POLICE in Harare have embarked on a blitz arresting women in bars and night spots, accusing them of engaging in prostitution, a move roundly condemned by women and human rights organisations.
For the past two weeks, female dancers and patrons in bars have been arrested and fined by the police in the capital. Popular raunchy dancer, Beverly Sibanda, on Friday said the police were causing mayhem in the bars.
“Two weeks ago when I performed at City Sports Bar, I was confronted by four police officers as I walked out of the bar after my show,” said Beverly.
“They told me I had been arrested and I asked them what they were charging me for and they simply said there was an operation.”
Beverly added: “They only left me and my group when we forcibly got into our car but they went away with almost 10 other women they had taken out of the bar.”
Beverly condemned the police’s act. “What they are doing is wrong because they are discriminating against women. It is not a crime in Zimbabwe to be a female in a bar at night,” she said.
“Even if this was aimed at curbing prostitution, there are many other issues that need to be addressed before they can start persecuting people. After all, not every woman in a bar is a prostitute.”
Feminist activist, Everjoice Win, said even if the operation was to rid Harare of prostitution, it still bordered on infringement of rights as those involved in the act, made conscious choices. “Sex work is work so why eradicate it,” Win said.
“Those people did their maths and economic analysis. Some have day-time jobs and they have reasons why they have to take up sex work as a second job.”
She said the arrests emanated from the misconception that these were young, unemployed girls going astray, yet they were talking about adults who have the capacity to make their own choices.
Win, formerly a Commonwealth advisor to the Commission on Gender Equality, said women were entitled to freedom of movement and association just like men. She said women should be allowed to choose their economic life without any hindrances.
Women’s Action Group (WAG) executive director, Edinah Masiyiwa, said the blitz was derailing progress the country had made towards gender equality. “Gender inequality is what necessitated the birth of WAG because women were being denied their freedom of movement and association,” Masiyiwa said.
“We are still researching on this issue to try and understand what really transpired but if it is true that they were indiscriminately arresting women in bars, then that negates the progress we had made in the area of gender equality.
She added: “Women too have a right to access bars.” Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) programmes manager, Dzimbabwe Chimbga, said the organisation last Tuesday represented 17 women who were randomly arrested as part of the operation.
“The women were randomly picked up and accused of being ladies of the night,” he said. “The court released them on bail. But we are saying the law should not be blind to people’s rights and freedoms.”
Chimbga said women have a right “to be at any bar they so wish to be at and of course at any time of the day, be it in the morning, afternoon, evening and even at night.”
He urged the police to stop the operation forthwith saying they should only intervene when a crime has been or is about to be committed.
Arrests only after surveillance: Sabau
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.”