Where are we as Zimbabwean women and girls are forced into prostitution?

By Betty Makoni

I had spent the  whole day(Thursday 20 December, 2012) without  going to my Facebook page and before I retired to bed I thought I could just check in case there is an urgent case needing my online advice as I get 15 to 20 such messages daily and especially from women in Zimbabwe and parts of Africa. Much to my horror a Zimbabwean man had posted on my Facebook wall a video (Source: Nehanda Radio) of a woman deported from UK and then died in a prison in Kenya under unclear circumstances.

As Deliwe Nyamandi`s picture got closer into my eyes and mind, I just thought deeply how we could have saved her life if only we had talked to UK government on a full rehabilitation program we could put her on and provide just basics for her to be home and restart her life. I am fully aware there are such programs to reskill immigrants with hope to rehabilitate them back to their countries. Reskilling failed asylum seekers and financing their resettlement could be a huge investment especially for women because they would not be deported to do prostitution which can lead to trafficking.  My feeling is that of all the women I know,  none of them wants to be a criminal or prostitute. Economic deprivation is a war against these women and they fight it back with whatever means available. The war may not have obvious guns or bullets we see or it may not be as physical as a storm or Tsunami killing millions in New York or Japan or Indonesia but daily women who are poor are in an endless symbolic economic war, tsunami, flood and  earthquake  to survive and many a times they lose their lives. Food for thought!!!

One does not need to do an expensive and sophisticated `Needs Assessment` with thousands of US dollars to  be convinced about  the poverty and pain of women in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa and some parts of the world. It is right in our eyes, ears and mouths. We know it and see it as well as talk about it. What is left is to do something practical to transform victims of poverty into women and girls with their own ‘empowerment handbags’.  A passionate donor or development worker needs just two days at a funeral in Mbare (a poor high density suburb in Zimbabwe) and be with young women and men who attended Deliwe Nyamandi`s funeral to see what economic deprivation and poverty can do to a people. Sometimes, we development workers and donors do our needs assessments at wrong time, wrong place and with wrong people and no wonder we miss addressing some root causes of poverty like shown in the video of  funeral of Deliwe Nyamandi, a Zimbabwean woman deported from UK and later died in unclear circumstances in Kenya.

The funeral of Mbare socialite Deliwe Nyamandi   invites us all to put our heads together. Her body came to Mbare one of the poorest high density suburbs in Zimbabwe for burial and its final resting place as a reminder of what we can do to help women come out of poverty. She went to UK with nothing and came back to Zimbabwe with nothing-not as lucky as many others I meet daily whose lives were transformed by UK. Her body lay in a small open truck with a little artificial flower on the coffin. Mourners included young women who were all drunk and openly sang and shouted they were prostitutes and for a dollar they could give a man a full package of sex. This is unusual at funerals where people are much more serious and in deep mourning. Infact not that many would be in  state of drunken behaviour because men are the ones who drink the most at funerals but again their behaviour remains under control. I think this level of drunken behaviour and use of   pornographic language and dance points to a much deeper crisis where poverty and violence are root causes. It is a situation that shows deprivation   that many choose to ignore and dismiss. When there are so clear indicators of something gone wrong   the women are quick to be labelled loose without hearing their side of the story. But they are in huge numbers which is something that we should quickly think and act on. A much deeper and critical analysis brings a sad reality of what economic deprivation can do to a woman.  The young women have lost dignity of their bodies. They are angry at society. They are angry at having no income and jobs. They are angry at their friend Deliwe dying in such gruesome circumstances. They are angry at injustices they cannot speak about. To show anger they sing many songs all night in a vigil for Deliwe. They dance their anger out. They drink and take all sorts of dangerous drugs and substances. The men too are equally affected. The funeral resembles Sodom and Gomorrah in the bible and no one cares about being naked, drunk and reckless with life. It seems if one loses everything to survive and all they have is sex and beer then so what.

Honestly, my question should be heard by someone or anyone with a project or funding addressing poverty.  I am writing to those who work to end poverty in the world to look at funeral of Deliwe Nyamandi video and her friends who came to say goodbye to her. The video is not somewhat quality in terms of pictures but it is definitely  quality in terms of content we need to know about how poverty has reduced many women into prostitutes and victims of all forms of violence.

My question has been asked before and it is a repetition in the ears and eyes of many. Where are we when women are going through such pain, poverty and persecution? This is the very society expected to protect them. When things go to this level we must all put our heads together and save humanity. Chinua Achebe once wrote that things fall apart and the centre holds no more. Today  his words speak to Zimbabwean women`s situation and   I write that  some Zimbabwean women  have fallen into pieces and where are we to put the small pieces together? Where are we?  Please note, ‘We’ refers here to anyone with more than they need in Zimbabwe. ‘We’ refers to our leaders, donors, UN Women and us all who work with women and girls.  ‘We’ refers to every Zimbabwean who can help from wherever they are. I have used ‘We ‘   because I am including myself and everyone who can help.

On reflection I asked myself where are we those who claim to work in development work. Where do we do our needs assessments when we do not attend events like this to listen and see for ourselves and spend nights with such vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of women whose shout for help is clearly shown by their faces and bodies so used up in prostitution? Where are we doing our needs assessments? It is when we go and sit down with a small group of girls and women and ask with some questionnaires that we miss the real stories as often our results are predetermined. Do we get to spend time at their greatest times of need like funerals like this?

The video below would have someone who is big and at policy level in government or UN Women in Zimbabwe declare such a situation a state of emergency. This video presents us all an opportunity to channel resources to creating jobs, vocational training centres, drug and substance abuse counseling centres and some economic rehabilitation programs. Even all prostitutes I grew up with  in same neighborhood  in Zimbabwe while I was a little girl,  never shouted out so openly that they are prostitutes-it was a taboo. Ironically these are the new voices speaking against poverty. Why is it we are taking  so long to hear them and  come to their rescue?

Where are we women leaders as our continent sinks with poverty stricken women like this?

Please watch video here and mind you it is in local language Shona but am so sure those who do not speak Shona just from what is happening here you can easily relate: Sourhttp://nehandaradio.com/2012/12/20/video-bizarre-funeral-for-deliwe-nyamandi/ce Nehanda Radio

Also related to this news read:

Zimbabwean woman deported by five countries dies in Kenya