Harare - A landmark ruling from Zimbabwe's highest court Wednesday should mean that police can no longer arrest women who officers say are loitering to sell sex simply because they are on the streets after dark, a lawyer has said.
In what's being seen as a victory for women's rights, Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court ruled that nine women arrested last year for allegedly loitering in central Harare could no longer be prosecuted.
Defence lawyers had argued that the arrests were unconstitutional if no male could testify that he had been approached for sex.
Lawyer David Hofisi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said that although the order obtained on Wednesday was "specific" to the nine women who brought the case, "it does have a wider application".
"We'll have to advocate around it and lobby to popularise it and use it as an entry point in order to engage with the authorities [and] the police so that the effect of the order can cascade to ordinary women," Hofisi said in a telephone interview.
Cases of police rounding up women in central Harare, especially the Avenues area, are reported from time to time. Women have complained that they have been arrested merely because they were talking to a man -even if the pair were friends or already in a relationship.
In some cases, police officers have even searched women's handbags for condoms.
News of the ruling was welcomed in Zimbabwe.
Blog 3-mob.com wrote: "For the longest time, women had de facto curfews, not being able to walk about freely for fear of arrest, accused of selling sex."
Zimbabwean activist Everjoice Win tweeted: "So [Zimbabwe Republic Police] had to be told not to arrest women under the pretext BLACK women on their own in cities after dark [are] sex workers."