Zimbabwean Transgender Women can Claim Right to Spaces.


Mhaka Tinatswe


In January 2014  Rikki Nathanson, a trans-gender woman was arrested in the city of Bulawayo, after using the ladies bathroom. She was stripped in front of multiple police officers who insisted she was a man and then subsequently jailed for three days on charges of public nuisance. She was also taken to United Bulawayo Hospital where she was forcibly subjected to gender verification. In August 2014 Nathanson instituted proceedings in the High Court of Bulawayo against:

– Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs minister

-The commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police

-The assistant commissioner of the Bulawayo Central Police Station

– Leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party’s Youth League

In 2017, the hearing took place, following which Nathanson’s home was broken into at 2 am, by three thugs realistically alleged to be ZANU-PF perpetrators. During the attack, Nathanson was brutally beaten and slandered. Among other things she was told to stop what she was doing. They told her she was forcing herself to be a thing she is not. That she was a man and she did not know what she was doing. Not long after that, she received more threats from the very officials who played a hand in her arrest while walking freely in the street.

On Thursday the 14th of November, Justice Francis Bere handed down a judgment in favor of Rikki Nathason. This is the first institutional recognition of transgender women in Zimbabwe. Justice Bere made a statement to the effect that gender is not a choice, reasoning that will hopefully be the basis for the many battles that trans-women will have to fight. The judge described Nathasons arrest as an outrageous, thoughtless, malicious abuse of power. He also said that the money awarded to the woman was to salvage some kind of dignity for the pain endured by the victim.  It is the hope of those that have been marginalized and activists that this judgment can open the floodgates for trans women across Zimbabwe to claim their right to all spaces and challenge the system where that right is not recognized.

The intolerant climate and conservative convictions of most Zimbabweans for all these years have meant that there is little to no recognition of people who identify as a gender different from that they were born. One painful truth is that so many people are unaware that there is a transgender population.  In 2016 Trans Research, Education and Training (TREAT) reported that there were over 400 people openly living as transgender. Given the violence and persecution faced by transgender people in Zimbabwe, it is likely that this number is inaccurate.

It is difficult to even begin discussing healthcare for a group of people that the public and general population have refused to acknowledge. The costs associated with being transgender are so far from what most Zimbabweans are earning monthly so most of Zimbabwe’s trans population has remained ignored by the system and trapped in bodies that do not reflect what they feel on the inside. Unfortunately, the efficiency of justice is so questionable it would be a surprise if Nathanson receives her ZWL$400 000 damages while the money still has value, but an order awarding her that money, to begin with, was a great leap in giving Zimbabwean transgender women their lives back.








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