Mugabe’s comments linking women in short skirts with rape, stir up a storm
CONTROVERSIAL comments made by Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe have sparked an outcry among gender activists after she said women who wear short skirts are inviting men to rape them. The activists, some of whom work with victims of sexual abuse, believe the comments will deter victims from reporting their cases for fear of being held responsible.
With 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children kicking off today, the activists have appealed for more women to report incidents of rape and gender-based violence.
Mugabe, 50, made her comments in Shona to thousands of supporters at a rally in Mberengwa, southern Zimbabwe on Saturday.
“If you walk around wearing miniskirts displaying your thighs and inviting men to drool over you, then you want to complain when you have been raped?
“That is unfortunate because it will be your fault,” she said.
Businesswoman Andy Kawa, who launched the Kwanele! Enuf is Enuf organisation and campaign to address rape and sexual violence after she was raped on Kings Beach in Port Elizabeth in 2010, said Mugabe’s comments were appalling.
“It is appalling for any woman to suggest that this is an invitation for gender-based violence,” she said.
“It is also appalling for any man to suggest this.
“I believe comments like this add to the stigma that victims of rape and abuse are somehow to blame.
“In my case, I was walking on the beach at 2.30pm and people have actually asked why I was walking on the beach at that time, as if I am to blame.
“I believe this stops many women from coming forward because they think society will blame them.
“They also have no confidence in the justice system,” Kawa said.
In March, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko said only one in every eight rape cases reported in the Eastern Cape led to a conviction, with the remaining cases either sidelined by red tape or thrown out by the courts.
Nhleko said of the 8 512 rapes reported in the Eastern Cape – the highest in the country – only 1 099 resulted in convictions.
Kawa said: “We need more than 16 days. We need 365 days every year where everyone has zero-tolerance for gender-based violence and rape.”
Clinical psychologist Kempie van Rooyen, chairman of the board of trustees at the Port Elizabeth Rape Crisis Centre, said Mugabe’s comments were highly irresponsible for a public figure.
“Rape is a very complex issue but, at the end of the day, you have the victim and the perpetrator,” he said.
“When you assign blame, it should be with the perpetrator and never with the victim for doing any kind of enticing.
“Statements like this reinforce this false belief that rape is OK.”
Provincial police spokeswoman Brigadier Marinda Mills said: “It can never be justified to indicate to victims that their choice of clothing made them responsible for being brutally raped.
“The victim can never and should never be blamed for being raped.”
Women and Men Against Child Abuse Garden Route spokeswoman Joanne Barrett said Mugabe’s comments were not only disgraceful, but also an insult to all women.
“There is absolutely no excuse for rape or any other violence against women and children,” she said.
Garden Route anti-abuse group Green Hearts spokeswoman Yvette Wilschut said the comments were not only ignorant but made women feel guilty.
“With statements like that, you are making women feel rape was their fault and it is definitely not,” she said.
“It also keeps many women from reporting the crime.”
Wilschut said for a president’s wife to say what Grace Mugabe did was counterproductive to all the efforts globally to curb violence against women.
Lisa Vetten, of the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, said Mugabe’s statement would only add to the stigma already faced by victims who believed they were to blame.
“If there are women out there who think they are responsible, this will make it worse and it will encourage others to simply keep quiet,” she said.
Vetten said police only provided figures for reported cases of rape and the actual number of rapes in the country was much higher.
“When they say the number of reported rapes is going down, we have no idea if the number is really going down, or if fewer people are reporting their rapes,” she said.
Residents also had strong views on the issue. Phidi Dube, 21, said: “A rapist is not a phone, you can’t turn him on and off. It is a mental issue that results in one becoming a rapist. It has nothing to do with wearing a short skirt.
“If a rapist wants you, he is going to try to rape you regardless of whether you’re wearing a miniskirt, long dress or jeans.
“I am from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and this is precisely the type of thing we try to get away from by moving to this country.”
While Summerstand resident Kirsten Holland, 26, agreed with Dube, she said short skirts did “kind of invite them in”.
“Don’t get me wrong, I completely disagree with the statement, but there can be no denying you are more likely to attract the attention of a possible abuser if you wear a short skirt.
“But that doesn’t mean you should be raped.
“Today [yesterday] is very hot so I wore a short skirt, but it is simply to keep cool.
“I didn’t put it on with the intention of attracting perverts,” Holland said.
Miramar resident Andrew Wessels, 34, said: “I wouldn’t allow my daughter to wear short dresses for precisely that reason.
“She might think nothing of it, but a lustful man might see it as an invitation.
“The problem is not what she wears, it’s that scumbag’s twisted view of her and society,” he said.
Cotswold father Alan Moore, 28, said society had become desensitised to the act of sex.
“People nowadays think so little about sex and its consequences, and that goes for everyone – sexual offenders and victims,” he said.
“But regardless … revealing clothing is not, and has never been, an invitation for sex.” – Additional reporting by Yolande Stander