CHAPTER 3 BEFORE THE BEGINNING: WOMEN’S VULNERABILITY IN VIRGINIA PHIRI’S DESPERATE (2002)
The previous chapter was a review of the literature related to this study. Chapter two discussed the growth of literary theory and criticism in Zimbabwe. It also highlighted the dominant themes in Zimbabwean literature. The chapter identified some gaps in literary theory and criticism in Zimbabwe. These included the fact that the literary terrain in Zimbabwe was earlier on mainly dominated by men who tended to depict women in negative terms, to the detriment of women’s welfare. Women’s literary works were also not adequately integrated into mainstream literature. I also discussed the challenges faced by women in patriarchal societies, emphasizing that there is not sufficient critical discourse devoting to the discussion of how creative art depicts the issues of HIV, AIDS, gender and danger. Since this study focuses on Zimbabwe women writers, it is anticipated that the identified limitations will be resolved, as women narrate their own stories about gender and danger.
This chapter is an analysis of Phiri’s Desperate (2002).The main thrust of the short stories in Desperate is on women who engage in sex work as a survival strategy. Basically, women in Desperate resort to sex not for pleasure, but, as a form of livelihood. These women are forced to engage in sex work in order to meet their basic needs. I, therefore, set out to investigate the socio-economic, political and cultural conditions that drive them into this trade. I also seek to establish the factors that make women vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, although Desperate does not address HIV directly as most of the stories pre-date this theme. This chapter is central to this study as it sets the pace for all the other literary works to be analyzed. Chapter three foregrounds conditions that lead to HIV and AIDS, a theme that runs across all the other literary works analysed in this study. It gives the basis for issues that shape the discourses in the subsequent chapters.
In this chapter, I argue that different circumstances such as poverty force most women to sell sex. Gaidzanwa (1985) utilizes a sociological approach and argues that socio-economic, political and cultural conditions determine the images of women that writers come up with. Schmidt (1992 ) also shares this sociological perspective. She emphasizes the inequalities within African households in a colonial context, and how these shape roles that women and men come to play in society whether this is colonial or postcolonial. McFadden (1992), specifically writing in the context of HIV and AIDS, also subscribes to the view that socio-economic and cultural factors put women in compromised positions:
AIDS cannot be separated from the extreme poverty, lack of resources and the burden of work for women, nor can it be separated from the problems of female subordination, oppression and exploitation through the perpetuation of patriarchal cultures and traditions which underpin most African societies to the present day. (McFadden 1992: 192).
While these theoretical perspectives are important, this chapter notes that there is not necessarily a one to one relationship between social conditions and the images that writers come up with. Because of this, it is important to also evaluate how Phiri uses her own creativity to produce images that can either confirm or interrogate the conditions of its own possibility. Through the use of images, authors are questioning conditions in order to come up with new identities. For example, Tambu in Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988) moves out of poverty and continues to grow in consciousness. She analyses the different female characters in the novel such as Maiguru, her own mother and Nyasha. She then decides what she wants her life to be. There are oppressive conditions in her life but she transcends them.
Through an analysis of the stories in Desperate, this chapter allows one to question whether patriarchal celebrations of African culture are sustainable in the face of HIV. In addition, this chapter helps in the overall evaluation of the portrayal of gender and danger in a world where ‘women and girl-children offer the only material asset they have to trade, their bodies’, (Martin, 2005). As established in chapter one, gender focuses on the socially defined roles for women and men in society. In line with Dube’s views (2003), I argue that the roles played by women and men in society are not gracefully instituted. They can be reformulated to achieve justice. Abused women can be seen claiming agency by rejecting the negative roles they are given and resisting patriarchal dictates (Moyana 2006). When women positively manipulate societal roles that would have otherwise disadvantaged them, this is danger to patriarchy, but good for women. This observation contradicts Gaidzanwa’s perception of danger (1985) and that of Chitauro et al (1994). Gaidzanwa understands ‘danger’ as only a negative force, while Chitauro sees creativity in women who are viewed as ‘dangerous’ by society. For Chitauro et al, to be called ‘danger’ ceases to be an appellation, but a complement for those women who seek to redefine themselves.
Moyana’s (2006) study further contrasts what she describes as passive and assertive women. However, in the ever shifting contexts of HIV and AIDS, women who appear passive may actually be subversive when they chart their own pathways without the advice from men. Similarly, women who appear as resisting patriarchy help others to construct a resistance discourse. However, the same women may display obeisance to patriarchy, particularly when these women feel that the material interests that they were fighting for have been fulfilled. In short, one needs to nuance women’s responses and accept the fact that they come from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. These factors usually shape how women respond to perceived threats. Interestingly, a single woman can display uneven or contradictory responses to HIV and AIDS. When this happens, it shows the complicated nature of the notion of gender and danger. For example, Chitauro et al (1994) talk about women expanding their horizon when they occupy public space and how this threatens patriarchy. A woman who occupies public space is a danger to a male’s conception of what a good woman should be. In this case, goodness is a narrow term which means to be controlled. However, going out of confinement destroys boundaries and there is development. One adapts and discovers new things. This can embody positive danger that promotes women’s empowerment.
Reading Desperate with HIV and AIDS Lenses
Desperate creates the basis of analysis for the next chapter. This literary work does not discuss HIV and AIDS per se but provides the cultural background for all the next chapters which discuss HIV and AIDS. Desperate includes the period before independence and hence the pre-HIV and AIDS era, as well as the HIV and AIDS era. It is a crucial text for understanding the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe. Phiri’s sensitive approach to women sex workers brings out the key factors that drive the epidemic. She has allowed the women to describe their circumstances and shows how various factors in Desperate force women to trade their bodies. This is consistent with research data focusing on vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. According to Weinreich and Benn: Vulnerable for HIV infection are people who, due to limited self-determination in social, sexual and other areas, have an increased risk of HIV infection: women, children, commercial sex workers, homosexuals, young people, drug users, migrants, ethnic minorities and poor people. (2004: 21).
In situations where men have more power than women, women become more vulnerable to HIV. There are also destructive cultural practices that increase vulnerability of both women and men to HIV. One such practice is kugara nhaka (inheritance) where a man inherits the wife of the deceased, and may proceed to have sexual relations with her. In Zimbabwe, such cultural practices continue to be challenged, thereby drawing attention to the need to place emphasis on responsibility rather than the sexual aspect. Women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS has emerged as a critical issue as alluded to by the organisation World Council of Churches:
Economic, social and cultural factors which perpetuate the subordination of women are contributing to the spread of HIV. In many societies the position of women limits their control over their bodies and their power to make decisions about reproduction. Women may be forced into commercial sex work by their own economic situation or that of their families. Faced with overwhelming poverty, a woman who works in a brothel may reason: ‘If I work here I may die in ten years. If I do not, I will die of starvation tomorrow’. (World Council of Churches 1997: 16).
It is against this background that I seek to assess whether the stories in Desperate confirm that women’s entry into the sex industry is mainly out of desperation.
Factors Increasing Women’s Vulnerability to HIV and AIDS
Instead of viewing sex workers and their clients as independent individuals who are free to make choices, and for whom sex is for pleasure, there is need to interrogate some of the factors that force women into the prostitution. Therefore, before analysing the depiction of sex workers in Desperate, there is need to examine circumstances that generally force women into sex work, exposing them to HIV and AIDS. This section briefly discusses the conditions that cause women to engage in sex work. These include poverty, gender inequality, poor governance and oppressive cultural practices. This study does not, however, exhaust the list of factors that cause women to resort to sex work. It concentrates more on the conditions that manifest in Desperate.
It has been established that poverty, gender inequality and harmful cultural practices are key drivers of HIV and AIDS. Although former South African President Thabo Mbeki (2005) invited controversy when he suggested that poverty, not HIV, caused AIDS, there is an emerging consensus that poverty is a key factor in increasing vulnerability to HIV. Rural homes are zones of financial want. They rely on agriculture only for sustenance, and this may not guarantee food security. Women and men are forced to migrate to the city due to poverty. Once the rural areas are left, a vicious cycle of poverty ensues because mostly, women are left to fend for families (Schmidt 1992). Thus, poverty is very much central to their stories in Desperate. Characters that leave rural poverty in the hope of leading better lives end up trading rural poverty for urban poverty. In many respects, urban poverty is worse as they have to contend with fixed monthly charges for rent and transport. They also have to run daily living expenses.
Poverty dehumanises individuals, who, in the end, fail to pause and reflect on their actions. Furthermore, poverty caused by the death of the bread winner in a family forces young girls to enter the sex industry when they are left to head the household. The working class operates a ‘hand to mouth’ system that leaves no space for savings. As a result, the death of the worker (in most cases the father), threatens the viability of the family. Poverty makes it difficult for families to save if they have many relatives to take care of. There is need to realise that poverty is both real at the individual as well as the structural/national levels. Unless this is tackled with determination, more women will become vulnerable to HIV and AIDS (Mlambo 2008). Poverty also prevents families from ensuring that all their children attain quality education. Although the discrimination against the girl child should be challenged, there is need to appreciate that most families are forced to make hard choices due to resource limitations. If they had adequate resources, they would send both girl and boy children to school. However, in most cases where there is poverty they end up favouring the boy child, mainly because of patriarchal socialisation. In many cases, both boy and girl children do not access education at all due to poverty. As a result, some women resort to selling sex in order to secure their children’s education (Akpan 2007).
Unsafe Cultural Practices: Condemning Women to HIV and AIDS
The rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa has also been attributed to the existence of detrimental cultural practices. These include inheritance, widow cleansing, (where the widow must have sex with a man in order to liberate her from the spirit of her deceased husband), hospitality sex, pledging of girls to placate avenging spirits and others as McFadden writes:
Throughout the history of patriarchy, the marriage and family institutions, through ritual and ceremony, have provided the socio-cultural guise within which women have been exchanged between men for purposes of sexual and labour services. The existence of forced marriages, arranged marriages, child marriages, and the like, which can be found in virtually all African societies, attest to this system of sexual slavery. (McFadden 1992: 189-190).
Unsafe cultural practices such as child pledging increase women’s vulnerability to HIV. In order to escape such arranged marriages, young girls often run away from their home. When their new space fails to offer them better options, they end up selling sex in order to survive. By giving space to a story on child pledging, Phiri utilises her creativity to demand that society reviews such risky cultural practices. The Egyptian feminist writer and critic, Saadawi asks:
Can I have the passion and knowledge required to change the powerful oppressive system of family and government without being creative? What do we mean by creativity? Can we be creative if we obey others or follow the tradition of our ancestors? Can we be creative if we submit to the rules forced upon us under different names: father, God, husband, family, nation, security, stability, protection, peace, democracy, family planning, development, human rights, modernism, or postmodernism? (Saadawi 2007: 172).
It is vital to respond to damaging cultural practices in order to arrest the spread of HIV and AIDS. Writing about the status of widows in Nigeria, Damap says:
In most traditions, relatives make every effort to clear the house of every valuable as soon as the husband dies. The widow is left with the children’s clothes and a few pots and pans. Bank books are taken away without any consultation with the widow. All this is done under the guise that ‘This is our custom; this is the way things were done in the olden days and this is how they must continue’. (2007: 32).
Many widows in Zimbabwe would identify with Damap’s description of the experiences of widows in Nigeria. This has forced some widows to engage in sex work or provide transactional sex in order to raise their children. They do so because their status as widows is a disempowered one. This increases their vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.
Gender Inequality and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV and AIDS
Patriarchy invests men with power and authority. This leaves women reeling under patriarchal control. The system favours men and disadvantages women. Gender inequality increases the spread of HIV as it forces women to enter into sexual relationships where the power is with men. Women then find it difficult to negotiate safer sex. However, gender inequality does not expose women only to HIV. Men too are rendered vulnerable due to the power that they have. When power is used irresponsibly, it threatens the interests of its owner. When men clients refuse to use condoms because they have financial power, women sex workers in many instances have no choice but to concede to unprotected sex because they need the money. The narrator in Phiri’s Highway Queen (2010) brings out the challenges that sex workers who are HIV positive face:
I still had problems to convince customers to use condoms. I felt guilty of spreading the AIDS virus but there was no way I would have told men that I was HIV positive. The least I did was to offer them condoms, which they refused (99).
Gender relations are portrayed as highly tilted against women. Women are forced to engage in selling sex in order to make ends meet. Men abuse their positions of authority to demand sex from women. Virtually every man in a position of power expects sexual favours from desperate women. This ranges from supervisors at night clubs, security guards who provide shelter, and police officers. The fact that women are operating from positions of vulnerability enables these men to access sex from the women. This exposes both women and men to HIV, particularly when men insist on not using protection.
Poor Governance and Women’s Susceptibility to HIV and AIDS
Poor governance and lack of support systems such as Social Welfare impact negatively on those who are marginalised in society. A system’s inefficiency causes women to resort to sex work. Male-authored and male-centric politico-economic systems that are insensitive to women increase women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. The disregard for the struggles of citizens enables very cruel processes such as Zimbabwe’s ‘Operation Murambatsvina’ to take place (Vambe 2008). ‘Operation Murambatsvina’ in 2005 saw many houses in urban areas destroyed and thousands of informal traders lost their livelihoods overnight. How the government prioritises ‘observing the rule of law’ ahead of protecting women’s lives is disturbing. Instead of finding ways of supporting women in the informal sector, the system invests in frustrating them. When women are deprived of opportunities to sell various commodities, some are left with no option but to sell themselves.
The poor quality of the governance system is clearly demonstrated in Phiri’s Highway Queen (2010). The informal settlement of Hope Fountain is destroyed because the settlement is ‘illegal.’ Even the cemetery is deemed against the law, though residents have no choice but to deposit their dead therein. In the process, the lives of people living with HIV are endangered. It is this brutality and criminalization of poverty that force some women to sell sex , as Mrs. Mumba does in Phiri’s Highway Queen. When the local currency is worthless, Mrs. Mumba sells herself on the highway and in South Africa to access the ‘magical’ Rand. In Highway Queen, the message seems to be that unless the governance system is transformed, women’s struggle against HIV and AIDS will be futile. Desperate brings out the dynamic combination of poverty and poor governance as factors that promote women’s powerlessness, and a condition that promotes the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS.
Desperate: The Stories
The stories in Desperate are harrowing but realistic and plain. They deal with conformist perceptions that often project sex workers as a nuisance or a threat to public morality. However, there is need to appraise the structural injustices that force women into the industry. The six stories in the collection are presented without any commentary, forcing the readers to draw their own conclusions regarding women’s participation in the sex industry. Phiri depicts the different ways in which women suffer, and how some of them eventually resort to sex work. The stories have titles that lead the reader to become more inquisitive. The first story tells the life of Chido, and is entitled, ‘Teenage Bread Winner.’ The second story tells the experiences of Susan and has the title, ‘For My Children’s Sake.’ Dorothy’s story is entitled, ‘Accused,’ while Sihle’s story is entitled, the ‘Child Bride.’ Rachel asks, ‘Why Me?’. The last story is titled ‘Nhamo, The Black and White Girl’. These titles are stimulating and they challenge the trend of presenting women engaged in sex work as ‘sexually loose and dangerous”(Chitauro et al 1994). The titles directly evoke a sense of sympathy, or at least prevent one from passing ready judgment against women who sell sex. In her renowned study, Illness as Metaphor (1978), Sontag challenges society to desist from condescending attitudes when referring to illness. In the same manner, society ought to be sensitive to the plight of women who engage in sex work.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: NARRATING GENDER AND DANGER IN THE CONTEXT OF HIV AND AIDS IN ZIMBABWE
1.1 Purpose of the Study
1.3 Statement of the Problem
1.4 The Assumptions of the Study
1.5 Research Questions
1.7 Conceptualizing Gender and Danger in the Context of HIV and AIDS
1.8 Agency: A Synopsis
1.9 Study Justification, Significance and Scope
1.10 Theoretical Framework
1.11 Methods Used for this Study
1.12 Organisation of the Study
1.13 Definition of Terms
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW: RETHINKING GENDER AND DANGER IN THE CONTEXT OF HIV AND AIDS
2.2 Review of Material on Zimbabwean Literature
2.3 Gender in Zimbabwean Society
2.4 Gender in Zimbabwean Literature
2.5 African Women Writers
2.6 Conceptualizing Gender and Danger
2.7 Socialisation and the Status of Women and Men
2.8 Women’s Writing on HIV and AIDS
2.9 Reconstructing Gender Relations in the Face of HIV and AIDS
CHAPTER 3: BEFORE THE BEGINNING: WOMEN’S VULNERABILITY IN VIRGINIA PHIRI’S DESPERATE (2002)
3.2 Reading Desperate with HIV and AIDS Lenses
3.3 Factors Increasing Women’s Vulnerability to HIV and AIDS
3.4 Desperate: The Stories
3.5 Women: Victims of a Harsh Environment
3.6 Violent Sexual Predators: The Portrayal of Men in Desperate
3.7 Rape and its Impact on Women in Contexts of HIV and AIDS
3.8 Conclusion: A Critical Appreciation of Desperate
CHAPTER 4: BREAKING THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE: SHARAI MUKONOWESHURO’S DAYS OF SILENCE (2000)
4.2 Gender and Danger: Days of Silence
4.3 The Plot of Days of Silence
4.4 Contesting Images of Womanhood in Days of Silence
4.5 Responding to HIV and AIDS: Days of Silence
4.6 Life After Testing HIV Positive: Insights From Days of Silence
4.7 The Moral Voice in Days of Silence
4.8 Shame, Silence, Secrecy, Stigma and HIV and AIDS: A Course to be Explored
4.9 Naming in Days of Silence
4.10 Rethinking the Image of African Womanhood in the Context of HIV: Days of Silence
4.11 The Representation of Men in Days of Silence
4.12 Conclusion: A Critical Evaluation of Days of Silence
CHAPTER 5: HAZY FUTURES: HIV AND AIDS IN VALERIE TAGWIRA’S THE UNCERTAINTY OF HOPE (2006)
5.2 Hope in Gloomy Circumstances: A Synopsis of The Uncertainty of Hope
5.3 Exploring the Social and Economic Background Informing
The Uncertainty of Hope
5.4 Facing Terrible Situations: Women’s Struggles in
The Uncertainty of Hope
5.5 Gender-Based Violence in The Uncertainty of Hope
5.7 The Cultural Context of HIV and AIDS
5.8 Operation Murambatsvina and Bad Governance
5.9 ‘Tiri Varume, We Are Men’: The Portrayal of Men in The Uncertainty of Hope
5.10 Masculinity Under Examination in The Uncertainty of Hope
5.11 Agency, Gender and Danger: The Uncertainty of Hope
5.12 Naming of Characters in The Uncertainty of Hope
5.13 Conclusion: A Critical Appreciation of The Uncertainty of Hope
CHAPTER 6: WOMEN RE-DEFINING THEMSELVES IN THE CONTEXT OF HIV AND AIDS: INSIGHTS FROM TENDAYI WESTERHOF’S UNLUCKY IN LOVE (2005)
6.2 The Author and Autobiographical Mode
6.3 Women’s Struggles in Unlucky in Love
6.4 Women’s Agency in Unlucky in Love
6.5 The Portrayal of Men in Unlucky in Love
CHAPTER 7: PERSONALIZED NARRATIVE: STRATEGIES OF SURVIVING HIV AND AIDS AS DEPICTED IN LUTANGA SHABA’S SRCRETS OF A WOMAN’S SOUL (2006)
7.2 Emplotting HIV ad AIDS in Secrets of a Woman’s Soul
7.3 Women’s Vulnerability to HIV and AIDS
7.4 Women’s Agency in Secrets of a Woman’s Soul
7.5 The Portrayal of Men in Secrets of a Woman’s Soul
7.6 HIV, AIDS, Activism and the Politics of Reconfiguring Private Space
CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSION TO THE STUDY
8.1 Restatement of Research Questions
8.1.1 Research Questions
8.2 Research Findings in the Context of Theoretical Foundations
8.3 Agency in Zimbabwean Women’s Writings on HIV and AIDS
8.4 Masculinity, HIV and Zimbabwean Women’s Writings
8.5 Contribution of Research to Zimbabwe Women’s Writings on HIV and AIDS
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
NARRATING GENDER AND DANGER IN SELECTED ZIMBABWE WOMEN’S WRITINGS ON HIV AND AIDS