By Gershom Ndhlovu
The celebration of international women’s day a few days ago should spur the nation into reflecting how it treats, or more appropriately how it mistreats women, over mundane issues such as dressing in the name of “culture”.
It is always saddening to read of women stripped naked by criminal elements whose behaviour is fuelled by boredom for want of some mind-engaging activities lurking at bus stops and other public places whose occupation is to look out for those wearing mini-skirts.
It is even sadder to read in some instances that even policewomen witnessing such degrading acts egg on the thugs to strip the women. I have also heard a few songs with lyrics like “Azimai mukovala bwino” which just encourage such uncouth behaviour.
I would like to contend that those who manhandle women for the way they dress misunderstand culture which, in my view, is dynamic.
As James Lull writes in the book Media and Cultural Theory edited by James Curran and David Morley, “Cultural changes that appear on the human body are not just cosmetic; they disrupt tradition, open up cultural options, and eventually create new cultural norms and social practices.”
Culture in Zambia is reduced to traditional ceremonies such as those held by various chiefs, issues of chisungu and other rites of passage observed by some tribal groups and, surprisingly, how women dress. Culture, on the contrary, is a whole way of life such as everyday practices, values and norms of one group of people that separates it from another group.
Culture is not enforced by stripping naked women wearing mini-skirts and in the same vein, not everyone who wears a mini-skirt is a hule. The majority of those are decent and well-respected women whose only crime is trying to enhance their appearance.
I am not advocating for nudity in the way people dress or how they do not dress, but Zambian society should ask itself why it should be alright for men to pass water against a tree or a wall right in Kulima Tower while it should be wrong for a woman wearing a mini-skirt to walk through the same place. Who doesn’t know how minibus drivers and conductors high on cheap spirits pass water anyhow, even behind loaded buses?
Sista D, performing at the International Women’s Day at Freedom Statute praised government for stiffening the law against defilers warning about “25 years kudya beans yowola”. The same government should strengthen the law against whoever lays a hand on a woman without provocation but by simply the way she dresses.
American musician Tracy Chapman, in one of her songs questions why a woman should not be safe in her home where she is battered daily. Sadly she is not safe even on Zambian streets where just the way of dressing provokes the ire of criminal elements and other fellow women who do not know the other cultural side of things.
I believe that a nation’s level of civilization is measured by the way it treats its women even more so by respecting them for their choice of dress. It is only the savage minded that have mental pictures of sex whenever they see a woman wearing a mini-skirt.
Equally wrong is justifying rape on the basis of the victim’s dress.
Instead of policing the way women dress, people should divert their “cultural” instincts into higher faculties such as literature and drama if they want to capture the romantic way in which their ancestors lived in the past so that the young can appreciate it as they carry on with their own life.
After all, this is the generation that is fed on the menu of soaps and sitcoms of all sorts on both Zambian and satellite TV channels that are literary accessed by almost every household. Mini-skirts in those soaps and sitcoms are the norm. I think there is need for a “culture” reality check in the nation so that mini-skirts stop bothering people.
For reasons of time and space, I could not attend presidential aspirant Professor Clive Chirwa’s talk at the London School of Economics and Politics entitled “The Strategic Plan: Zambia in the 21st Century” but according to those that were in attendance, it appears he has what it takes to take the country to higher heights.
I have been promised a copy of Chirwa’s speech which he gave last Friday and from the account of the attendees, it is like the man has won disciples who are now convinced about his dream for the country.
Indeed, Zambia had a teacher for president in Dr Kenneth Kaunda who developed the education infrastructure during his tenure, a trade unionist in Dr Frederick Chiluba who consolidated multi-party democracy and a lawyer in Dr Levy Mwanawasa whose constitution the nation is yet to see to judge him on his legal credentials.
For the next generation of leaders, if PF president Michael Sata is grouped among the first three, the choice is between UPND president Hakainde Hichilema with his business and economic background, and Chirwa with impeccable credentials in his engineering background.
He boasts of being the only Zambian to have addressed the politically powerful senate in the US, chairing some sub-committee of the European Union and being advisor to the UK government’s transport secretary Ruth Kelly.
According to those who attended the talk, Chirwa told them that his name is now known in remote villages where even children are talking about him like they did of the MMD in 1990/91 when they raised the MMD symbol as people from the towns drove by which made one to conclude at the time that Kaunda and UNIP had no chance.
However, Chirwa has to win over the MMD lot whose top leadership is yet to accept him and allow him contest the party president at the convention which should be held towards the end of 2010 for him to beat the three year membership requirement before he goes for the party presidency.
Chirwa could not discuss his plan B because he is confident the MMD would give chance when the time comes.