Feminist Chronicles: Diary 30: Kuda Chitsike

If anyone has watched “For Coloured Girls” the Tyler Perry movie that illustrates the myriad of challenges that women of colour face in their relationships at home, at work, in building their careers, at school and so forth, one of the scenes that still remains vivid in my mind is the part when Janet Jackson, who acts the part of a successful business woman is approached for funding by one of the ladies who has started a support group for abused women. One of the things she says in response to that lady stayed with me because indeed it is one of the negative syndromes that some of our womenfolk harbour. She said, she would rather help people from Africa than help African-American women in her community because their own environment had given them all equal chances to make it in life and the other women had chosen to waste theirs, so NO she was not going to help them. She had previously cancelled so many appointments with this other woman, she had made her wait for hours on end at her reception on this particular day only to tell her that she actually did not want tot give her any money and would not help her cause because the women she was trying to assist were lazy and brainless. Some of our womenfolk, when success knocks on their doors and they assume positions of authority lose it completely. Instead of uplifting their fellow women, they want to gloat in their positions of grandeur and look down upon the rest of mankind.

 I have been lucky to have met one woman whose selflessness in her position of authority has always amazed me and whose footsteps I wish to emulate. Most young people in Zimbabwean civil society have expressed the grievance that most of the leadership in civil society organisations are failing to groom young people to assume positions of authority. There is almost an unspoken rule that those in positions of power shall continue to be there until the chickens hatch their eggs and nothing is being done to give the youngsters the necessary skills to assume these positions when they shall be vacated. Sadly civil society consists of the same people criticising the political regimes in place to favour succession as part of the cycle of leadership yet that same disease has also caught onto us. But this woman, with whom I have worked for the better part of my 5 years as a career woman does exactly what most people out there are not doing.

 I left this profile for last lest I be accused of bias, after all she is my immediate boss. One of the most under-appreciated fighters for women’s dignity and empowerment Kudakwashe Chitsike deserves this recognition.

Kuda at a training workshop on the Nairobi Declaration on Girls' and Women's Right to a Remedy and Reparations

 She has been the Manager of the Women’s Programme at the Research and Advocacy Unit, an organisation advocating an end to organised violence and torture since 2006. Focusing on documenting politically motivated violence against women, Kuda has worked with groups of women activists such as WOZA and the NCA. She has also worked with ordinary grassroots women from different political divides who are victims of organised violence and torture although for obvious reasons the proportions are skewed towards opposition parties’ members being in the majority.

 She pioneered in collaboration with WITNESS a project of documenting violence against women through video. This was risky both for Kuda and the women involved yet it was also effective as the perpetrators could not deny the occurrence of violence faced with real stories and real faces of victims pasted to the problem. The film Hear Us has been viewed many times by people from all walks of life and has helped to drive the point home that indeed women in Zimbabwe are being raped and subjected to all forms of heinous crimes in the name of politics. She, together with the team at RAU has also worked with women survivors of politically motivated rape, the Women of Doors of Hope and produced another documentary What about us

 A lawyer by profession, holding a Law Degree from the University of Lesotho and a Masters in Public International Law from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, Kuda uses evidence based legal research to advocate a remedy for women victims of organised violence and torture. Her efforts have stretched to include women refugees living in the Diaspora so that their views on transitional justice may be incorporated into any transitional processes that may be charted for Zimbabwe.

 She has led regional campaigns in which she lobbied women’s networks in the East African and SADC regions including Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana to lobby their governments to place violence against women at the centre of the agenda of their heads of state and government. In particular Kuda emphasised the consequences of violence against women such as infection with deadly diseases, unwanted pregnancies from rape, marginalisation from politics due to fear, post traumatic stress disorders among others as regressive features in the struggle for the empowerment of women. She also lobbied these groups to lobby the resuscitation of the SAD tribunal to serve as an alternative source of justice when national courts have failed, are unable or unwilling to deliver the required justice.

 She has previously worked with the Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA), with Transparency International Zimbabwe among other organisations in various capacities but in all instances fighting for the respect and recognition of human rights.

 As a woman in a position of authority, Kuda is simply amazing. She encouraged my colleagues and I to pursue further education and improve ourselves as women. Had it not been for her encouragement (together with Dr Tsanga) I would not be the holder of a Masters Degree today. At work she assumes the role of both supervisor and mentor. She has taught my colleagues and I all the necessary skills we possess on research, advocacy and lobbying yet at the same time she has taught us to stand up for ourselves, to believe in our own capabilities and to assert ourselves when it is appropriate to do so. Instead of always being the one representing the organisation in huge capacities or at big meetings, Kuda mentored the Women’s Team at RAU to be able to articulate ourselves and the organisation’s work. Hence she would thrust us into the deep end, so to speak, and trust that we would do it well because she had taught us how.

 She-bosses do not come any better than she does and if you all could I would ask that you join the Research and Advocacy Unit, even just for a week.

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