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research is my lived experience: Presentation by Catherine Makoni
March 06, 2010
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Women's Day commemorations at the National Gallery in Harare
on March 6 featured a panel discussion: Moral and/or pleasure?
Women, media and the creation of discourse on sexuality. One
of the discussants on the panel was Catherine
Makoni. Last year, her article Women
as vectors of disease: The problem with ill-thought campaigns
generated a lot of controversy on the Kubatana
blog. One comment challenged her criticism of the PSI
"small house" campaign on HIV and AIDS, accusing her
of responding based on her feelings, not her analysis. This person
claimed her position was based on assumption, not research. But
Catherine firmly believes that this campaign violates the principle
of "do no harm," and she used her presentation to explain
why she believes this so firmly. Some of her thoughts from this
presentation are transcribed below.
For me, being
a woman, I have certain lived experiences and lived realities. When
I was born, coming as the fifth daughter in a family of five daughters
and two sons, the sons come after me. So you know the story -
my family was looking for boys. The talk then was that we were supposed
to grow up to be mahure. I guess that's why I have
a strong feeling when it comes to the word hure -
whore, prostitute. The pressure on my father was that we should
not be educated, because women will grow up to be mahure,
so it's a waste of money to educate a female child. I'm talking
about stereotypes. But my mother is a strong woman, and my parents
made sure that I got educated.
Fast forward a number
of years. I'm in Form 6, A level. We are choosing our courses
for university. I get a lecture from my teachers because I've
chosen Law. They tell me I won't pass English - because
I'm black - and so I won't get the points I need
to get into Law. But, me being me, I said I want to do Law. A couple
of weeks down the line I am still determined to do law, and I get
another talking to by a teacher. Law is a very difficult choice,
she tells me, for a lot of women. A lot of girls who do Law fail.
And, even if you do pass, you won't get married. Girls who
do Law are not well perceived, and if you do Law, you're shooting
your chances of getting married in the foot.
But I go to
University, and I do Law. By the third year of University (Law is
four years) there is enormous pressure on me to have a boyfriend.
Sure, I'm doing Law, but there is immense pressure on me to
get married. In third and fourth year you get a lot of girls falling
pregnant, in the hopes of securing someone to marry them. So third
year, fourth year you have a lot of pregnancies. Why? Because you
need to be sure that before you leave university you have someone
to marry you, otherwise you'll be a failure, never mind that
you have honours and a first class degree. I'm talking about
stereotypes, and gender roles, and expectations, and how these are
drummed into us from birth.
I finished university
and I was looking for a job. I was young, female, and black and
inexperienced - talk about the intersection of gender and
age and race. I'm approaching established law firms in Harare,
and one senior lawyer says do you know a junior lawyer who's
just finished university who's looking for a job? But I don't
want a woman, he tells me - they'll just get married and fall
pregnant and go on maternity leave.
a few years and I start dealing with gender based violence. My friend,
who is a lawyer, has not been able to leave her abusive marriage.
It's like the prophecy is coming true. We were told not to
study law, because you're giving yourself all these airs and
what man is going to tolerate you? So she's done everything.
She's cut her hair, she's worn long clothes, she's
worn oversized dresses, so that she doesn't look too attractive,
and make her husband insecure. So 14 years later she's in
an abusive relationship, and her husband says "You think you
are a lawyer. I'm going to beat you, and I want to see what
you do with your law degree." Her mother says "Why don't
you give him his proper place. He wants to be head of the family.
Give him his proper place. You should know you are a woman. Don't
talk about work at home."
At the Magistrate's
Court where maintenance cases are dealt with, you have to listen
to a man asking a woman: "Madam, does a child eat 2 kgs of
sugar in a month? Why are you claiming 5kgs of meat for this 2 year
old? You are just after this man's money. You want to spend
this man's money with your boyfriend. Look at you. Your hair
is nicely done. Where are you getting this money?" 2 kgs of
sugar costs a dollar. But you spend an hour arguing with a lawyer
and a magistrate trying to convince them that this man should maintain
the child. Why? Because of the perception that women are after men's
money - that women are mahure, whores, prostitutes.
confronted with this campaign, which says your small house is after
your money. For someone like me, who has had to fight to change
the perception that women are after men's money, that women
are whores, prostitutes, bitches, to see a campaign that builds
on that and validates those stereotypes, I have a problem. So if
I feel a bit strongly about this, it is from my lived reality.
So to my friend
who asks me what research did I do? My answer is I lived it. I live
it on a daily basis. I live it when I see the police attacking and
harassing and rounding up women for walking in the Avenues, because
they assume that every woman who is out at night ihure,
she's a prostitute. What are you doing? A decent woman is
with her husband, at home. We're talking about stereotypes.
I remember about
11 years ago, I'd just come out of the salon. It was around
6pm. Some man approaches me and tries to chat me up. I ignored him,
and he lays into me. He starts beating me up, opposite the UN building
on Union Avenue. I got attacked, and people stood by. There were
people looking out of their windows in the UN building while I was
being attacked. Eventually this guy got tired and walked off, and
someone said to me "What did you do to him?" I said
I didn't do anything. The guy was shouting uri hure,
and I suppose pretending that I was his girlfriend. The people who
heard what he was saying thought, well, she's his girlfriend.
She's done something, so this is okay. I asked them why didn't
you come to my aid. And they said, well, we thought you were his
girlfriend. We have a culture which says it's okay to beat
up a woman. If she's your girlfriend, then it's alright
to do it - especially if you think ihure, or she's
There are infinitely
harmful ways in which these things play out. The imagery of this
PSI campaign sticks in our heads. It sticks in the heads of the
police, the magistrate, the teachers who teach our daughters, that
man who's walking out there, the editors, everyone. What it's
saying is yes, you are right to hold these beliefs. You are right
to think that women who do not conform to societal expectations
of what is right are a problem.
From an HIV perspective,
the problem is having sex without protection. The message should
be about making sexual interactions safe. But I don't get
that message when I see the imagery of this campaign.
are dangerous. If my father had listened to his relatives and the
society at the time, I would not be here. If I had listened to my
teachers who said you still need to get married after you do your
degree, I would not be here. As we do our campaigns, first do no
harm. Let's not use the media in a way that entrenches discrimination,
on whatever basis - gender, sexuality, race, or age.
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