Zimbabwe: IWD marchers harassed by police

// 10 March 2011

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As if it wasn’t infuriating enough to have written one IWD post about the British government apparently deciding that violence against women is no more than a serious obstacle for women’s enjoyment of human rights (and not, as I’d naively thought, a complete violation of human rights) – only to have to follow it with a post about the disruption of the IWD Million Woman March in Cairo by men shouting anti-feminist slogans – any remaining optimism that I had about IWD being at least one day when women around the world could celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future evaporated when I read this article in the Zimbabwe Telegraph:

Women who took part in a march to commemorate International Women’s Day, organised by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU), were disappointed after police officers ordered 16 women to remove the union’s T-shirts and walk half dressed to Bulawayo Central Police station where they were detained.

Seriously, wtf? Right now I’m too bloody angry to string together a coherent takedown of just how wrong this is.

Really, if these reports tell us anything it’s surely that, no matter where we are in the world, we are still a very long way from achieving equality and seeing an end to sexism, prejudice, discrimination and the oppression of women. And yet the Daily Mail would have us believe that sexism is dead. That noise? That would be me banging my head on the desk.

Comments From You

Ellie // Posted 11 March 2011 at 10:16 am

I’m no expert on human rights, and perhaps this is just an issue of people being pedantic, but I was under the impression that in human rights law, for something to be a violation of human rights, it must be conducted by an agent of the state (like a police officer, or a soldier) *and* on behalf of the state (i.e. ordered by the state). If this is the case, then the exclusion of VAW as a violation of women’s human rights might be simply because there are already other human rights standards that prohibit such violence by the state, such as those outlawing torture and inhuman/degrading treatment/punishment, which apply (in theory at least) to men and women equally. In which case, VAW conducted by ‘non-state actors’ (i.e. anyone else) is not a human rights violation. I think the counter argument is that the state has a duty to protect its citizens from violence, but I’m not sure that makes VAW a human rights *violation* – certainly it is “a serious obstacle for women’s enjoyment of human rights” because it impedes women’s ability to enjoy their right to life, to health, to bodily integrity etc. Is this just a petty distinction? I don’t know.

Lindsey // Posted 11 March 2011 at 11:48 am

Wow – way to shame women out of standing up for their rights. Looks like we’ll still be needing IWD in another 100 years :(

Denise // Posted 11 March 2011 at 12:42 pm

Ellie, yes. It is a petty distinction.

With knobs on.

Ellie // Posted 11 March 2011 at 6:57 pm

@Denise – I think I agree with you that it is petty.

But – if I am right about the legal definition of what a human right is and who can violate that right (in my previous comment) then as feminists we are faced with a choice of either

1. redefining human rights and therefore who can violate them; or

2. not using the language or mechanisms of ‘human rights’ to discuss and tackle VAW.

(This is off topic but) to me it sometimes seems as if the language of ‘human rights’ (which I think, on the whole, are a good thing) has taken over the way we talk about how we should treat each other. Which frustrates me a bit because there are other ways of framing those types of discussions.

Denise // Posted 12 March 2011 at 11:44 am

Hi Ellie,

Just remembered, I think Eleanor Roosevelt said the perfect defining thing about human rights: “Human rights begin in small places. Close to home.” (or something like that).

So that would cover everything, including, say, a family denying a daughter her human right to choose how she wanted to live her own life.

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