Reclaiming Women Space and Voices: Crossing the Line in Zimbabwe

The gathering on the 6th March 2010 was a public one at the National Art Gallery in Harare, Zimbabwe – one of the events taking place this month to commemorate International Women’s Day. The panel discussion was part of a full-day series, punctuated by the young women who run YOWLI – Young Women Leadership Institute – with their exciting and Zimbabwean contextualized Vagina Monologues; women poets and women musicians, and films on women by women.

Morals and/or Pleasure: Women Media and the Creation of Discourses on Sexuality – this was the title of a panel discussion I was part of on the 6th of March.

There was Reyhana, a freelance journalist, and with the Humanitarian Information Facility Centre. She aptly brought with her posters she had made with newspaper cuttings of stories that covered women and men. The stark difference on the portrayal was hard-hitting. I suppose many were so much bombarded with negative media messages that they had not taken the time to think through the negative media portrayal of women and the impact that might have on societal attitudes on women. She was in effect challenging media practitioners on the way they portray women, and the thought that needs to go into writing as a practitioner should think about doing no harm. The point that came out was that the media tends to put labels on women, and many times these labels are negative, disempowering, and tend to portray women as lesser beings, only seen when the negative happens. There was also a reminder to the readers of the material produced in the media (and news media has a very powerful effect and influence on our way of thinking and perceiving things) to be analytical and critical of that messaging.

There was Catherine, who insisted to be introduced to the audience as a woman. Catherine’s focus was on her experiences as a girl child growing up, as a woman – deciding on her adult life and her career choice (law); which have had her confronting constant negative stereotypes on what a woman should be, and how she should behave. She also touched on one contentious advert that has PSI (Population Services International) fill our Zimbabwean landscape with billboards insinuating that small houses are the cause of the spread of HIV infection – and, of course, small houses are women. Catherine did a blog on this advert on the Kubatana website where she aptly describes the adverts which are truly horrific and, I believe, a sure way of destroying our society through entrenching such negative and damaging stereotypes of women.

Third to speak was Charity Maruta, on her making of the film Sex in the City, a film that used local people, exploring how sex was discussed, understood and practiced in Harare. The issues all came down to power, money, technology and control.

The discussion provoked such strong reactions, and some unbelievable. A couple of men’s response was that these messages would be listened to by society if they let men say it! Obviously for me, that means the struggle continues, and we need more women like Catherine, Charity and Reyhana to continue carrying the torch as we women forge ahead in crossing the line, and no more going back. We truly commemorated it in style, dramatizing, performing, saying and discussing the things that are usually not verbalized in our society.