During a public rally in Mberengwa, Zimbabwe recently, First Lady Grace Mugabe told thousands of Zanu PF party supporters that women who choose to wear miniskirts are to blame if they’re raped. During the public rally last week she stated, “If you walk around wearing miniskirts displaying your thighs and inviting men to drool over you, then you want to complain when you have been raped? It’s unfortunate because it will be your fault.” First Lady Mugabe then went on to suggest that women have a choice in determining their fate by wearing longer dresses and pants as a preventative measure because miniskirts are “signs of moral decadence in our country.”
There has been an increase in rape cases in Zimbabwe. According to statistics obtained by the National AIDS Council, an average of 392 female juveniles were sexually abused monthly in 2014, translating to an average of 13 girls having been raped daily. Considering the serious problem that sexual assault is in Zimbabwe, the First Lady’s remarks have received both widespread criticism, and in some cases, praise.
Can you imagine how this shifts the male perspective on rape in that country considering such dangerous rhetoric is coming from the wife of Zimbabwe’s president? It takes away the attention from the perpetrators and places blame on the victims, once again.
When it comes to women’s rights issues and campaigns, many organizations and foundations often partner with women who have far reach (such as Angelina Jolie, First Lady Michelle Obama or actress Emma Watson) to be the voice for women who otherwise we would never know of or hear. With that in mind, the First Lady’s remarks were extremely problematic because, as a respected figure in Zimbabwe, she could have certainly used her voice to promote and uplift women and to call out their attackers. But instead, she turned to victim blaming and defended those abusers. The message she gave was that it’s not okay for men to rape women, but can you blame them if all they wear are short skirts?
We as women tend to be our own worst enemy and worst critics when it comes to addressing some very important issues, and that includes domestic violence and sexual assault. We stand divided on so many things it’s no wonder there is skepticism about our credibility when it comes time to stand up and fight. Victim blaming is an all-too-common response to rape. This is especially true in parts of Africa with larger populations, few anti-rape laws, and where things can get so bad, that even the president is considering castrating offenders. It was very disappointing to hear such a comment made by such a prominent woman. Especially when full clothing isn’t keeping sick men from teaming up to rape 9-year-olds.
So shame on First Lady Mugabe, a woman who could at any moment change or have a huge part in improving the treatment of women in that country. Instead of doing so, she took the low road and made them into targets to be victims once more. If we can’t stand by each other, then who will?