Speak out against sexual abuse, women in arts sector told

PRISCILLA Sithole, a pioneer in performing arts among women has called on women and young girls working in the arts to say no to sexual abuse.

She said with thirty one years in the industry, she was qualified to say it exists and urged those facing it to report it.

“Sexual abuse is one of the biggest challenges faced by women in the arts and entertainment industry. As women we are our own worst enemies as we are often the ones who discourage young artists from reporting cases of abuses making it seem like the norm.” said Sithole in an interview this week

“I say to the girl child, say a Big No to it. You deserve to be treated with respect just like our male counterparts. It is unfortunate that there are still men who look at women as objects and not peers,” she said .

Sithole says if women support each other they will not need to go through abuse in the arts industry.

Sithole said this amidst growing accusations by young women artists stating that their male producers or mentors had coerced them into sexual relationships, threatening that if they did not give in they would not go far in the industry.

Sithole confirmed this saying directors of performing arts groups were among the worst culprits. “Girls tend to sell their souls for favours opting to listen to men so that they can keep their roles,” said Sithole.

Club owners and promoters are also guilty of abusing performers.

Sithole is a veteran of the industry having started acting with Amakhosi Arts and Culture Centre in 1987. She rose from being an actress to artistic director and toured overseas with Amakhosi in the 1990s when they took some of their stage productions abroad.

She has featured in a number of films shot in Zimbabwe like Cry Freedom and countless docu-dramas apart from directing some.

“I have gone through the mill. It is hard work that has taken me to where I am and I encourage other women to follow suit and work even harder. Nothing comes easily and as women we must stand up for each other and assert ourselves in the industry where we have played second fiddle to men,” said Sithole.

During the Intwasa Arts Festival a few weeks ago,  a Women in Arts Dialogue session was held where distinguished artists like Edith WeUtonga, a veteran jazz artist together with radio personality Patience Phiri and Priscilla Sithole among other female arts performers took time to share their experiences in the arts industry and how they had faced and overcome the sexual abuse scourge.

Nonkanyiso Mabaleka a poet at the dialogue session shared her experiences and noting that women are usually the first to attack those who spoke out about being abused in the sector. She called on women artists to support and stand together or at least not publicly shame each other over such painful experiences.

Sithole, who has since set up a film production training company for women film makers called Ibhayiskopo Film Project,  has so far churned out over 100 women film makers.

“Women are never comfortable with technical roles in the industry. But in these days of social media, filming is becoming big business, I urge women to come on board and train to be camerapersons and other related technical roles,” she added.

She said women in the industry suffer from multiple challenges besides sexual abuse, mentioning under funding as one of their challenges.

“Because we are not funded and lack infrastructure, most women tend to operate from home where their visibility is affected,” said Sithole who in 2014 had a working visit to Hollywood, the Mecca of the world film industry.

She said women must rise up and tell their life stories.

“Women are good story tellers. We want them to rise up and tell their stories to the world, speak up about abuse and other life challenges they face with family on a daily basis,” said the director.