When I was younger I was a pro at scaring the shit out of people. I’d hide behind corners and jump out at you while you walk past, much to the dismay of my parents and anyone else who fell into my hands. There was even a time I hid in a box for a good 30 minutes (you can’t rush these things), and asked our helper to tell my cousin there was something in the box for him. I popped up like a Jack-in-the-box and he (all 2metres and 90kg of a man) let out a small scream that I still laugh about by myself sometimes. My parents both worked, and my brothers were at that stage where they’d stay late at school for sports and activities and go out on the weekends with their friends, so none of them were home much. As a result, I’d end up scaring either our domestic helper or our gardener. The latter was a little more forgiving, while the former often shouted out half her totem narrative and mentioned something about Jesus needing to save her, so I mostly went with our gardener.
One day, in my usual fashion, I hid behind a large wooden plank in the backyard, close to our dog kennel. I waited for our gardener to get close enough before I jumped out from behind it. His eyes widened, he laughed uncomfortably, and then he did the strangest thing. He told me not to scare him again, or he would lock me in his room and “we would see who would be the scared one”. There was something about the look in his eyes that made me uneasy, and so I ran back to the house. My mother had told me not to scare the help, not to play with this young man where she couldn’t see me, and so I didn’t mention it. I still feel uneasy when I bump into him in town once in a while.
Now, you may say that I was a naughty child – this is true. You may say that someone should have been watching me – perhaps this is also true. You may also say that I was lucky that young man didn’t do what he said he would, and worse – this is very true. But some people may say that because I had a working mother (and father as well, but the emphasis would be on my mother) I was subject to the dangers of potential abuse by our helpers at home. This was the argument made by one Superintendent Ethiua (I dare you to pronounce that out loud) Muzvidziwa, head of the Gweru Urban Women’s network, according to an article in The Chronicle. She said that “all mothers (not fathers) must bear in mind that their primary responsibility is to offer parental guidance to their children”. She went on to say that because of the economic slump we find ourselves in, women are having to work longer hours at the expense of their family life and safety of their children. I have a few problems with this article and with Superintendent Muzvidziwa regarding her remarks.
Firstly, the headline reads “Career mums ‘fuel child rape'”. Firstly, what the fuck. That women who are pursuing their God given and constitutionally given right to have a job and earn an income, as well as pursue their passions are the ones fuelling child rape is ridiculous. The same way our society blames women for being raped, is how we blame mothers for ‘allowing’ their children to be raped, with no mention of the real problem, which is the rapist. Are women not supposed to aspire to more than marriage and children? Is having children a sign that I should drop everything I have dreamed of before this child, and cater only to it’s needs? It is my experience that my mother was a better mother because she worked. She gave me the inspiration I needed to not sit around and expect things to be handed to me in life. She taught me how to fight for what I want, to strive for excellence, and to be all I can be, even in a society that sees me as a second-class citizen.
In the entire article, Sup Muzvidziwa makes no mention of the partners of these women. Are fathers also not tasked with the protection of their children? Are they, more often than not, not away from the house for the bulk of the day and sometimes even the night, only returning to have a meal, take a shower and climb into bed? We need to stop framing mothers as primary care givers and fathers as primary bread-winners, as if the two cannot step outside these boxes. Fathers must actively be a part of their children’s lives, and I refuse to let patriarchy tell me otherwise. Sup. Muzvidziwa also encourages women to play more of a part in the curbing of rape and sexual violence. Excuse me? Are we not the ones standing and shouting at the top of our lungs, demanding the end to this violence? Where are the men? Surely most fathers would not want their child to be subject to sexual abuse? Why are they silent about their fellow man’s abuses? And where is her criticism of these rapists?
In 2014, Zimbabwe National Statistics (ZimStat) said that 15 women are raped everyday in Zimbabwe. Lawyer and Harare West MP Jesse Majome said that the majority of rape cases last year were thrown out often because victims were too afraid to testify due to pressures from family and society. Our society needs to change. But women don’t need to stop working. Yes, we must ensure that the people we leave our children with are trustworthy, and that we take care to speak to our children and create an environment that makes it easy for them to open up to us if abuse happens. Notice I said ‘we’, meaning all of us. Mothers, fathers, politicians, police officers, health workers, NGOs, the media – all of us. We need to start framing the discussion on rape and sexual violence in a way that criminalises and chastises the rapist, not the victim of rape and not the mothers of the victims. That we live in a society where women are working longer hours is not an inherently bad thing. We should be overjoyed that women are entering spaces they were shut out of a decade ago; this is progress and I applaud these women. So stop blaming women for violence that is not perpetrated by them. Stop making this discussion about anything other than our need to condemn and eradicate every form of sexual violence and those who carry out this violence. Let us achieve our goals, raise children and thrive in a society that looks to empower us and not tear us down.