and Zimbabwe Defence Forces headquarters and the Anglican Cathedral, the institution is quite imposing.
The Quill Club’s history and importance are as old and central to Zimbabwe’s historical narrative as itself.
For a very long time, the hotel serviced Parliament, a situation that made Parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers easily accessible to journalists.
Local and international journalists have shaped the club to be the place that it is — romanticised in some cases, while other people detest it and view it as any other pub.
One woman journalist who refused to be named said that despite the glorification, the issue is that it is nothing but a pub, a no go area for married women like herself. “That it is a social space for scribes is neither here nor there because it has a ‘tainted reputation’”, she argued. The referred to inclusive and exclusionary rules are unwritten, but to some people, they have said that a pub is a man’s space, and when women go there, they do so to look for men. And, the bottom line is that such women should not be taken seriously by anyone, let alone their partners.
But, last Thursday was special and different as women journalists went back to the Quill Club to reassert their relevance in that space, and also interrogate issues they feel have hampered them from using the facility. For those familiar with the night clubbing culture, it was a “ladies night” with a difference though with people engaging each other on gender issues and the media, and male colleagues were also present.
What was interesting from the presentations by veteran journalist Grace Mutandwa, Sharon Hudson-Dean (Counsellor for US Public Affairs) and Virginia Muwanigwa chairperson of Women’s Coalition and director of the Humanitarian Information Facility Centre, was the passion to ensure that women utilise this facility as much as possible.
Valentine Maponga gave a historical background of the Quill Club and said that due to its central location, nationalists found it easy to go to the Quill Club since they could access the international media, give interviews and advance the cause of the liberation struggle.
As a result, on October 15, 1975 one of the stalwarts of the struggle, Dr Edison Furatidzayi Chisingaitwi Sithole was abducted by the Rhodesian Special Branch together with his secretary, Miriam Mhlanga outside the hotel that houses the Quill Club.
To date, nobody knows their fate, although they are both believed dead. It would be interesting to know how many nationalists had secretaries then.
Notwithstanding the evidence that Dr Sithole was abducted together with his secretary, it is amazing that Miriam Mhlanga remains an unsung heroine of the struggle especially by women journalists.
How many of us have bothered to know what happened to her on that tragic day? Wasn’t she also a nationalist? Do we feel that she is unfit to be in that hall of fame? This is the predicament that the Quill Club poses to female journalists — when they dare go there, they are considered morally loose, irrelevant even!
But, last week’s Quill Club “home coming” did not stop women opening up — venting their grievances, with two major areas coming out clearly: the importance of mentoring and, the challenges that women face in newsrooms, challenges that force the majority of them to leave the profession.
The zeal with which women spoke showed that many have been victims who hurt and hate, but more specifically it was evident that professionalism and ethical behaviour in work places are being overlooked with impunity, while victims are left helpless, and are sometimes victimised. Admissions were made that female intakes at colleges have greatly improved, but still women stay clear of newsrooms after their internship. In the seventies, Miriam Mhlanga who pioneered our entry into this space defied the racial and gender barriers to do what most of us are running away from in newsrooms in the 21st century. We speak about human rights, but to buckle to male pressure the moment we feel threatened.
But, it is the older generation, the older professional woman journalists who have let down young women big time. Not only have we failed to mentor them, but we have also failed to tell our stories — those painful incidents they are bound to face — starting from college and right up to the newsroom during their internship, until the time they have to make informed decisions about whether to stay in the profession. We have become big pretenders, telling them that everything is alright, when we know that it is not.
Cases of how some women survived sexual harassment in the workplace will help keep more women journalists in the newsrooms, a development that will also revolutionise news reporting through gendered lenses. Notwithstanding, women have to also stop playing the victim, but face it head on. Equal opportunities allow us to draw lines. If it means going to the Quill Club to get story ideas, sources, etc, let’s do it without fear or favour.
If men do not owe anyone apologies for being at the club, why should we be apologetic? As professionals, why should stigmas be an issue? Why do we need big numbers to make an impact when Miriam Mhlanga was there for us, just like Rosa Parks in that bus in Alabama, the United States in the sixties?
Half way through, I tell myself that this is not another “there they go again” episode.
But hey, gender imbalances and sexual harassment have been cited as some of the major drawbacks for women journalists. Male journalists cannot deny this because if it is happening in Government, commerce and industry and even the church, why should newsrooms be an exception?
Paul Matavire endorsed that in one of his songs, “Tanga wandida” (Love me first, before I can extend any favours to you). Matavire was a man, and though blind he sang about everyday issues that affect people in various situations. And, sexual harassment was one of them. One young man posed a challenging proposal: criminalise sexual harassment instead of making it a code of conduct issue. An employee who steals is arrested and if found guilty is jailed and loses his/her job. Why should it not be the same with sexual harassment? Is it a lesser evil?
When it comes to sexual harassment, people also want it defined to see whether the allegations fall within their desired parameters. For centuries, this has been the case. There are many women who are embittered, and they feel that retelling their stories in order to save others, is like shaming themselves.
They have professions, marriages, friendships and families to protect, but meanwhile, they are wasting away inside. Sisters make it even worse when they discourage “victims” from telling their stories: “Why ruin your career by revealing skeletons in your cupboard?” And. when you are brave enough to tell the story, the backlash from both sexes is unbelievable.
Women cannot spend the rest of their professional careers running away from their shadows, ridden with guilt and blaming themselves.
And, this is also not an issue where our male colleagues should stand up in judgment and say, “There they go again, playing the blame game. Expecting men to create socio-political and economic spaces for them just because they are women is a fallacy, because God never gave us that responsibility!”
As women journalists, last week, we had a ladies night at the Quill Club. We could have offended some of the men by our seeming accusations, but we made our point.
But, we also do not also need nudging from anyone to be in places that can enrich our professional careers. Indeed, social media where many women professionals are now is cosy, but who says that you cannot be sexually harassed in cyberspace?
If you are cut out to be a journalist, and the Quill Club is one of the spaces you have to be to get that lead story, by any means go ahead, just as much as you will say “No” to sexual manipulation in the news room and elsewhere.
As people who inform the public about news events and the law, it is also time we put our house in order and ensure that those same laws protect us.
I part with Mercy Mutsvene’s message in her hit song “Handingabvumi” (I’ll not put up with this . . .), a song that I felt tells a woman to make a principled stand, a song that also chastises women not to “bite the dust”, because someone wants to have a good laugh seeing them fall.
Mutsvene says when temptations mount, you should not be found floundering. Even if people mock you, and even if you fall on hard times, never you compromise your principles by agreeing to do what is unethical; you should not be part of the statistic of people whose downfall is caused by other people.
Hopefully, that homecoming will yield results and also transform the negative notions about “ladies night”.

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