A 2014 Christmas holiday disruption made the headlines after a woman was harassed at Fourth Street bus terminus in Harare, Zimbabwe. A video that went viral on the social network showed the woman being thronged by a legion of “hwindis” (people whose function is to help direct passengers to the right mini-bus normally in the form of loud shouts) mini-bus drivers and conductors who were frantically making efforts to undress her. Reactions from the public labelled the woman a prostitute and the wider community of women who love to wear shorter and revealing clothing could not be spared of the same label. Hot discussions were held on radio, TV, public transport and in the homes of Zimbabwe. It was a vulnerable time for most women who again were faced with the challenge of men deciding for them what to do with their bodies. Whilst the public conclusion made was that the woman deserved being publicly humiliated like that because she wore short and revealing clothing it later turned out that her reason for being harassed had nothing to do with her dressing but with the fact that she had not responded to a Hwindi who had been trying to make conversation with her. No apology was given to the the feminine community for this atrocious act and it once again brought onto the agenda the issue of street harassment; one that most women have to deal with be they young, old, scantly dressed, fully covered, short, dark, you name it.
The point of this article does not wish to focus on this woman and the plight of women in general but on a strange man in the video. This is not to minimise the rights of women further but to champion the special role that a single man chose to take that chaotic afternoon. In the midst of these masculine indulgences one man decided that it was not right to hog this woman with conceptions of how she chooses to dress, where she walks in her choice of dress or who she becomes because of that choice. He held her hand and walked briskly with her from one mini-bus to the other trying to find shelter. The group think at the terminus was so cemented that they were chased from each mini-bus they got into and every-time they found themselves back in the eye of this storm. As “hwindis” scrambled to get a piece of the woman’s freedom, as if they had not gotten enough of it already, some tried to remove her dress and others her panties and the crowd became bigger, more wild and more dangerous by the moment and yet this man did not stop providing the protective role.
The video does not show how it ends, whether he manages to save her or not but that action alone is enough to sent a message home to the male community. It is a message full of new and unique possibilities for men. It is not an easy choice to make and Dennis Rainey a writer on the institution of marriage equals such action to being a warrior. He says “As a husband and father, you are the warrior who has been charged with the duty of pushing back against the evil that seeks to prey on your wife, daughters, and sons. If you don’t step up, who will?”
Whilst this quote refers to a husbandly and fatherly role in the family it is my full interpretation that this is also a manly role to protect women and boys on a larger social scale. It is a big fight which if a man decides to take up qualifies him as a warrior of some sort. The first fight that a man has to make is that of breaking the fold from the “boys” on several issues including the patriarchal and masculine group think that does not recognise women as equal beings who have equal rights in society.This requires a man to question conceptions of manhood, gender relations, gendered social norms and masculinities. The fight calls for a man to be gender sensitive on all fronts including socio-economic, religious, ethnic and racial fronts whilst realising that its occurrence in various forms is not isolated. It often requires a man to point to the wrongs of the self and his species; a trying task in itself.A true warrior will make it if he learns to stand with the women and boys who for decades have been waiting for male champions who are prepared to join the fight to make the world a better place for women. The decisions to fight against violence against women as a man will demand that he speaks and acts against it in private and public spaces.
This is not an easy task yet the ever rising statistics of gender based violence demands that men break fold. Currently the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development (2013) records the statistics to be at 68%. They could be lower due to under-reporting. There is a worrying trend that has seen rape, street harassment, battering, sexual harassment etc to be on the rise. Women’s groups have been continuing with decades long work yet this work needs men who can support the fight in order to yield better results for women and our society.
The call to this fight needs all men to take a stand. IF YOU DO NOT STAND UP WHO WILL?