Detained Women Can Keep Panties On, Supreme Court Rules


Police addressing WOZA members during one of the many protest

The Constitutional court has made a landmark ruling that women detained in police custody shall be allowed to keep undergarments including bras, and to wear suitable footwear.

The ruling comes after leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) arrested in April 2010 took a challenge against the state on intolerable conditions they were kept under for 5 days. The ruling on the matter was made in 2012 but judgement was reserved and two years later on 5 June 2014 the judgement was finally delivered by Justice Ziyambi in Harare.

On being detained women are usually ordered to take off their bras and undergarments.

The ruling is a result of the courage of four members of WOZA – Jennifer Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Celina Madukani and Clara Manjengwa, the committed defenders of women’s rights.

The court directed the first (Co-Ministers of Home Affairs) and second respondents (Police Commissioner and Attorney General) to

‘take all necessary steps and measures within their powers to ensure that at Harare Central Police Station
a) All holding cells shall have clean and salubrious flushing toilets with toilet paper and washing bowl.
b) The flushing toilets to be cordoned off from the main cell to ensure privacy.
c) A good standard of hygiene shall be maintained in the holding cells.
d) Every person detained in police custody overnight shall be furnished with a clean mattress and adequate blankets.
e) Adequate bathing facilities shall be provided for all persons detained in police custody overnight.
f) Every person detained shall have access at all times to wholesome drinking water from a source other than the tap above the toilet.
g) Women detained in police custody shall be allowed to keep their undergarments including brassieres, and to wear suitable footwear.

WOZA has said while the ruling boosted the morale among the organisation, members will celebrate when these conditions are a lived reality.

Zimbabwe women defender Williams said the ConCourt judgment is welcome, but she said there needs to be a “mindset change” within the police force.

“It’s a serious problem. Every sergeant and officer acts like a god. That’s why you have a situation where, women are not supposed to be told to remove their underwear, but because the individual police officer decides he’s going to make it happen for whatever reasons, the power relations are such that when you are in detention, you find it hard to say no,” Williams explained.

She added: “That changing of the mindset within these demigods of the sergeants and officers is significant, and in the political framework we have in Zimbabwe, that’s going to be a problem. It might have to change at the top, before it can change at the bottom.”

The organisation further expressed its profound gratitude the courageous four women and paid tribute to the unwavering belief of the legal team representing thier case.

“WOZA would like to acknowledge the courage of the four members – Jennifer Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Celina Madukani and Clara Manjengwa for taking this case and remaining committed to defending women’s rights.

“WOZA pay tribute to Advocate Lewis Uriri and Dzimbabwe Chimbga and Bellinda Chinowawa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights for legal support and for believing that members rights had been violated and seeing the case through over the last 4 years.”

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