“I have witnessed women being sexually harassed at public places such as at bus terminus by men and nothing was done so the government should ensure that the sexual harassment Act also protect women at such places!” lamented a participant in Magunje.
The Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) in collaboration with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), Musasa, Adult Rape Clinic (ARC) and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) with support from the Netherlands Embassy monitored the Parliamentary public hearings on the
Sexual Harassment bill which were held in all the ten provinces from 31 May to 04 June 2021.
The hearings were led by the portfolio committees on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and Women’s Affairs, Gender, Community and Enterprises Development. Women in all their diversity came out in large numbers and aired their contributions to the development of a sexual harassment act. To note is that the hearings were held in a peaceful manner and participants both females and males got ample time to make submissions.
The consortium also noted the need for Parliament to extensively advertise the bill including using local media channels in the target communities to allow for more people to attend and make contributions.
Some of the key contributions made during the hearings include the following:
Need for an all-inclusive and stand-alone sexual harassment act that deals with cases of harassment that take place in both private and public spaces including at the workplace, schools, tertiary institutions, in politics, in queues, boreholes, public transport, vending sites etc.
The need for a clear and broader definition of sexual harassment (SH) and clear punitive measures for perpetrators of both light and grave offences including imprisonment of perpetrators.
The need for the establishment of units that specifically deal with sexual harassment cases only at all police stations countywide.
The Bill should a clause which bars perpetrators of sexual harassment in political parties from ever occupying public office.
The Victim Friendly Units (VFUs) ought to be capacitated and enable them to exercise high levels of confidentiality when dealing with victims of sexual harassment.
The VFU officers must be educated in sign language and braille. Their offices must also be decentralized to rural areas to enable victims to report cases.
The need for capacitation of marginalized areas especially rural and peri-urban areas to be able to deal with sexual harassment, from educating the women about the issue and mainstreaming sexual harassment concentrating on the needs of persons with disabilities (PWDs).
The importance of providing free medical, legal and psychological support to survivors of abuse to enable their re-integration into society without fear of intimidation of discrimination.
Call for stiffer penalties for perpetrators of SH such as dismissal from places of authority as well as arrests, prosecution and incarceration.
The government should make it mandatory for political parties to adopt the Sexual Harassment Act once made into law and ensure all their political party members are made aware of it and the consequences of violating it to ensure the protection of women political activists across the country. Participants also called for clear regulations that protects women candidates throughout the electoral cycle as they are sexually harassed as a means to demotivate them from occupying leadership positions.
The bill must set out rules regarding media coverage of sexual harassment cases and the protection of the identity of the victims so that they are able to continue with their lives after the ordeal.
The consortium applauds the Government for prioritizing the need for a sexual harassment act which if fully put in place will go a long way in protecting women and girls from victimization and enable them to enjoy their rights as stipulated in the constitution. The establishment of a broader and stand-alone sexual harassment act will also help women in politics who have been subjected to abuse and harassment for them to ascend into senior leadership positions.