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Safety of women and girls in the public- sex races unearthed

Friday, May 12, 2017 - 11:12

They have termed the act "Sex Race”. It resembles “Sodom and Gomora” in the bible and is unbelievably happening in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town out of Harare in Zimbabwe. In a preposterous performance which involves children, mostly teenagers, some boys and girls from Chitungwiza are at the centre of a sex scandal taking place in what they have dubbed “Sex Races” which happen in what are called “Drug houses”.  The children who will be intoxicated with drugs, literally engage in a “Sex Race” in open day light in groups.  A boy who is able to withstand having sex with many girls at one given time wins the competition and is given another girl for yet another round. Their objective has been described by many disgusted and shocked community members as that of having “fun”.

Community volunteers supported by Students and Youth Working on Reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT) and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) with support from ActionAid in a campaign seeking to end violence against women and girls in public spaces discovered the Sex Races in Chitungwiza. The volunteers engaged the local police who shut down some of the “Sex Race” houses which violated children’s rights.  Some of the children were coerced into the absurd act by fellow girls and boys. SAYWHAT and ZWLA are ActionAid partners implementing a project called She Can, whose focus is to fight violence against women in public spaces. 

ActionAid Zimbabwe is spearheading the Safe Cities Campaign Programme together with the Safe Cities Campaign Network of Zimbabwe (SCCNZ) which comprises various organizations. The campaign is aimed at making women and girls aware that the violence they experience in public spaces is a violation of human rights and change the attitude of boys and men to treat women and girls with respect and dignity and protect women and girls from violence in public spaces.  The She Can project is part of the broader Safe Cities Campaign. SAYWAHT and ZWLA are working with 58 and 48 volunteers respectively most of whom are women in spearheading the Safe Cities Campaign in Chitungwiza.

Nelly Nyamadi (23), one of the community volunteers working in Zengeza 3, Chitungwiza explained, “In my area in Zengeza 2 and 4, there were two houses where sex races were taking place. The owner of one of the houses rented out a room to young people who, under the influence of drugs, engaged in sex races. The owner of the other house was said to be out of the country and the children who had been left in charge were running the sex race activities. During our community awareness meetings attended by the Chitungwiza Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and other stakeholders such as councillors, we highlighted the need to close the “sex race and drug” houses. The ZRP has since closed the two houses following an arrest of the children and adults involved in the scandal. Our streets were no longer safe as girls were now afraid of moving around in the public for fear of being recruited into the sex games. There is however need for the ZRP to continue monitoring the area as opening of other “sex race places” can be sporadic. I am concerned and worried that although the Police have been closing some of the drug houses, new places are continuously being opened up for drug dealing and sex races.”

The ZRP Chitungwiza confirmed the existence of the “sex races” and continues to work with the community volunteers and other stakeholders in ending such unorthodox happenings in Chitungwiza.

In addition to halting the deplorable sex scandals in Chitungwiza, volunteers such as Nelly have been working with communities, educating them on the importance of women and girls’ rights to move freely and safely on the streets, without experiencing violence as well as how accessing  gender responsive public services reduces their vulnerability to violence in the public arena. Nelly works with eight other volunteers in Zengeza 3.

It was very hard for a young woman like me to move around freely in the streets of Chitungwiza especially when one is wearing tight fitting jeans. Sometimes I would change a route to avoid certain corners. I would also carry a wrap-around to move about in Chitungwiza and only to take it off when I arrive in Harare city centre were the unwelcome comments were less, said Nelly.

Nelly has been trained by SAYWHAT on her rights, including the right to wear what she wants and move freely without being harassed. “I have reached out to about 400 boys, girls and young men and women in my community. Some of the men who mocked women in the streets are no longer doing that. Some of the men now know that they can be arrested for abusing women in public spaces. However there are some men who still require education.”