We, the undersigned feminists and concerned South Africans, members of the ARE WOMEN HUMAN STUDY GROUP, wish to express our outrage at the recent public threats by MMD (Movement for Multi-Party Democracy) Youth Chairman Chris Chalwe to gang rape FDD [Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD)] leader Edith Nawakwi for criticising the leadership of Zambia’s President Rupiah Banda.
We have waited for a reasonable period to observe, and give the authorities in Zambia time to take action against the vile threats against women in leadership and women in general in the country, the sub-region and the continent as a whole. We regret to say, that our waiting for positive action has been in vain, and we feel obliged in the spirit of human solidarity to speak out against both the inaction, and the original threats to violence.
It is equally dismaying to hear that the only reaction of the ruling party has been to brush off the remark, saying that their colleague was expressing his own opinion.
Furthermore, the belief by Inspector General of Police Francis Kabonde that anyone threatening to rape a woman is not committing an offence is unacceptable, and sets a dangerous legal and moral precedent.
We strongly recommend that the young leader and his party including the Inspector General study and rediscover the international commitments their country has made to protect and promote the rights of women, in particular the African Protocol on the Rights of Women, which came into force in November 2005). It is worth pointing out that Zambia was amongst the leading countries that ratified the protocol, which as of 26 February 2008 are twenty-three: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Comoros, Djibouti, The Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia.
Thus, by so doing, the country and its leadership in government committed itself to fighting violence against women, which the Protocol defines as (Art.1.j) “all acts perpetrated against women which cause or could cause them physical, sexual, psychological, and economic harm, including the threat to take such acts; or to undertake the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on or deprivation of fundamental freedoms in private or public life in peace time and during situations of armed conflicts or of war.”
The Protocol, assures women’s right to dignity and protection from all forms of violence, particularly sexual and verbal violence. It unequivocally states that: “Every woman shall be entitled to respect for her life and the integrity and security of her person… All forms of exploitation, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.”
Despite such progressive laws and protocols, the official response of the country’s senior police official to the threats indicates that women’s rights are violated with impunity, that political rape and punishment of women who hold different political views is acceptable. It is ironic that Ms. Nawakwi is threatened with rape for expressing an opinion but the Youth Mis-leader, Chalwe, is allowed to freely express his, effectively rendering her unable to fully participate in the political process on behalf of the party that she leads. If women are degraded and humiliated they are effectively prevented from entering the public sphere. Threats of rape soon become actualised and rampant and result in unthinkable atrocities as witnessed in Bosnia and Rwanda.
It is in this context that, despite welcoming the opening of an investigation by Zambian police spokesperson Boni Kapeso following Nawakwi’s complaint, we wish to remind the Zambian authorities that it is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to investigate instances of violence against women, including the threat of it, and the burden of ensuring justice must not lay on ONE woman’s shoulders. It is the citizens (in the nation state, and between nation states) that must hold elected leaders (including those within the government) accountable to the international commitments the country has signed up to.
The region is no better
We are cognisant that the region we inhabit is not better, and we vouch to speak out and organise wherever human rights abuses, in particular violence of women, are evident.
We have also recently read of Jestina Mukoko’s ordeal in Zimbabwe and the orgy of rape of the supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). (These statements came to the public light at the end of January 2010)
In our country, South Africa, the rape “epidemic” has reached levels that if not urgently and effectively addressed, may result in women being in practice not fully human. The violence of rape in words and deed, amongst other factors, serves to keep women in positions of vulnerability and weakness, something which African leaders must urgently address.
We commit to fight alongside others in our country, the sub-region, the continent and internationally until justice for all has been attained. Accordingly, we call on the Zambian authorities to urgently investigate the violence against women perpetrated by the youth leader. Secondly, we call on the South African authorities to bar entry into our country of Chalwe, should he decide to visit South Africa during 2010 FIFA World Cup or for other business, as he has violated the rights of women in his country, the continent and the world.
Ms. Julie Adam
Ms. Sakina Mohammed
Ms. Marta garrich
On behalf of the group
ARE Women Human Study Group is a feminist study group based in Johannesburg South Africa.