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Plight of drinking women at hands of police

Mary Shumba frequents bars during weekends and was recently arrested in the company of her husband for “loitering for purposes of prostitution” after the police rounded them up as they were coming out of an upmarket bar.
“Imagine the embarrassment that I had to endure. The police are abusing women in broad daylight and they are getting away with it. Why is it that when a woman is walking under the cover of darkness is labelled a prostitute,” said an angry Shumba.

“Imagine if I was in the company of a male friend and my husband heard that I was arrested for prostitution, what he was going to say?” she questioned.

Another businesswoman, Maud Gweru (44), was also arrested by police as she was talking on her phone outside a prominent bar in the city centre.

“I was waiting for some one outside the bar and the police arrested me for loitering with the intent of prostitution, an old woman like me, its not fair,” said Gweru.

Gweru is now considering legal action against the police.

The cases are just a tip of the ice berg as the police have come under fire from women across the social divide for recklessly arresting women labelling them prostitutes.

Most women, who spoke to NewsDay, said they have shunned going out for drinks in the night for fear of being arrested.

“Some of us are working women, and only have time to have fun during the weekends; we need to refresh after a hectic week and the police pounce on us saying we are ladies of the night, It’s so sad that there is selective use of the law 32 years after independence,” said Emilia Mukaro, a receptionist at a Harare company.

Police in Harare have embarked on a blitz arresting women in bars and night spots, accusing them of engaging in prostitution.

“After I was arrested, one officer demanded sex in exchange of my freedom, I told him point blank that I was not looking for men but was just enjoying like any other patron in the bar. He started to mock me and was only released the next day after being fined,” narrated another victim.

Women said Zimbabwe was still a long way to go in terms of gender equality and in violation human rights.
Gender Trust Director Naomi Chebundo castigated the police and blamed the government for signing laws to protect the women they do not implement. She said: “What the police are doing is unfair as most innocent women find themselves behind bars because of a selective justice system.

Despite the significant progress made in the area of policy and legislation reform, the legal, socio-economic and political status of women remains relatively low, she said.

In the 2011 Human Development Report, Zimbabwe was described as a “highly unequal society”, which is a reflection of the general low status of women in terms of access, control, ownership of economic resources and positions in decision making processes.

“Most women do not exercise the rights that laws specifically guarantee them, among other factors due to ignorance of the law, its administration, economic hardships that make it difficult to pursue their legal rights, cumbersome court procedures, customary laws and fear of breaking valued relations with family kin,” said rights activist Concilia Andonda.

“Zimbabwe ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on the 13th of May 1991 and by doing so agreed to abide by the international standards in improving the rights of women, but this is discrimination at its worst,” she said.

Harare police spokesperson inspector, James Sabau, confirmed that the police have an operation aimed at getting rid of touts, streets kids and prostitutes in an effort to reduce crime in the city.

He however, denied that they were targeting innocent women in bars and night spots insisting that the arrest are made after proper surveillance by police in plain clothes before those in uniform effected the arrest.

“We are not targeting innocent women at random but these arrests are done after proper surveillance,” said Sabau. “If there is a bar owner, where police arrest women inside his or her bar, they should come forward and make a complaint to Officer Commanding Harare so that investigations can be carried out.”

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