Feminist Chronicles: Diary 30: Kuda Chitsike

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

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.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 26: Joice Mujuru

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

I was sitting talking to one of the members of parliament, (whose name I shall not publish because the conversation was off the record) but something he said struck me as really important. I was quizzing him about how useful the inclusive government has been to the people of Zimbabwe and along the course of our conversation I asked him about the relationships between the people in the inclusive government. Of all the things he said one thing stood out, he said of Joyce Mujuru, “that woman is the most genuine individual that anyone can work with, she is truly motherly and what you see is what you get.”

Vice President of Zimbabwe: Joice Mujuru

 No in saying this I am not portraying her as a saint, because she definitely isn’t (no one is!!!) but I have often wondered if the qualities of integrity, honesty and strength I see in her when she presents herself to the nation make up who she really is.  I have also always wondered if, given a real choice this woman would chose to identify with a group of people whose reputation is limited to that of liberators of the nation from colonial rule who subsequently subjected the nation to an equally terrible reign of terror. If that choice were available to her or to any other person and were it not tantamount to ‘betraying the struggle” as the mantra goes, would she pack her bags and leave? After all, perceived insidious behaviour could result in widowhood!

 Born in 1955 and named Runaida Mugari she was raised in Mt Darwin, in the Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe. Faced with a bleak future, under repressive colonial rule, she decided to leave school after completing only two years of secondary school and at 18 years of age she joined the liberation struggle where she came to be known as Teurai Ropa (spill the blood). One of the things for which she is greatly revered is how in 1974 in the heat of the liberation struggle she refused to flee approaching helicopters as her (male) counterparts did and gunned down the helicopter. This bravery earned her the promotion to become one of the first female commanders of the Zimbabwe National Liberation Armed Forces (ZANLA).

 She adopted the name Joice from the struggle where she met her boyfriend who then became her husband in 1977, General Solomon Mujuru and came to be known as Joice Mujuru. After Zimbabwe gained its independence, she was elected into parliament at 24 years of age making her the youngest parliamentarian and female parliamentarian to grace Zimbabwe’s august house. She was then appointed Minister of Sports, Culture and Recreation in the new government again making her the youngest female minister and minister that Zimbabwe has ever seen. And there begins the part of her history that inspires me. Valuing the importance of education, she went back to school and alongside her demanding work as a government minister she completed her secondary school and completed her degree.

 I remember how some people would mock her and the quality of her English when she appeared on T.V but little did they know that she was aware of her deficiency and was taking cogent steps to make it right. Many of us do not have this kind of strength and focus and determination. If one were to listen to her today, they would never think that when she began her political career she did not understand half the concepts she speaks to with so much eloquence today. So a word for the youngsters, especially the rural girls, it is so possible to achieve one’s dreams as long as you dedicate your time and strength to be who you want to be.

 She then served in many capacities in the government as Minister of Community Development and Women’s Affairs between 1980 and 1985, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister 1985-88, Minister of Community Development, Cooperatives and Women’ Affairs 1988-92, Resident Minister and Governor of Mashonaland Central 1992-96, Minister of Information, Post and Telecommunication Since 1996-97, Minister of Rural Resources and Water Development 1997 and Acting Minister of Defence in 2001.

 In 2004 she became the first female vice President of Zimbabwe. Her appointment has been challenged as a dictatorial decree which was only made possible by the fact that her husband was an influential person within the ruling party and some have argued that her appointment flies in the face of the empowerment of women because she is a beneficiary of a government characterised by ‘dictatorship, tribalism, sexism and lawlessness.’ Some of these allegations have a ring of truth and yes it would have been a sweeter victory had she been ‘elected’ rather than ‘selected.’ However I believe in her own right, she deserved the appointment. There are many things that ZANU-PF is but it is not a foolish party. They knew the choice would have to be:

  1. an educated individual (something that VP Mujuru prioritised upon her return from the bush and fought hard to achieve on her own).
  2. a liberation cadre in line with the party’s ‘revolutionary’ appeal (VP Mujuru walked on her own two feet willingly to the bush to fight for her country’s independence. She only met her husband there and her choice had nothing to do with him and so her war credentials are her own not those of her husband)
  3. a woman (at the time that her appointment came, the Zimbabwean government was besieged with accusations of disrespect for human rights and so they needed to prove their willingness to respect some rights. Gender equality was top on their agenda and so here was a woman who fit all the other credentials and fit the bill)

 Besides the party dynamics, her appointment remains important because it set a wonderful precedent which I believe has forced all political parties to emulate. Frankly, I believe Thokozani Khupe would not be Deputy Prime Minister if VP Mujuru was not Vice President, given the increasing tendencies towards gender-insensitivity that the MDC as a party is revealing. So yes, however controversial her appointment may have been, it was a necessary and long overdue development in the recognition of women politicians in top decision making positions. In 2008 VP Mujuru was listed in ClickAfrique magazine as one of Africa’s ten most powerful women.

 The one disturbing allegation levelled against VP Mujuru for me is that she is antagonistic to the struggle for gender equality and is on record for saying,

“There is nothing like equality, (between men and women). Those who call for equality are failures in life”?” (NewZimbabwe.com).

The veracity of this statement is something I am yet to ascertain but if it is true, then we sit faced with a powerful woman in a position of influence who does not believe in gender equality. What do we do? Do we wish she had never been elected? Do we discredit her appointment completely and wish we had an all males presidium? Do we rubbish her tenure despite some great work that she has done for women in her capacity as vice-president?

 I choose to celebrate the fact that her presence sets an example and makes the rest of womenfolk know that it is possible to reach that level. That does not stop me though from wishing that all women in positions of power and decision making would be pioneers and cadres for gender equality. It also brings me to the point that if all women in power were true ambassadors of their womenfolk, beyond party loyalism and partisanship, fighting for equal representation then this country would not be struggling with a paltry 30% representation of women in decision making positions.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 25: Rudo Gaidzanwa

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

If there is one thing that I am proud of and one thing that makes me proudly identify myself as a Zimbabwean, it is the value we place on education. According to the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report, Zimbabwe is rated as the country with the second highest literacy rate in Africa (not just Sub- Saharan Africa but the whole of Africa) at 91.2% behind Seychelles with 91.8.  Considering that Seychelles is a little island with a population of less than a 100 000 and Zimbabwe has more than 14million citizens, it therefore means we have made so much progress in educating the masses in our country. Despite the many challenges that our education sector has faced especially in the past 12 years since 2000, we have surpassed Tunisia and continue to do better than the rest of Africa and for that I am very proud.

 Indeed the right to education should be prioritised as it is one of life’s most basic rights. Education promotes autonomy, self esteem and respect, enabling people (especially women) to develop their personality and capabilities, and to choose how they will live their lives. It strengthens individuals’ cultural identity and commitment to community values, expands their understanding of and respect for other people’s cultures and provides the knowledge and skills necessary to be independent and contributing members of society.

 I am moved when I find women educators, whose pre-occupation in life is to educate other women. Rudo Gaidzanwa is one such woman. Her passion in fostering the empowerment of girls and women is evident in the role she has played towards ensuring girls’ and women’s education. She is one of the founders and a trustee of the Women’s University in Africa, the first of its kind in Africa. She has also been vocal in criticising limited budgetary allocations to the education sector, suggesting that this not only kills the quality of education but also defeats the many strides taken to achieve gender parity in education as girls are highly likely to drop out than boys where the education system becomes defunct.

Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa

 She is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe where she teaches social policy. She has also published in many fora. In one of her many articles Gender and Canon Formation: Women, Men and Literary Art in Africa, she explores how the introduction of new religions such as Christianity influenced women’s disempowerment in African societies. She argues that the separation between religion, politics and the economy, disempowered women substantially in the way it domesticated women, restructured labour and re-distributed the means of production leaving women poor and wholly dependant on their male counterparts for survival.

 In another one of her publications Images of Women in Zimbabwean Literature (1985) she argues that the negative portrayal of women in colonial and post colonial Zimbabwean literature, predominantly by male authors, delegitimises their struggle for basic human rights like education and health. She then advocates rewriting women’s place in Zimbabwe and carving gender sensitive literature that promotes and portrays women’s access to their most basic rights as the fundamental thing that it actually is.

She is also a feminist and gender activist. She has written on women’s access to land, focusing on how women’s inability to access land impacts their economic limitations. She has argued vehemently that until the land tenure system is changed giving women, who make up the majority of subsistence farmers, equal access to land then the women of Zimbabwe shall continue to be disadvantaged.

She has explored the concept of African Feminism, exploring whether it is possible to talk of feminism within the African context given that the concepts of “African’ and “feminism” have been debated and no conclusion reached as  different scholars of different theoretical and ideological persuasions and of different classes, races, cultures and experiences have conceptualised them differently.

She has challenged the practice of virginity testing of girls arguing that that practice is degrading, unnecessary and only worked in the olden days when villagers would marry amongst themselves. Now that people are not confined to little villages, the chances of them contracting the disease after marriage are even higher than before.

Besides her academic work, Dr Gaidzanwa has also been involved in politics. In the March 2008 Parliamentary election, she ran as an independent candidate. For such an intelligent person who understands the nature of the polity in Zimbabwe, characterised by polarisation along party lines, I am sure she knew her chances of winning while running as an independent candidate were limited but yet she still went ahead with it. In running for elections she sent a very strong message that if political parties will not give women the representation they require within the party structures, then women will do it themselves. Women will stand independent of party structures and pitch their own election campaign strategies which they feel comfortable delivering to the electorate.

 Indeed, the path of designing good policy foundations for the nation has been a big part of her life. Dr Gaidzanwa was one of the instrumental individuals in the drafting of the Constitution that was then rejected in a referendum in 2000. She was a Constitution Commissioner between 1999 and 2000.

 Her achievements are many  and could fill a whole thesis but the one thing that inspires me is how she will not let anything and anyone stop her from achieving what she wants. Hers is the story of a woman to whom young girls can look up and emulate.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 24: Justice Rita Makarau

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

I must confess, having had the privilege to interact personally with a former judge of the South African Constitutional Court, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro as she shared her experiences as a judge but also as an advocate for human rights, I was inspired to believe that I could serve on the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe Bench, someday. To bring it closer to home, I am even more inspired by the strides that one particular woman has made as a justice of the law. Her name is Justice Rita Makarau. I never had the privilege of being taught by her at the University of Zimbabwe where she taught Conveyancing for legal practitioners for a long time but I did have the privilege of presenting in a Moot Court competition in which she was one of the judges while I was still a student. I remember how she commended my colleagues and I for the fine presentation that we made, a complement that warms me up to date.

Justice Makarau became Zimbabwe’s first female Judge President in 2006. Now she sits on the Supreme Court Bench and judges do not come finer than she is. Though not perfect as all human beings are prone to err, her interpretation of the law has been impressive in a number of cases.

Rita Makarau- as Secretary of Judicial Services Commmission inspecting a police display-photo credit The Herald Zimbabwe

As the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission she fights for justice to be accessible to all, in all parts of the country. Justice Makarau is and has been very vocal about the under appreciation of the fact that the judiciary must be an integral but independent part of the state with the Executive (President and Cabinet) and the Legislature (House of Assembly-parliament and Senate) being the other two important branches in the trio. In her speech opening the 2007 legal year, Justice Makarau is on record to have said,

Judging from the paltry funds that are allocated to it [the judiciary], it is my view that the place and role of the judiciary in this country is under-appreciated. Phrases that it is the third pillar of state or that it is an integral part of a democratic state are often used as appropriated fora by politicians and social scientists and have become clichés whose real meaning is not sought after or given effect to.”

 She has over the years identified the under-resourcing of the judiciary as one of the crucial factors undermining the delivery of justice with limited funds for witness upkeep, for the court to hold its hearings known as circuits in provincial towns, for the remuneration of judges and for the support staff which has led to increased corruption in the judicial service.

It is largely believed that her removal from the High Court where she was the leading authority, to the Supreme Court where she is just another Justice of Appeal headed by a Chief Justice whose independence has always been known to be non existent but whose partisanship is his trademark, was actually a demotion. During her tenure as Judge President of the High Court, Justice Makarau stood her ground in maintaining the independence of the High Court. In fact, under her leadership the High Court had made great strides in rebuilding its immunity from partisanship, external influence and political arm-twisting.

The list of her achievements could fill a book but her most celebrated decisions include her ruling in Muswere vs Makanza, where the law provided was skewed towards the exclusion of women from owning property upon the dissolution of marriage. In her judgement Justice Makarau unequivocally stated that;

“… it presents itself clearly to me that as the position at law that a wife in the position of Mrs Makanza (defendant) has no real right in immovable property that is registered in her husband’s sole name even if she directly and indirectly contributed towards the acquisition of that property. Her rights in relation to that property are limited [and] subservient to the real rights of her husband as owner of the property.”

She declared the law “unsatisfactory and unpalpably unjust”but given that the judiciary’s role is limited to the interpretation of existing laws and not the creation of new ones she could go no further than this. Her decision however challenged the legislature to implement reforms to the law and address this unjust law that perpetuated the discrimination of women within marriages.

Justice Makarau (left) in her court regalia

Justice Makarau also made a bold statement in the case of the two fighting factions of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe in which she ordered them to share the properties of the church in the country. This decision came following the barring of other church members by the faction of ex-communicated Bishop Nolbert Kunonga from the Church of England. Kunonga had decided to unilaterally withdraw himself from the Church of England protesting the acceptance by the church of gay pastors. Kunonga’s decision was strongly supported by the homophobic Zimbabwean government leading to them giving him human support in the form of police and other armed guards to bar the newly appointed Bishop Bakare and his followers from using the church premises. Although Justice Makarau’s decision ordering the two factions to share the premises was later overturned by the Supreme Court, she made a bold statement about the importance of freedom of religion and how the state should not interfere in the practise of that right.

Although her appointment has been questioned in some fora and her independence queried because she used to be  a non-constituency Member of Parliament for ZANU PF and was a member of the Government’s Constitutional Commission in 1998/9 a number of her decision have shown her willingness to serve justice outside partisan interests. Of note is her decision in 2002 in which she ordered the Registrar-General, to draw up a common voters’ roll allowing voters to cast their votes anywhere in the country in the Presidential election and not in their constituency as is required in parliamentary elections. She also ordered the restoration of all those who had lost their citizenship due to changes in citizenship laws onto the voters roll. Her decision was celebrated as a reinforcement of the fundamental right to vote as it allowed those who had been displaced from their constituencies by political violence to vote in their new areas of residence and also enabled those who had become victims of citizenship laws targeted at disenfranchising white Zimbabweans and farm workers who were descendants of Malawian, Zambian or Mozambican origin and perceived to be loyal to the evicted white farmers to vote. All those who had renounced their Zimbabwean citizenship as required by the new law and all those who had not done so were enabled to vote by Justice Makarau’s decision.

In one of the most protracted legal cases on press freedom, the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe fought the Media and Information Commission which refused it registration.  The Media Commission was refusing the Association registration, refusing to even give them a hearing arguing that their previous existence violated the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Justice Makarau stood out for making one of the most celebrated decisions in the course of this case when on 8 February 2006 she set aside the Board of the Media Commission’s decision not to register the Association and declared the entire board disabled from dealing with the case because of the outstanding bias of one of the Commissioners on the Board whom she perceived to be influencing the decisions of all the other Commissioners in this particular case. Justice Makarau’s decision defended and upheld freedoms of the press and expression. The decision was disregarded by the government of course but she had a made a clear decision upholding fundamental freedoms to which the government then acted in contempt.

The list is quite endless but one thing stands out clear, she is a woman, she is a judge and she has made some ‘fine’ decisions. As young women we aspire to step into her shoes and indeed she is one of the role models that we can emulate.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 23: Dr Rudo Makunike-Mutasa

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

As a society we often cry foul when certain things are not the way we want them to be yet we would be able to change things if we only gave more thought to the whys of the state of things. For instance, as Zimbabweans we often wonder why women are underrepresented in certain spheres yet we (especially other women as mothers) contribute to women’s absence in those fields. For instance when children are growing up, it is perceived acceptable for the girl to sit inside the house, sit in the kitchen and watch mum (or the maid) do the cooking while the boy is allowed to go outside and play in the mud and bring a bug into the house to scare his ‘light hearted’ sister who will scream her lungs out and rush to report this little rogue of a brother to the mother.

Girls are expected to play with dolls while boys play with cars and so when the toys are brought into the home, the boy knows the dolls are out of bounds and the girl won’t touch that toy car, even if both of them want the other. And so from a very tender age, society gives children limitations and forces them to conform to societal expectations of who they can be and what they should do. So, how then can we have more girls who are curious to know how bacteria grows and festers? How can we have more girls that are curious to see the mechanics of a car and from then develop a desire to design their own version of a car?

I wonder what Dr Rudo Makunike’s life was like when she was growing up? I would like to believe she was one of those girls that were curious about what makes mushroom grow and what causes meat to go bad if not dried or refrigerated. As the first female pathologist, Dr Rudo was drawn to spend her life dedicated to pathology, which is the scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences. Educated at the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Sheffield, she is an outstanding woman. A 1995/96 Fellow of the Gordon Signy Foreign Fellowship of the World Pathology Foundations, Dr Rudo is also a member of the Society for Paediatric pathology. In 2002 she was one of only five pathologists in Zimbabwe. She is also Chairperson of the Department of Histopathology at the University of Zimbabwe.

Dr Rudo Makunike (right-of course) at a meeting of the Society for Paediatric pathology

Her work sounds very technical and complex, but I guess being unfamiliar with the terminology they use in pathology I would find it complicated. What she does is study what causes the disease (etiology), how the disease develops (pathogenesis), what happens when there are structural alterations of cells (morphologic transformations), and the consequences of those changes (clinical manifestations). So it is the work of people like Dr Rudo that helps us to know that AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus which is passed on through sex or sharing of infected blood cells (the etiology of AIDS). It is through her kind of work that we know how the HIV spreads itself through the blood of the individual and attacks the white blood cells and once attacked the CD4 cell count decreases hence weakening the immune system of an individual (the pathogenesis and morphologic transformations). And it is also through the work that Dr Rudo does that we know that once an HIV infected person’s immune system fails they fall pray to all sorts of diseases; (mapundu) skin rashes, (chikosoro) coughs and flu, (maronda) sores, (mamota) abscess, the thinning of hair, the change in skin quality and the colour of the lips among other symptoms (these are the clinical manifestations that will enable doctors to say please get tested and let’s see if you are not infected.)

The diagnosis of cancerous cells and explanations of how they affect the body are done by pathologists like Dr Rudo. Autopsies; medical examinations that reveal the cause of death are also done by pathologists. The diagnosis and treatment, the admission into hospital, the prescribed medication and the discharge of patients from hospital depends on the result of tests done by pathologists. So you are now well aware of how important and vital Dr Rudo’s job is and how privileged the nation would be to have more women engaged in the work that she does.

She has published works on research she conducted on the nature of xerodema pigmentosum in Zimbabwe, a disease that results from genetic disorder where the body fails to repair the damage caused by ultraviolet rays and results in individuals getting sunburnt, getting freckles or displaying abnormal features on their skin when exposed to very little light. She has also done research on oral malignant melanoma, a cancerous tissue growth or tumour that is usually located in the oral cavity. She was also part of a team that conducted a clinical study on the effect of providing women with latex diaphragm, lubricant gel, and male condoms as compared to using male condoms only and how that impacts women’s chances of getting a human papillomavirus infection which causes cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva and anus in women.

I really wish our society would encourage girls to grow fungi in their bedrooms, maybe then we would have more Dr Rudos in our midst.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 22: Madeline Nyamwanza-Makonese

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

A few days ago, I discovered something very interesting. I discovered that GOOGLE is not so gender sensitive. I was browsing on google images conducting two different searches. I typed nurse on one page and doctor on the other. Where I typed nurse 99% of the pictures were of women. Where I typed doctor 13 out of the first 50 pictures were of women meaning that 74% were men. Apparently, google is still presenting the gender stereotype that doctors are men while nurses are women. This is quite a disturbing discovery given that many people depend on google for information.  The perception that these pictures are feeding to young minds is inappropriate and perpetuates gender biases.

Where has google been, when there are so many female doctors and male nurses around

However I thank google because after that discovery I was inspired to write this post. Many a times, especially when I was a teenager, I used to wonder how women managed to let a male doctor, who could be a family friend, a member of the same church,  a neighbour or at times a complete stranger examine them in the most private parts of their anatomy. I felt as if the examination by male doctors was an invasion of women’s privacy, but what choice did they have. Back then in Zimbabwe nurses (who were predominantly females) were not trained in medical surgical nursing, so their skills were far beyond those of a doctor and if any woman needed a doctor’s attention they had to do with what was available, comfort or no comfort. Of course to placate women, they were told that doctors were acting purely in a professional manner and so women needed not be shy. But this era was soon to come to an end and women would be able to choose who they wanted to touch their bodies, even so they could receive medical attention..

Just before I was due to travel to Egypt, as a safety precaution, given that I was going to a completely different part of the continent, with a different climate, different cuisine and different water, I had a full body check-up. I needed to make sure I was as healthy as possible before travelling across the African continent. I was attended to at Well Woman Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe by an interesting group of doctors. I had my blood tests carried out by a female pathologist, my scans and x-rays done by female radiologists, my breasts were checked for cancer by a woman doctor, checked for diabetes by a female endocrinologist, I mean every little thing was done by women, doctors of course and I was comfortable to discuss my medical history with these women. I am fortunate to live in that era when I have a choice, because it wasn’t always this way.

One woman pioneered this route. She became the first female African medical doctor to qualify from the then University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, now the University of Zimbabwe. He name is Dr Madeline Nyamwanza-Makonese. The announcement in the Afro-American Washington Paper back then in 1971 was very brief and clear;

“Salisbury, Rhodesia –Dr Madeline Nyamwanza has become the first black woman graduate of the University of Rhodesia medical school.”

 It was a proud moment then and it remains a proud moment today, to see how women have made remarkable progress in establishing themselves, performing tasks and holding positions which were previously the preserve of males. Where the title nurse was associated with a she and the word doctor with a he, today reference to ‘Dr Dube’  or ‘Dr Odumang’ invites the question, is the doctor male or female because it is never obvious!

Any one of them could be my doctor: Picture Credit Andy Nortnik

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 21: Lutanga Shaba

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Luta Shaba: Picture Credit BBC News

The insurmountable strength that some women display in their lives is inexplicable. Every time I would look at Lutanga Shaba in the past, my thoughts would assume that she was such a lucky woman for having the life she does at such a tender age. I also used to find her a tad bit aggressive and too outspoken, and yes that was before I knew where she has been and how far she came to be where she is. Commonly known as Luta Shaba, she is the current Executive Director of the Women’s Trust.

 When I got to know the person behind the image represented by the human body that I saw, I began to understand why she has made it to where she is at her age. She got there for no other reason than sheer determination, a determination borne out of a really strong spirit given that life dished out terrible things into her life yet she refused to drown under it all. I do not know how many people would have managed to become who she is today, if they had been given the same circumstances she was given to grow up in and face in adulthood as well.

Hers is a typical from rags to riches story. Luta Shaba, grew up in a situation of poverty, the kind of poverty that forced her to engage in transactional sex with an older man when she was only sixteen to pay her way though her high school and get food to eat. She tested HIV positive in 2002 after her mother died of an AIDS-related illness and she had discovered that the man she had been involved with had also been involved with her mother.

Out of this seemingly irreversible situation, Luta raised herself up from a nobody to become someone. She now holds a law degree and a Masters in Policy Studies. The Luta Shaba that people know today is a lawyer, policy analyst and respected women’s rights campaigner, who sits on the National Executive of the MDC one of the biggest political parties in Zimbabwe, a position she was appointed to in 2011.

Luta has been fighting for gender parity and women’s representation in decision making for a long time. She has accused the tendency of political parties to use women candidates as ‘pawns in a political game’, allocating them seats in areas that each party is very much aware not to be its stronghold. She has also advocated the financing of female candidates to ensure the smooth running of their campaigns.  She has also been criticising the lack of political will and commitment by the new Inclusive government to ensure that the gender parity provided for in the Global Political Agreement is realised on the ground.

She has pointed out and rightly too that without full recognition of women’s rights in the democratisation process, without equality and favorable electoral laws, without the proper regulation of political parties to ensure gender parity at the party level, without bringing an end to  election violence, and without addressing the continued perpetration of such violence with impunity and without concerted efforts for the mass mobilisation of women then women shall continue to be underrepresented in the political sphere.

Being HIV positive herself, Luta in 2006 opened a dating agency, ‘Hapana’ for HIV positive people with the aim to address the stigmatisation  and marginalisation of HIV positive people. She was driven by her belief that HIV people too ought to lead a happy and unrestricted life with a life companion or bed partner of their choice something that they are usually denied the moment they disclose their status to most people. Her initiative challenged the general perception that HIV positive individuals should become celibate, she challenges the idea that they should be denied choices about their sexuality or live in shame. This initiative has been challenged as being discriminatory in itself simply because it is exclusively for HIV positive people, but when one knows how conservative and narrow-minded certain sectors of Zimbabwean society can be then one will surely understand why this group was created. HIV positive people are sometimes viewed as the other while the negative are considered superior beings. In reality it is extremely difficult for an HIV positive person to marry or be involved in a relationship with an HIV negative person with full knowledge of all relatives and parents, unless the HIV positive person does not disclose his/her status.

Luta has published a couple of books, one a novel based on her own life story entitled Secrets of a Woman’s Soul (2006) in which she portrays the life of a mother who fights to shape a better future for her child and does so at her own expense where she becomes a commercial sex worker ad contracts HIV. The other; Power Stepping is a handbook giving life skills on sexuality, teenage hood, peer pressure and how girls should be the owners of their bodies.

Her life story captured in a novel

Luta also founded the Mama Milazi, a programme that she named after her grandmother which offers scholarships to academically gifted and ambitious young women who are unable to pay for their higher education. Luta has also supported with technical expertise the setting up of the Doors of Hope Development Trust, a support group of women victims of rape, some of whom are HIV positive.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 20: Delta Milayo Ndou

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Delta Milayo Ndou: Picture Credit Story Times

Yet another young person, very inspiring and set to make Zimbabwe a very proud nation, or should I say prouder since she has already started making strides in achieving that. One of the most inspiring articles I have read written by this remarkable young woman explains who she is, or rather who she isn’t. Entitled kicking out paternalism, in that article Delta Ndou introduces the subject matter by saying;

“I have never been too fond of radical feminism or any form of extremism for that matter; finding it to be an aggressive, usually narrow and unhelpful approach to conflict resolution.

Delta went on to explain how  despite her misgivings towards radical feminism, she supports certain radical steps that women take in countering paternalism. She bemoaned or rather emphatically discredited the underepresentation of women in the constitution making process in Zimbabwe, declaring unapologetically that the men of Zimbabwe, especially those in parliament are quite misguided if they think that in this day and age they can still purpot to speak on behalf of the women.  In her own words Delta said’

“The transition from theoretical gender policy frameworks to the implementation and practice of the same has yet to manifest; and while one can appreciate that it is not easy to reverse the thinking of years and that gender equity will be a process – one expects to see a degree of commitment towards living up to the words enshrined in the treaties, legislative instruments and laws which Zimbabwe has signed, ratified and enacted.”

What I see in her is a young inspiring Zimbabwean woman who knows who she is, what she wants out of her life and where she wants to go. But she wasn’t always this determined and she wasn’t always this focused. She met serious personal struggles in her life, the kind that almost drove her over the precipice. But what makes her remarkable is how she did not let her trials determine her fate. She rose above them and changed the course of her history. She surpassed her own personal struggles and has proved that, as empowered as she is, nothing can stop her from achieving what she wills in her heart and mind.

The one phrase I can use to describe Delta is that when you see her, or read one of her articles, or see another one of her updates on facebook, they speak of a personality that screams  ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ This roaring tigress is not afraid to challenge patriarchy and male domination that permits men to view women as objects that can be used and discarded.

On her profile on www.worldpulse.com she describes herself as ‘a wordsmith’…one who is ‘preoccupied by the need to challenge the status quo, to de-construct the stereotypes and the myths about what womanhood entails, particularly in patriarchal Africa.’ That is exactly who and what she is!

 Delta has gone past that stage of self discovery, a step that we all need to make in determining who we are and charting the way to becoming who we want to be. She states boldly “ I am a member of the human species, an African by race, a Zimbabwean by nationality, black (perhaps brown is more accurate) by color, a woman by sex, a Venda by tribe, a Christian by religion, a feminist by choice, a journalist by profession, a writer by design and an activist by default.”

 Delta is a journalist, a writer, a blogger and a gender activist. She is not scared to put her thoughts into words, unminced, uncensored and what you see on paper is what you get when you meet her face to face.

 In the Echo of silence  a captivating story of a woman who commits suicide after she finds her abusive husband of many years having sex with his own daughter, Delta speak to three issues. First, how women are expected to stay in marriage no matter how bad things get. Second, how relatives and society in general do not spare their precious time nor lend a listening ear to women who are suffering from abuse yet when these women die they all find the time to attend the funeral. Third, Delta speaks to the inhumanity in some men, to not only be so evil as to abuse their wives but also their own daughters. This problem has increasingly become a menace in Zimbabwean society with cases of fathers raping their own daughters appearing more and more in the courts, despite harsh sentences. The Echo of Silence story was published in the “ African Roar 2011” series by a South African publishing house “StoryTime Publishing.”

 On her blog , Delta explores many issues and is not scared to challenge the perceived normal and ordinary. In June 2011, because of her role as a blogger who advocates social and political transformation, Delta toured Washington DC and Minneapolis after she was chosen by the Washington Foreign Press Center as on of the world’s top 20 emerging Global New Media Leaders.

 Not only is she a fierce feminist but a patriotic individual who values her nation and defends its name against unjustified vilification. In her article ‘I met a Zimbabwean’, Delta addresses one of the issues that many of us have a problem with, especially when we travel outside the country. That problem is of defining oneself as an individual with their own views juxtaposed to the role we assume as ambassadors of our countries. We are challenged by individuals who have never been to our countries, have never met a national from our country but claim to know what the country is about, even claiming to know more than we do because they have access to some classified information gathered by lone researchers or stashed in some secret place by their intelligence bureau.  As Delta aptly says  it is  annoying when you have to constantly defend your country “in the face of half-truths, gross misrepresentation of facts and the supercilious know-it-all attitudes” by people that you meet wherever you go.

 Delta also blogs on Genderlinks where among other things she comes to the conclusion that any woman in an abusive relationship should ‘flee’ . In 2010 she was part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, Red Light Campaign which was fighting human trafficking in light of the world cup games that took place in South Africa. In that campaign Delta castigated the role that women play in facilitating the trafficking of other women.

She is an Alumnus of the Moremi Leadership Initiative, no wonder  she displays such strong leadership skills.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 19: The Women of Doors of Hope

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

I suppose for some people, when they have never worked with real victims of certain circumstances, they just can’t understand the gravity of the situation you are talking about. The first time someone made me extremely upset was when my colleagues and I presented the documentary ‘Hear Us’ to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Gender and one traditional Chief said. “They are lies. This film was staged and these women were lying. Men are not dogs that can sleep with one women one after the other without using protection.” There we were, with one of the victims who had volunteered to accompany us to make her appeal to the representative body of the people of Zimbabwe, Parliament and she had to listen to such nonsense and get re-traumatised. I get equally upset every time I hear people ask “what was she wearing” when they hear that a girl was raped by a random attacker. What women wear, or how they dress does not rape them, it is the warped mind of the perpetrator that conjures up images of the person before him naked that causes him to then take advantage of the victim. More so, in the case of politically motivated rape, the victim’s body is used as a tool of war. She is raped to spite her husband, father, brother or uncle with whom the perpetrator will have bad relations. So why would she lie that something so terrible happened to her if it did not and why would someone who has no idea what forensic evidence the woman gathered after her rape, deny that she was ever raped?

 Many a times, I have talked about the nature, the causes and the consequences of politically motivated violence and rape against women in Zimbabwe. I have written articles on it which those of you who have not had the chance to read can read on my worldpulse journal. My colleagues at RAU and I have consistently documented these violations in many reports such as ‘Preying on the Weaker Sex: An account of Violations against women’, ‘Forced Concubinage in Zimbabwe’, ‘Women and political violence and update’ all available on the RAU website. We have also produced documentaries, ‘Hear Us’ and ‘What about Us’ in which the victims themselves have told their stories at great risk to themselves and their families.

Some excerpts of the accounts of victims from the political rape report RAU, together with Doors of Hope and the Zimbabwe  Association of Doctors for Human Rights produced are as follows:

A woman from Manicaland testified that, “On the 22nd of June 2002 at 1pm three men came to my homestead. They entered the kitchen where I was and stood by the door. The policeman said they had come for a final search for the gun. They started searching for the gun everywhere. They did not find anything. One of the men said,” let’s burn the house. I pleaded with them not do so because my husband was away and I would not have anywhere to stay. Then one of the men covered my head with a cooking pot and told me not to remove it. Then they kept beating me with sticks me on my left leg around the hip area.  I fell down and the pot fell off my face and they put it back and continued beating me. They said, “You refused to give us the information that your husband is hiding, so we are going to make you our wife.”

Another woman from Manicaland stated that, “When I woke up the following morning on the 26th of June 2008, they had put a skirt on me and a ZANU PF t-shirt, I had blood all over my skirt and my thighs were swollen. My vagina was full of semen; I had wounds and cracks from being raped continuously. I could not walk because my legs were swollen. At around 5 am 5 men came to me and told me I could go. They carried me and left me by the road near a primary school. Two of my friends found me lying down by the road. I told them to go and get my husband. My husband came back with a wheelbarrow and carried me home. I told him that I had been raped

But even as we continue to do our work one thing bothers me. That thing is the inaccessibility of justice for the victims of such violence. The women of Zimbabwe just like the men have suffered so much at the hands of political parties and many of them live with their wounds both psychological and physical with no access to trauma counselling, medical care and medicines.

 However there is a group of women, who took their own initiative to find their own form of justice. These women began their Foundation in 2009 and called it Doors of Hope Development Trust. It operates as a non governmental organisation and a support group giving hope to victims of rape. The members are mostly victims of politically motivated rape some who have contracted HIV/AIDS from their rape as some of the rapes were gang rapes and most of the perpetrators did not use protection. Politically motivated rape has unique consequences apart from the usual stigma attached to rape. Mainstream institutions that assist victims of rape are intimidated and scared to address victims of politically motivated rape. The victims are therefore forced to find somewhere else for help or get the help in those institutions but suppress the political element in their accounts of the incidents. This amounts to re-victimisation and hence the victims never get healed.

 The strength that the women of Doors of Hope have within themselves and the willpower they yield to pick up the pieces and continue to rebuild their lives never fails to amaze me. Each time I interact with them I wish they could get the assistance they need to set their support group for victims of rape running as smoothly and be as well established as the support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS. And so today I want to recognise their resilience and celebrate their strong spirit.

 Currently Doors of Hope operates in ad hoc meetings of members. Their vision is to bring life and hope to rape victims. Their mission is to empower women victims of rape from the victim to the survivor mode. Their objectives are to find and attract other victims and encourage them to speak out, to assist women to access medication and counselling and to provide emotional support to victims. They have specific needs for capacity building including how to communicate with funding partners, identifying victims, separating partisan affiliations and professional space, proposal writing skills and organisational management skills.

 They also need empowerment workshops that will help them to find their voice as Doors of Hope. Currently Doors of Hope does not have proper office space or equipment to create a database of their members. Any well wishers, moved to assist these women to find new meaning in their lives and rebuild their crumbled castles let us know so you can help these women.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 18: Sr Theresa Camillo

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Women of cloth; that is what we used to call them. Often they were and still are misunderstood. People ask; why would a healthy woman choose to live a life of total celibacy in the name of serving God. Others think these women are living a lie, purporting to live a saintly life, married to Jesus yet they are not half as good as they seem to be.

When I was young, I was also of this mindset. I expected nuns to be perfect in their ways. My ideal nun was a gentle person, calm in temperament, never the one to get angry even when wronged, never one to shout even when exasperated and never one to punish mischievous children (and if punished we perceived it as cruelty). But now I realise that expectation was very unfair and unwarranted. After all nuns are human beings just like me and surely they are entitled to a little anger from time to time. Looking back at my expectations I realise they were outlandish, childish and very selfish.

Regina Mundi High School: Picture credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa Camillo (Click here to see her image dressed in grey) is a catholic nun in the (SJI) Sisters of the Child Jesus Sect. She was the headmistress of Regina Mundi High school in Gweru, Midlands province of Zimbabwe where I spent 6 years of my secondary and high school. She recorded amazing pass rates for many years in her all girls’ high school. We did better than all the boys’ schools in the region such as Shungu and Fletcher academically yet she also nurtured in us the sportswomen, the basket-ballers, the hockey players, the soccer players (like I was), the great debaters, public speakers, musicians and dancers that we became.

Our motto mens sana in corpore sano‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ was her preoccupation and she always wanted us to be fit in both mind and body. She taught us to eat all our meals hence meals were compulsory (and then we hated it). She also demanded that we walk briskly and purposefully from one point to the other, something I have made into a habit in my adulthood, after all loitering is a sign of complacence and laziness.

The main school block with the headmistress's office the first window to the right: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa was a loving woman, maybe even more loving than some of the mothers people left behind in their homes. She was a also a very liberal woman, accommodating of our very many misdemeanors, little temper tantrums and mood swings.  We spent 9 out of the 12 months of the year at school and she was the grounding force when we were developing from adolescence into adulthood at that boarding school. Imagine being mother to 700 teenage girls all aged between 12 and 19 years. Surely you would be pulling your hairs out each day until you had none left. But she did it. Each year she let out 100 students and took in another 100.

The fruits of the kind of women she nurtured are self evident. One only needs to look at the women who emerged out of the girls she received many years ago. She raised doctors, models, television presenters, beauty therapists, chartered accountants, human rights activists, occupational health practitioners, dentists, biomedical laboratory researchers, veterinary surgeons, engineers, pharmacists, medical surgical nurses, movie directors, lawyers, writers, lecturers, among other and some of them are wonderful mothers and wives too. Indeed she can boast of rearing numerous generations of capable women who are doing wonderful things for the development of Zimbabwean society.

The continuation of generations of women that are still being raised by that school is also the fruit of her work. In 2008 at 14 years of age, Makhosazana Moyo groomed at Regina Mundi was picked as the overall winner of the 2008 cover to cover short story writing competition. In the 2014 class of the US students achievers, three of the girls profiled for their amazing achievements, Senzeni Mpofu studying at Yale university, Rudo Esther Mudzi studying at Mt Holyoke university and Rumbidzai Vushe studying at Smith college were all from Regina Mundi. Thabiso Machingura in 2011 won awards in the American Black History Month write ups for her short story.

The Convent in which the nuns lived: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student from Regina Mundi

When we were still students guided by her, we began a youth HIV/AIDS awareness group called ‘Worth the Wait’ which advocated abstinence among young girls to refrain from sex. Today that club has been transformed into the ‘Youth Against Aids club.’ and it gives these young girls life lessons on how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.

As ‘Worth the Wait’ members we made this vow:

I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my future husband and my future children to stay sexually from this day forward until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship.

I made this vow in 1999 and I have done my damnedest to keep it, at a cost of course. I have been dumped unceremoniously in relationships for holding on to this commitment which many will argue is very old-fashioned but I will always be grateful to Sr Theresa for that value she inculcated in me. I have lost friends who I went to school with, to AIDS and I believe I am still here because of this vow which she taught me.

To date I carry two things that she always emphasised:

1. Greet visitors with a smile

2. Throw away all your litter in a bin

She has never been celebrated but I feel she deserves that history should remember her with pride, admiration and reverence for all she has done to uplift and empower the girl-child in Zimbabwe and beyond.