Refusing sexual advances roadblock to dreams

Refusing sexual advances roadblock to dreams

Date: December 1, 2011
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Every time I heard a woman my age talk about sexual harassment of any sort, I thought they were weak, even gullible. Until it happened to me.

I am a 30-year old woman full of dreams, inspirations and aspiration. An entrepreneur, although lacking any financial sponsor. One Monday morning, I sat on my bed cracking my head on how to get my business up and running. I am an upcoming writer, which is quite a difficult business to start up in my country. But that is what I know and love best.

While I was busy thinking, the television happened to run an advertisement. The government was calling for youths who would like to start up a business to apply for loans. I jumped at the opportunity, rushing to the government offices to pick up the relevant forms to submit. I wanted them to get a feel for my work, so I even made a copy of each of my titles for he or she to read through.

The government official was in fact a “he'” in a senior position. I submitted my application and went back home with a huge smile on my face. “Yes. This is it!'” Not only was I going to be self-employed, I would also create job opportunities for my fellow youths.

That very same evening I received a surprise call; the “big government man” introduced himself and invited me to a morning meeting. I was excited, and agreed immediately. I tossed and turned all night anxiously waiting for morning to dawn.

In high spirits, the next morning I arrived on time. He was a little late, but when he arrived, he greeted me as if he had known me for ages, and that made me feel comfortable.

“Ah Agatha, I’m glad you are here. Please come through, we’ll finish off from where we left off,” his words slipped easily from a smile that was equally pleasant and welcoming. He led me into his office. As his secretary went off to organise tea for him, he mentioned that the previous night he had been drinking whisky. “Do you drink Agatha?” he asked me.

“I do, but only once in a blue moon,” I answered.

He laughed and asked if Friday would be that “once in a blue moon.” I said would think about it, but the question made me uncomfortable and my palms began to sweat. I think he noticed because he quickly changed the subject and began to ask me about the challenges facing a young female writer with no income.

I relaxed once again, and explained about the struggle to even pay the business centre to type my work. He asked me then, if a laptop would make it easier for me to do my work? I smiled, because that is indeed a most important tool for me.

“You see, if you are good to me, I can even give you a personal loan, a free laptop and printer to start you up. Why must a beautiful girl like you struggle, you are money from head to toe, you just don’t know how to go about things. I can easily give it to you. But how do I know that I am investing in you?” he asked.

“I think if you finish reading all my publications then you will see for yourself,” I answered.

He laughed. “It is rare to see a combination of beauty and brains. I am going to help you Agatha. People like you need our support. But you are a writer, yet you have never even sent me a text? You have my cell phone number, the one I called you on yesterday. All I need is an SMS, let me have it before lunch.”

I left soon after. I sat in the library that morning, thinking and wondering what to write to a man I barely knew and whose intentions I was unsure of. By lunchtime, I wrote a message of appreciation. He wrote back telling me I had made a wise choice and he would call me later on. He did not call, but sent me airtime of value way beyond what I would buy for myself.

The following morning he called to ask if I was going to the youth indaba taking place the coming Saturday. He was travelling to the area, so he said we could go together. I knew that I was not going to accept, but I told him I would think about it.

By lunchtime, he called again and asked where I was. When I said I was at the library, he told me to go to the parking lot. He was there, and simply said “Hello” and handed me an envelope before driving off. Before I reached the library doors, my phone rang again. “That is for your transport money on Saturday, go with a taxi and pay at the lodge, I will find you there.”

Still shocked, I finally laughed to myself. I knew I wasn’t going.

He called me first thing Monday morning. This time I was ready for him and my patience was running thin. I carried the money he had given me. My documents for the loan application were still untouched on his table and when I had asked about them, his answered he did not want to send them to the accounts department because people there are very careless, they would lose it unless he took them personally.

He wasn’t happy. “You have a lot of explaining to do, but before you do, you owe me an apology. Come here,” he said.

I didn’t move. “I’m sorry, Sir, something came up. I had no one to leave my children with, the person who I thought would look after them also had a programme on Saturday.” He knew from our previous conversations that I was a single mother.

“You don’t want me to come there or it will be double,” he said. Although I was still seated not knowing exactly what I was supposed to do or say, I understood the threat and even though I didn’t want to make him feel bad or angry, I knew I didn’t want whatever he was asking for.

From there, he decided to use force. I didn’t scream, but was able to push him so he almost fell over backwards. Somehow, I retrieved my jacket, straightened my hair and opened the door leaving the packet of money on his table.

Days later, I received a text message saying he had given my papers to the procurement officer who would soon call me so that I could go and collect the laptop and the money I had left. I didn’t dare to.

Needless to say, a few months down the line, no loan given, no business, and no new employment opportunities still. That is a woman’s struggle, to get there, to get what is deservingly theirs.

* not her real name. Chuundu Malele is 51-year old freelance Zambian writer, creative and social commentary, still moved by injustice and stuck with the ideal that in the end the good guys do win.. This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the GL Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.



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