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Zimbabwe Women Groups Demand Lawmaker Apology Over HIV Gaffe

Zimbabwean women organizations and activists are demanding an apology from lawmaker Morgan Femai of the MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for saying women should make themselves less attractive to help reduce the spread of the deadly HIV/Aids virus.

Activists took to social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook, attacking the Chikomo Senator for the comments that were published in the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

Attending a lawmaker's conference in Kadoma on how to curb the spread of HIV, Femai is reported to have said women should make themselves uglier and have fewer baths to make them less attractive to men, adding this way, they can help cut new infections.

Women's groups have branded his statements irresponsible.

But Femai has come out in the open, telling VOA’s Violet Gonda his statements were taken out of context.

“It’s not exactly what I said but as you know these reporters, some of them, align with other political parties and cook up stories.”

“How can a man at this age say that? I have got my mother who is a clean, modern lady and my wife also is a modern lady - and I always give my wife money to go for hair-dressing.

“I cannot walk with a woman who doesn’t bath! I don’t know where he (reporter) got it from. How can I say women must not bath? I like women, I like them all, and I have been working with women’s organizations since 2000, why now should I say women should not bath?” Femai asked.

Some of his colleagues present at the workshop, however, said that the lawmaker did make the comments but in jest.

Femai is now threatening to sue the newspaper which also quoted him saying ‘women should always have bald heads, lose weight and dress shabbily as HIV is spreading at an alarming rate because men are finding it difficult to resist attractive and well-dressed women’.

Women’s rights groups and HIV/Aids activists are demanding an apology from the senator for being ‘reckless and irresponsible’.

But he says he will not apologize for something he did not say.

“People should wait and see whether I am wrong or right because I can’t apologize for something which is still being investigated as I have told you I have handed the case to my lawyers to deal with it. So people will know the truth in the near future.”

Meanwhile, Tabitha Khumalo, MDC Tsvangirai formation deputy spokesperson and legislator for Bulawayo East, has also come under fire from gender activists for saying all men cheat.

She said women should keep their husbands’ mistresses close to avoid transferring sexually-transmitted diseases.

The outspoken legislator was reacting to recent comments by Vice President Joice Mujuru that most marriages fail because wives sometimes fail to submit themselves and end up confronting other women they think will be seeing their husbands.

Monika Mandiki, a health and women's issues consultant, said Khumalo’s statements are “extremely irresponsible and reverse the gains that women have made towards empowerment and gender equality.”

A defiant Khumalo says she stands by her comments.

“It’s very sad that is what they are saying because the problem I have realized with the people of Zimbabwe is that the real issues that are affecting the people of Zimbabwe they don’t want to debate about them," she said.

“It is an open secret that this is happening. Men are having extra marital affairs. Surely why would I want women to die of HIV/Aids and perpetuate the issues of small houses?"

The outspoken legislator said women need to come up with new strategies to deal with the issue of philandering husbands.

“The man is the perpetrator of this but we have failed to convince him to protect himself in order to protect his family,” Khumalo added.