Zimbabwe: legalising sex work would curb abuse against women

Date: November 15, 2012
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Name of the story: Women protest against loitering arrests

Name of publication: The Herald

Name of journalist: Wenceslaus Murape

Date: 18 July 2012

Country: Zimbabwe

Theme: Sex work, justice system, gender violence

Skills: Perspective, sources

Genre: Features

Gem classification: Gender blind

This media highlight provides a gender analysis of a Zimbabwean news story published by The Herald online. The article reports about a protest staged by women activists following the arrest by police of some women believed to be sex workers. According to the story, the police are charging the arrested women of loitering.

The headline is relevant and mirrors the content of the story. The headline shows some agency by women acts they view are unjustifiable. Further, the headline compels a reader who is not aware of the issue to read more – it does not pre-empt the article.

The article uses three primary and two secondary sources. The story uses two female sources, a male source, a constitution and petition presented by women protesters.

Nevertheless, the reporter could have had an in-depth interview with Cleopatra Ndlovu to comment on women’s rights, law and sex work in Zimbabwe. The reporter could have also found another source who is knowledgeable on the issue to give a comment as well.

The article is not consistent in either using gender aware or gender blind language. For instance, in the beginning of the article the writer uses “spokesperson” while “spokesman” is used towards the end of the piece. Further, the article also uses prostitutes as opposed to sex workers. The term prostitute is derogatory and it dehumanises people practicing it.

However, the, the tone in the article expresses women’s dissatisfaction with the conduct of police.

Story angle and perspective
Overall, the article is about the protest by women activists against the police conduct. The activists argue that this is unlawful and infringes on women’s rights to “movement, association and enjoyment”.
However, the article overlooks what could have been the gist of the article – law and sex work in Zimbabwe. According to the article, the Harare provincial police spokesperson is quoted saying “that unless prostitution [sex work] was legalised, arrests of the women would continue”. The police are using the law as a basis for their action. This means that legalising sex work would help to safeguard women’s fundamental human rights. Human rights activists globally advocate that sex work should be legalised and Zimbabwe is no exception. The reporter could have therefore interviewed a local human rights activist to comment on a need to legalise sex work in the country. To concretise the suggested experts’ comments, the reporter could have also quoted international human rights instruments that advocate for legalisation of sex work. Such an approach approach would ultimately set public debate on the issue.

Considering that legalising sex work would take some time, the reporter could have asked expert sources on how this issue should be dealt with to ensure that women’s rights are not violated even in the absence of the law. Further, the reporter could have quizzed the police spokesperson to substantiate his claims that the police are not only targeting women but men as well.

However, the article uses some vernacular terms that degrade female sex workers and unmarried. For instance, the article reports that people called police’s action of targeting sex workers Chipo Chiroowa, Chengetedza Hunhu and Dyikira Bonus Kumba. These terms suggest that a woman earns societal respect if she is married, sex work is a disrespectful act and that men who pay for sex, spend their money on worthless “things”. This is an “insult” to single women and sex workers. To begin with, some women choose to stay unmarried and people ought to accord them an equal respect as they do to married women. Secondly, sex work is a choice and a profession. People should therefore learn to respect other people’s rights and choices and not call them all sorts of names.

Training exercises
– Write a feature story and highlight the plight of sex workers. In the article argue why sex work must be legalised.
– Apart from prostitution, list five other derogatory terms and their gender sensitive alternatives

Other training resources
Human rights are for everyone: why sex work should be decriminalised
Making the streets a safer workplace
We need to legalise sex work



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