Gender Forum With Ruth Butaumocho
The mini-skirt saga in which a hapless woman was stripped naked by overzealous touts has finally come to the end. This follows the sentencing of the two touts to an effective eight months in jail for their act.
The judgment and subsequent sentencing of the two, Blessing Chinodakufa and Marvell Kandemiri, sets a good precedence and protects the right of expression and freedom for women in public spaces.
While some sections of the society feel that the sentence should have been longer than eight months, it cannot be overemphasised that this is a landmark ruling which is not only a punishment of the two, but a lesson to abusive men that they cannot continue to abuse women with impunity.
The judgment also redefines society’s perception and attitudes towards women’s freedom of expression, through dressing, an area which for a long time had been marred by controversy.
It also puts to rest the long raging debate on whether women can express themselves by wearing miniskirts, and still be safe from sexual violation.
For a long time debates on mini-skirts have always been quite emotive, with cultural vanguards arguing that the dress should be discouraged at all costs, because it is associated with prostitution and increases the chances of sexual abuse.
On the other hand, feminists and other like-minded people argue that there is nothing wrong in wearing a miniskirt, insisting that it is just like any other form of dressing, with an elevated hemline than the conventional dress.
Even Vice President Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa has since defended wearing of mini-skirts by women, saying it is their constitutional right, which should not be infringed upon.
For the vanguards of patriarchal society they should not view the sentencing of the two touts as an affront of African culture and a promotion of indecency.
They should instead see the judgment as a challenge to the patriarchal ideology that encourages men to have unfettered control over women’s bodies in a violent way.
By and large the conservatives should be open-minded and begin to realise that men can no longer run with the tidy explanation that women are prone to abuse because of what they wear. It should now sink in everyone’s mind that sexual abuse has got everything to do with sick individuals and sexual perverts who single out the mini-skirt, as the cause for abuse.
The mini-skirt debacle might appear like a trivial issue that is far removed from other struggles that women face. It is however central to those struggles such as patriarchy, that are in place to control women’s agency and bodies.
Therefore the mini-skirt struggle cannot be separated from problems that society is trying to do away with such as early child marriages, abuse of children and existing physical structures within our societies that bar women’s emancipation and stall their participation across the board.
So naturally, the decision by the judicial system to put the two touts behind bars should be welcomed by everyone concerned about women’s safety and their freedom to move around freely without worrying about abuse. The sentencing of the two strengthens the struggle against structural inequalities that are inherent in our society. The debate on mini-skirts is symbolism of the continuous sexual abuse women face, the power dynamics between women and men and the shrinking safe zones women used to enjoy.
Far from being an issue of dressing, it should be viewed as continuous cry for women to be treated as human beings and not as sex objects, leading to their abuse. It should also be a lesson to many perverts that one’s dressing should not be viewed as basis for sexual violation, but women and men should be treated with dignity.
When the touts ravaged the poor girl in broad daylight, they were insinuating that women will continue to be abused as long as they continue to dress to “provoke and excite men”. They were ferocious advocating for the abuse of all women, who choose to dress liberal, further reinforcing the stereotype and the notion that society has always held, that women do invite abuse on themselves, through their dressing.
And luckily for men and women who detest abuse of anyone, their efforts have not been futile — the judiciary system has made it clear that it will come hard on abusers.