There is always a thin line between comedy and reality. It is even more difficult to separate the two when the name NyaUyu pops up. The female comedian is known for various social media stunts that leave her fans with divided opinions.
This week, the ‘Queen of Vilekeke Kingdom’, real name Felistus Ngwira, was back in town. This time with an allegation that she experienced sexual harassment at the hands of prospective sponsors of her Vilekeke Night of Laughter events she hosted last weekend.
She wrote on her Facebook page: “…some quarters were appreciating what I was offering on the professional and business level, others whom I approached saw it as a chance to take advantage and disrespect me as a woman by asking for ‘madikulirano’ (sex) just so they be of help.
“I remember someone saying he can give me K10 million if I went to his room to have sex with him. I looked at this man and said so the idea doesn’t matter all you want is sex? And without shame, he said yes.”
The post has since attracted mixed reactions. Some of the fans sympathised with her while others doubted the validity of her claims.
But NyaUyu is not the only artist who claims to have suffered sexual harassment in the arts sector.
An up-and-coming hip-hop artist Cutey B wrote on her Facebook page some weeks before NyaUyu came out.
The musician, real name Byness Bondwe, 23, says she suffered harassment soon after winning the Makosana Mic Battle Competition early this year.
“From the time I won this competition, I have had stints with three managements. Two of them tied sponsorship to sex,” she tells Society.
“One of them made numerous promises, such as sponsorship for record deals, music production and music performances. I refused. And they bolted the deals,” she adds.
The musician claims that this experience has affected her psychologically.
“That is the reason why I wrote on my Facebook page as a way of letting out something that has been eating me up for a long time. Why should I offer sex just for someone to help record my music?” she wonders.
Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) president Gloria Manong’a says the organisation is aware of the prevalence of such cases in the creative sector.
She, however, says most female artists do not officially report such offences to the union for proper redress.
“As a union, we have platforms for musicians to report such exploitation. But at the moment, we don’t have any reported cases. We hear of such cases as rumours,” she says.
Manong’a says most female artists remain in hiding for fear of victimisation.
“But it is advisable to report to us as a union. We are their voice on various violations, including sexual abuse. They don’t need to fight such battles alone because it may expose them to further abuse,” she says.
Manong’a says the union also has a Women’s Desk which deals with various issues concerning women.
For the comedians, NyaUyu says they do not have a union or association to represent their grievances or violations. She concurs with Manong’a that fighting such abuse singlehandedly exposes victims to more abuse.
“I have come to realise why most people don’t come out when they face such, it’s because people fight the victims. It’s also sad that for me it’s fellow women who have come out so negative about it,” she says.
Psychologist Ndumanene Silungwe says victims need to disclose sexual abuse, saying if borne silently without disclosure may lead to physical and emotional problems, including gender-based violence and depressive moods.
“Sexual Harassment, if tolerated for the sake of fame, may entrap women in a cycle of abuse, and give birth to degraded self-esteem and self-worth, from which they may never heal. Women may be at risk of negative coping mechanisms such as self-destructive behaviour, substance abuse or even suicidal ideations,” he says.
Lawyer TadalaTembo says laws on sexual offences are in favour of women such that a mere accusation of sexual abuse would earn one a conviction without corroboration.
“In 2019 or thereabouts, there were two judgements of the High Court of Malawi to the effect that there is no need for corroboration in sexual offences to have a conviction. The learned Justices opined that historically women were disadvantaged by the rule on corroboration because they were not believed…. In short, NyaUyu had all the rules at her disposal,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Principal Secretary Roselyn Makhumula says sexual harassment is endemic not in the arts sector only but across all sectors.
She says, as such, the ministry is in the process of developing a Sexual Harassment Policy to establish reporting structures and mechanisms of dealing with the vice.
She said: “Despite awareness campaigns on sexual harassment, there seem to be some cases that go unreported.”