.  The vegetables are stacked in piles, each valued at a dollar: 5 bunches of Muriwo (collard greens); 6 tomatoes; 4 green mealies; 15 small mapudzi (squash); 1 large pumpkin, a big bag of groundnuts. 

While the price is quoted in dollars, seeing me ruffle through Rands in order to pay for the giant pumpkin, the seller, Moreblessing, quietly says “10 Rand”.  There is no longer an exchange rate.   1 dollar = 10 rand.

When the deal is done, Moreblessing tells me she needs to get foreign currency.  That will buy her and her children a future. “I don’t want to talk about politics” she tells me. 

While she may not know that Morgan Tsvangirai is now the new Prime Minister, Moreblessing and many people like her, in rural and urban Zimbabwe are equally aware of the limitations and precariousness of the Zimbabwean currency caused by stratospheric inflation, unstable exchange rates and the inability of people to get their money out of the banks.

Gradually then, Zimbabweans began trading in hard currency on the parallel market.  In order to attract foreign currency back into the official market and reign in inflation, the central bank licensed some retailers, mostly multinationals, to charge for services in foreign currency.  (Although no one will admit it, currently dollarisation is the greatest threat to “national sovereignty” in Zimbabwe!)

But if the Zim dollar has led us to a dead-end, dollarisation has acted as a form of collective hypnosis. It’s created an illusion of possibility and freedom.  If only you have the hard currency, anything is possible. All people have to do is get with the programme. 

At first glance this has its merits.  Its true.  US dollars can buy you access to … Spar, to wealthier, healthier, more comfortable lives. But there are also problems here, for the one does not automatically translate into the other.  Freedom for the mighty is slavery for the weak and dollarisation only exacerbates this position.  It’s kind of like capitalism beyond control.

While some Zimbabweans revel in the availability of basic and luxury commodities, the devil lies silently in the detail.  Dollarisation is backfiring in the same way that the floatation of exchange rates back in May 2008 accelerated the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar.  For some dollarisation has translated into greater deprivation and a rising sense of injustice.

Economists argue that dollarisation can result in a rapid rise in the price of commodities which in turn results in a sharper increase in levels of poverty.  This trend is already apparent.  There has been an accelerated inflation of the US dollar in Zimbabwe, which is now estimated at more than 50%, compared to 5.3% in the US. What does this mean in reality?  It means that the prices of everything sold in US dollars in Zimbabwe is four to five times higher than in South Africa or other countries with convertible currencies.

The anesthesia created by dollarisation has also erased the fact that with an estimated 80% unemployment, foreign earnings capacity is less than 5% of the population. Of course cross border trading is rampant and besides remittances from the diaspora, there is very little other evidence to suggest that the majority of Zimbabweans have access to foreign currency.  

So it is logical that the effect will be a natural and legitimate demand by those who are employed to be paid in foreign currency.  This demand gained even more traction after the February 11th inauguration speech by Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, when he boldly committed to pay 150 000 civil servants in foreign currency until the economy is stabilised.   These empty promises are a brand of very dangerous populism. Where this money is going to come from is anyone’s guess. 

But for now, the current situation presents even more challenges for an already exhausted and abused people.  Not only does the country not have the foreign currency reserves, but the banking system itself is largely not a US dollar depository.  This means foreign currency circulation will fall outside the banking system which has the potential to ignite another banking crisis, as all Zim dollar accounts are now, de facto, frozen.

But as the cycle goes, with nearly everyone, licensed or not, attempting to sell goods and services in US $, what’s more free than a free for all?  

Prespone Matawira

Pushing the Sex Out of the City

In 2004, then D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams announced a plan to build a brand new baseball stadium around Half and O Streets SE to house the newly purchased Montreal Expos. The land chosen for the new baseball stadium was home to one of the largest conglomerations of gay bars and clubs in the city including a couple of strip clubs.

On February 13th, the first of the displaced clubs was able to reopen in SW after much debate about the ordinances restricting the rebuilding of all the clubs.  The location chosen for the stadium seems hardly accidental, as this less than picturesque area of the city had been considered too seedy and dangerous for the average citizen, especially at night.  Yet, it was the only area where these clubs had been allowed to exist.  Queer culture had literally been peripheralized and pushing it out of this area, by way of literally dropping commerce onto it, meant that this section of SE had just been designated for gentrification.

Over the past decade, the D.C. landscape has been transformed both by physical structures and in the dispersal of its population.  The city’s gentrification is far from accidental beginning with the plan of Mayor Williams to increase tax revenues for the city.  Entire sections of the city have been re-established as middle-income trend spots where there once existed rent-controlled low-income housing and families.  This has also meant that historically black neighborhoods, like Shaw, U Street and Columbia Heights, have changed drastically in their ethnic make-up as well as class.  While the black exodus moves further east and into Maryland, the landscape of the city becomes de-urbanized and includes oddities like a corporate mall on 14th and Park Streets NW where there was low-income housing 4 years ago.  With the higher class and sometimes semi-suburban façade comes an expectation of what types of people will be frequenting and living in these areas.  Such assumptions about what safe and higher-class look like have from the beginning been police-enforced.

While gentrification is an intensely complicated and problematic situation overall, I am concerned that it has been an assault on the sexual geography of the city as it had been known for decades.  Overt alternative sexualities, like sex work and queer culture, are displaced by gentrification and city ‘beautification programs’.  These elements are often correlated to dirty underbelly of the city and not to be seen in civilized or safe areas of town.  Sexual elements, however, do not disappear simply because the rent goes up in a neighborhood; after all queerness did not flee the city when the bars were paved over.  Visible signs of sex work or queerness is physically pushed beyond the perimeter of “good” areas of the city and into progressively more neglected areas.  In D.C., this has meant that street work has been moved further east and closer to the Maryland border as well as literally marching a group of workers to the Virginia border.    The pushing is being done by the Metro Police Department’s prostitution unit, which has been given more tools and legislation to combat prostitution.  Remember the “prostitution free zones”?  They aren’t just saved for major events and tourist attractions but are usually used crack down on groups who have started working within the gentrified zone.  I’m sure that those lovely signs are very assuring to the residents of those areas.  A fancy billboard in certain areas, I think, could do wonders for real estate values.

Harass, though, is probably a better word than combat, if we’re defining the role of the prostitution unit.  Even MPD doesn’t claim to be able to make prostitution end within the District.  They don’t even necessarily claim to make life easier for those performing it on the streets.  Considering some of the propositioning that takes place by officers, some sexual harassment protections or a decent firehose could really be useful on the streets.  Instead, former police Chief Ramsey portrays “those residents who must endure the presence of prostitutes and their paraphernalia in our neighborhoods” as ‘victims’ of prostitution.

The areas that workers are forced to move to are often more residential or industrial but they are also significantly less safe than the areas previously worked.  This is because these areas are both geographically and literally peripheral.  They are often very low-income if they are residential or highly unregulated and violent.  Such policing creates a progressively more dangerous and violent situation for those being regulated.  This is ironic considering that so many proponents of the abolition of prostitution sight women’s rights as justification.  Yet, it assumes that by practicing sex work a person somehow forfeits their ability to be treated humanely rather than prodded and herded like stray cattle.  These tactics, however, assure that the issue remains out of sight and therefore out of mind for the majority of the public.  How can this be service and protection?

(Image Credit: StudyLib)