Au Revoir 2016!!!

Gender, Women

Goodbye 2016

The year I didn’t write
The year I didn’t create
The year I didn’t nurture my creations
The year that drained all my energy in work I didn’t love
The year my creative juices were dried up by the demands of bureaucracy
The year I matured and accepted that I desire a fulfilling career more than  the money a drag of a job could get me

Goodbye 2016
The year I got myself a home
The year I became an interior decor expert
The year I became a natural gardener; an avid student at taking hard earth and making things bloom
The year I became a plumber, an electrician, a fixer of everything
Nurturing my own home, my sanctuary

Goodbye 2016
The year I became my own woman; caring less about what people think or say about my chosen state of existence and caring more about what makes my happiness
The year I did not step my foot in a church:
-tired of being told I’m possessed by demons because I do not yearn for marriage
-tired of being the subject of alter calls so the ‘blessed’ pastor could lay his ‘holy’ hands on me to attract the heavens’ blessing and whip my average looking self into a glorious mass of ‘marriageable’ meat
-tired of being the subject of special sermons that assume single=sex positive=sinful; and so what if these are individual choices

Yet the very same pastor who constantly preached about ‘sinful’ existence went on holiday paid for by a man he knew very well to have a wife and 2 small houses; seems being single is more ‘sinful’ than adultery because that man never got his special sermon, his ‘special sins’ forgotten or maybe prayed for by the pastor while snorkeling in Durban? 😂
I could not and would not and never will; again, subject myself  to the wiles of patriarchy; ringing its bells loudly in my ears every Sunday and telling me I am not enough because my choices do not subscribe to the ‘norm’!

Goodbye 2016
The year I embraced the word ‘Fuck’; a vocabulary on its own, a multipurpose expression
Of joy: Fuuuuuuck, I got the job!
Of anger: Fuck! That driver just cut me off!
Of surprise: What the fuck! Did he just say I can’t get the service here when I have been waiting in queue for the past hour?
Of concern: Oh fuck; are you alright?
Of love: I fucking love you ❤️!
My friend Clara, with whom I spent my 2015 Christmas in Barcelona, topped it off with this post:img_6337

Goodbye  2016
The year I witnessed the extent to which the world despises women leaders:
I had always known women’s leadership was suppressed and feared but the extent wasn’t always clear to me
Dilma Roussef got impeached for ‘alleged’ corruption by a bunch of corrupt males
Hillary Clinton, with all her flaws, but with enormous experience as a global leader, was rejected and America chose a narcissistic, sexist, homophobic, islamophobic, self absorbed and immature caricature of a man as its President
The UN continued in its trend of thinking that women are good enough as as deputies but not good enough to lead, rejecting the idea of a woman as Secretary General despite there being several qualified candidates.

I welcome 2017 and all it’s surprises, joys, triumphs, defeats, pains & whatever else it has.

After 2016, this bad-ass woman is ready for anything! Sounds like self-praise? Well yeah! A famous Nigerian proverb-thank you Chinua Achebe 🙏🏾- says “the little lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree said if no one praises me then I will do it myself” and so is this little lizard praising herself!

When I was nominated for an Award

Activism, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Transitional Justice, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

I HAVE NOT WRITTEN IN A WHILE…

A lot has been going on in my life. You must be thinking that I have been too busy to write. Although you are right in thinking so, you are probably wrong in why you think I have been busy. Of course, I meant no disrespect to you and your appreciation of my writing. I just had to devote my time to my new project, The Law Hub. When you pay the site a visit, I hope you will forgive me for my long absence.

While I was away, I was nominated for an Award. I was to be voted “Humanitarian of the Year.” At first, I was excited to have been nominated so I shared with my friends, asked colleagues and family to vote for me, ran around like a headless chicken to ensure every person who could vote for me voted. I even took the banner that the organisers of the Award Ceremony created and made it my Facebook Cover photo and profile Picture on Twitter and Linked in. Vote! Vote! Vote! I urged.

Then I sat back and reflected a bit more. It was and still is a tremendous honour to have my passion awarded the recognition that it has received through this nomination. It is even more exciting to see women creating an initiative to recognise the hard work that other women are doing. However, when I reflected on the reason I had been nominated, I felt like a fraud. I became wary of what actually winning such an award would mean. Do I really deserve an award? Should I even be the one nominated for this award, any award for that matter for the work that I do?

I thought of the several women I interviewed, documenting their horrific stories of gang rape for merely exercising their choice via the ballot. Yes I may have built dossiers for criminal prosecution and yes some of the perpetrators will face prosecution, but I still wonder how these women, the victims would feel about my nomination.

I pictured the many child brides I talked to, and whose stories I documented, whose stolen innocence will never be recovered and whose future is as bleak now as it was when the choice to marry was foisted on them. Yes I may have tried very hard to push for new legislation that criminalises child marriage, but even then the fact that the big red-eyed monster that made them vulnerable –that monster called patriarchy-is still alive and strong makes me feel like I haven’t helped them much.

I remembered Mai Mpenyu (not her real name).  I remembered the scars on her back, the fear in her eyes, the hopelessness and dejection as she talked about those who assaulted her, burnt her home and destroyed her barn of tobacco. I remembered Abby, and her tale of loss-she will never be able to hold a baby in her arms because someone decided to step on her stomach when she was pregnant, caused her miscarriage and damaged her beyond repair. The reason for all this; she was fighting for a new constitution. Doesn’t she deserve the award?

I thought of the poor woman I met in Pretoria; a refugee, driven from her home and comfort, rendered an orphan, forced to be a mother to a child whose father she knows not, rendered stateless and an outcast in one blow. I wrote about her many years ago, and I said,

A woman came to the hotel where I stayed. She had heard about the survey and wanted to tell her story. The hotel would not let her onto their premises so I had to meet her on the street. The sight of her broke my heart. Her clothes were tattered. Her skin was a black-grey colour- a sign that she had not bathed in days. The baby on her back was crying incessantly. “She is hungry,” she explained, “She has not had anything to eat for days.” As she spoke I found myself struggling to hold back my tears.

I could not interview her in the hotel. “She will cause discomfort for the other guests,” the hotel manager informed me. The street was not an option either, with the baby incessantly crying and the car horns blaring. She insisted she wanted her story to be heard. We walked together and at the sight of a fruit stall I stopped to buy her a few bananas and oranges so she could feed her baby. The child quieted down and the woman began her story.

Several young men had come to her home at night in one of the rural towns of Zimbabwe. Her father was perceived to belong to the wrong political party. These men tied up her mother and father and set their hut ablaze, burning them alive. They dragged her into the forest where they raped her, one after the other then left her for dead. She had no idea which one of them was the father of her baby. She had run away from home, walked miles on foot, and begged for passage aboard any vehicle heading for South Africa. She was smuggled across the border because she did not possess valid travel documents. With no money the only thing she could give was her body; more abuse. She had believed she would be safe but in South Africa all she found was more victimisation, hunger, poverty, loneliness and pain; “I had a home. I had a family. I am educated, you know. I wanted to be a nurse.”

All I could give her were a few bananas and contacts of organisations that might help her. I wish I could have done more.

Her name and her story sits in a pile of documents, created to be used at a time when there is political will to address the past injustices committed against my people. I still remember her today. I do not know if she is still alive. Maybe the cold winter nights, or the windy rainy days had their toll on her frail frame and she gave in. I wondered about her and asked myself if she would think I deserve this nomination.

I recalled the woman in Gweru. Her child was gone. They put the baby in a sack and hit it to the ground. “This one goes with your vote,” they said. “When you vote right, the right child will come.” The baby cried until her voice got hoarse, until her cries died out, until she cried no more. They took her from her mother’s arms, a bubbly bundle of joy and returned her cold as stone, blood and froth around her mouth. I remembered the grief, in that mother’s eyes. I told her, transitional justice would take care of it. When a figment of transitional justice came, those in charge only wanted to reconcile and smoke pipe (kuputidzana fodya). She never got her justice, her baby is gone. Someday, her story shall be told but for now grief and pain, loss and despair reign. How would she feel to hear I am up for an award?

Nowadays, I sit and adjudicate-case upon case. Each one different from the previous one, but ultimately the same. Governments turning on their own people. Africans against Africans. Displaced people, tortured people, assaulted people, unlawfully arrested people, detained people, jailed for demanding their rights, some disappeared, never to be seen again. All of them denied dignity- human dignity. Faceless names, drops in an ocean of never-ending injustice. How will my contribution end their suffering, if at all it succeeds in abating it.

I have seen horror, pain, loss, dejection. I have tried to empathise. I have made promises to myself that justice will be done for all these victims, yet so much more remains to be done. I want justice done, the justice that each and every one of these victims desires and deserves. Should I consider myself a humanitarian? I only did what I could do, and continue to do as much as I can- what my circumstances enable me to although I still feel I should do more. I am pretty sure I do not deserve an award; for what is my humanity if I do not seek to have the human-ness in those around me recognised, respected and protected. Surely working to see that happen should not be outstanding; it must be the norm.

Njengoba ubaba njalo wangitshela , umuntu ungumuntu ngenxa abantu!

As my father always told me, a person is a person because of people!

She must cover up?! : Reflections on the #MiniSkirtMarch

Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

On Saturday 4 October 2014, Zimbabwean women, led by Katswe Sistahood, launched the #MiniSkirtMarch- a protest against men who publicly harass women for their dressing, especially at commuter omnibus ranks. The messaging of the #MiniSkirtMarch was about women refusing to have the way they dress dictated to us or to be used as an excuse for abuse. It was about rights and choice and how these should be respected. The #MiniSkirtMarch was about confronting our society’s double standards about women’s bodily integrity and autonomy. It aimed to send a strong message that there are no tolerable excuses for perpetrating violence against women in any form. It was not about all Zimbabwean women wanting to wear miniskirts because some, like me, have different preferences.

It is not our culture?

The excuse often given to justify why women should not wear what they want is that certain dressing is not part of our culture. Which culture? As far back as history tells us through art, stone carvings and folktale; our cultural dress has never been about covering up. Mhapapa neshashiko (the skin hides covering women’s backs and fronts) were very short. They covered the ‘bare essentials.’ Women’s breasts were not sacred, they were left hanging open. Our society borrowed the concept of wearing clothes from the Victorian British culture through colonisation. Our crisis is that we borrowed a concept in development and so as British society has transformed its values including shaking off patriarchal notions that dictate women’s choices, we have remained stuck in the past holding on to a half-borrowed concept? We choose to dictate the length of a woman’s clothing. Until a few years ago, some men on our streets beat up women for wearing trousers. Some men in their homes today forbid their wives from wearing trousers or short clothes? Why do we find the exposure of a woman’s legs offensive today when our real true culture did not find the exposure of her legs, stomach and breasts so? Why do we find pride in the terrible Colonial Victorian teaching that says it is shameful for the beauty of a woman’s body to be exposed the way she feels comfortable? For a nation that preaches sovereignty, we do embrace our mental colonisation quite comfortably when it allows the oppression of women.

This cartoon, which is part of the Kenyan #MyDressMyChoice campaign, whose message resonates with our #MiniSkirtMarch captures this point.

 

Kenyan Cartoon part of the #MyDressMyChoice Campaign

Kenyan Cartoon part of the #MyDressMyChoice Campaign

It’s not about dressing…

Abuse is about power, access and control and not about dressing.

Covering the whole body except for the eyes will not protect women from abuse. I personally witnessed this on the streets of Sudan and Egypt where all women, Arab, Black and White were sexually harassed.  The men did it because they could, with no consequence. Society was permissive of their abuse and so they whispered lustful words to us and groped us on the subways; even those in Burqas, where the only body parts visible were the eyes. The abuse was so bad in Egypt, that the Egyptian government created “women only” sections on the subways. It is hence not only offensive, but downright ridiculous to suggest that wearing clothes that are “offensive” to some men’s senses justifies harassment. As a friend said to me; “Is it not ironic then that these men find wearing a mini-skirt more indecent than attacking the woman for wearing the skirt.” They will strip her, drag her across town, cheer and jeer in the name of morality; and then call themselves human? Does she look ‘more decent’ stripped naked?

Abuse of women knows no class. When men dictate what women wear, they are asserting their property rights over women. Men feel that it is their right to determine what women wear; I am sorry maybe that worked when our laws still treated us as perpetual minors but the times have changed. The Legal Age of Majority Act tells me I am an adult, with full rights as citizen to make choices about my life including how I choose to dress.

But back to the point on power, it must feel good doesn’t it; for a powerless man, without a dollar in his pocket to dress down a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious girl. In that fleeting moment when he strips her naked, he must feel that he has power. Humiliating her makes him feel good and invincible. He could have done it to the similarly dressed girl in her Mercedes Benz, but because he has no access to her she remains safe. Another man however, in that other girl’s circles, will, with access, do to her what the girl on the street is subjected to, if not worse. Society’s reaction in both instances is to question the girls’ dressing; they provoked the reactions, right?

No, wrong! A man will not suddenly attack a woman for wearing a miniskirt! That vile character is in him. Men who attack women for their dressing use dressing as an excuse for expressing their debauchery. As a society we are helping them to get away with murder when we promote the idea that women are prey and must hide themselves from would-be hunters. We make excuses for criminals and criminalise victims, fooling ourselves to think they invited their own abuse. We are wrong! If rape was a crime of lust, then only mature women would get raped. How come then children, who have not matured enough to be sexually attractive are raped by their own fathers!

Our society, men and women alike, thrives on excusing bad behaviour and using deeply hurtful words for individuals who do not fit into broad social categories. The same applies with women’s dressing. To be considered respectable, women must wear a certain type of clothing. Wearing clothes deemed too short, too revealing, or too tight and offensive to some members of society’s sensibilities is a reason for labelling. ‘Ipfambi-hure’-she is a prostitute they say. Haana hunhu-she is of loose morals. Idioms such as “Chigamhira mudenga bra rehure” are used to describe women who wear push-up bras to expose their cleavage. The paradox here is that cultural dynamism is promoted through language that disrespects women yet women’s dressing choices and preferences must not be part of societal transformation. The biggest irony is that the Generals of the Moral Police, who frown upon women, including ‘powerful women who wear miniskirts in the company of younger men’ may themselves wear ground sweeping skirts but lack that one element that makes us human-separate from others animals; the ability to think and reason, to realise that my choices are mine-you are free to make yours differently. And so we are sociliased into conformance, failing to say and do what we really think and want; what famous Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie calls “turning pretense into an art form.”

As Zimbabwe commemorates the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, the key message is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in our communities: ‘Promoting safe spaces for women and girls.’ Our current reality is that women are not safe, in their homes and on the streets. We must increase our efforts to create public spaces free of violence, including verbal violence, and sexual harassment. Creating those safe spaces is about addressing these stereotypes which marginalise women. Yes we are diverse in our beliefs and strong opinions and choices but we must express these opinions respectfully, with civility and courtesy and stripping women naked because we do not like their dress choices is disrespectful and uncivilised.

Zim human rights defender wants stronger institutions

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights, Women, Youth, Zimbabwe

**I am reposting this from an article written by the Newsday on my acceptance onto the YALI Fellowship Programme **

Pan-African human rights defender, Rumbidzai Dube, wants strong institutional structures to promote accountability and good governance.

27_Rumbidzai-Dube

 

She says the invitation to participate in the first ever Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Washington Fellowship in June will allow her to reflect on her work and life experiences in Zimbabwe while searching for innovative ways to expand and strengthen her work.

Her most recent work at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) involves assessing the contribution of legislators to the democratic process. She tracks the MPs’ attendance, participation, representation of their constituencies and exercise of their oversight role over state institutions.

“I assumed the role of watching what our Parliament does, recognising that Parliament is a critical institution that has the capacity to ensure and guarantee state and government accountability. Putting members of parliament in the spotlight enhances their performance and encourages debate.”

Rumbidzai will spend six weeks at the University of Virginia/ William & Mary. “I will also increase my efforts in public legal education by launching a new website (www.allthingslegalzim.co.zw), a project that will simplify the law for the ordinary person.”

Forecasting her role during the Fellowship, she appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. To her, the ambassadorial role foisted on her for being one of the 30 Zimbabwean young leaders that have been invited to participate in the Washington Fellowship presents a chance to brag but also to tell hard truths about Zimbabwe, she says. “It will be a delicate balancing act.”

As a legal researcher with a human rights non-governmental organisation and a human rights defender, she has seen the best there can be of the country and yet she cannot shy away from uncivil acts perpetrated against innocent individuals. She notes;

“Being an ambassador means defending my country’s honour and integrity, bragging about the good in it from the amazing people, the wonderful touristic sites, the abundant natural resources, with the biggest bragging point at the moment being that we are the most educated country with the highest literacy rate on the continent,” She adds, “on the other hand I will have to tell the hard truths of the indefensible and reckless acts of violence and corruption that I have witnessed and observed in my work as a human rights defender.”

Rumbidzai completed a law degree at the University of Zimbabwe in 2007. Three years later, she attained a LLM degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Her career has spurned several international human rights bodies including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Egypt (2011) allowing her to witness, first-hand, the struggle for human rights and democratic transformation in Egypt and other North African countries during the Arab Spring.

She also worked briefly in 2010 with the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

She sees herself as a social justice advocate, passionate about using the power of the written word to inform, educate and transform societies.

She writes on her personal blog- MaDube’s Reflections– where she interrogates issues of the law as it relates to women, human rights, democratic governance, international relations, and global politics. She is an admitted member of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

#CSW58- MDG 6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

Activism, Development, Gender, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

I saw a headline in one of yesterday’s papers which said: “MDC official succumbs to Malaria.” Yes, Malaria, as a disease only becomes topical when it kills a prominent individual. Outside such circumstances, the media pays it very little, if not, no attention. Yet malaria remains one of the biggest health problems our country has to deal with. Did you know that 50% of our population is at risk of Malaria? And, did you also know that 1 in 12 children die before their 5th birthday of Malaria? Do you now see why we must pay malaria as much attention as HIV/AIDS?

Another disease, well known and feared but with hardly any statistics to tell us what it is and how much it has affected our people is cancer. All we know is that the number of death certificates, with the cause of death written down as cancer, are dramatically increasing. Women are being diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer while the number of men with prostate cancer is also increasing. We have many cases of individuals seeking donations to have surgery done on growths in the stomach, jaws, throat abroad and a vast number are also succumbing to lung cancer. Costs of getting cancer treatment are steep, estimated at $500 per session and government no longer subsidises the patients because they says government has no funds.

Typhoid and Cholera are also killing many people. The annoying thing about the scourge of these diseases in Zimbabwe is that it was purely man-made. Yes, I said that! We brought cholera and typhoid unto ourselves through the failure of our government to provide us with clean water and ensure sanitation for its citizens. Meanwhile, the bosses at the municipal councils responsible for collecting our rubbish bins, repairing our sewer pipes and providing us with clean water were always whining that there was not enough money for it while they paid each other $35 000 salaries.

Tuberculosis is also killing many of our people. Fortunately, the drugs are available for free in our public hospitals so once diagnosed; an individual can be helped and healed. Although about 79% of the people treated of TB in 2011 also had HIV/AIDS, 21 % were just cases of TB-something that a lot of people have lost touch with; assuming that only HIV positive individuals can suffer from TB.

We have been doing well in our fight with HIV/AIDS. Infections reduced from 30% in 2000 to 15% in 2011. However it is worrying to note that HIV/AIDS affects more women than men as prevalence is 6% higher among women (18% prevalence) than men (12% prevalence). And so it is perplexing to understand why some people JUST don’t get what we mean when we speak of the feminisation of HIV/AIDS, or the need for addressing gender relations in ending HIV/AIDS. Can she negotiate for safe sex [with her HIV positive partner]? Can she say no to sex with her [HIV positive] husband? How many of the women will get HIV/AIDS from their [HIV positive] husband in that polygamous marriage? How many of the women will contract the disease from that serial rapist? And so the nature of the relationships [where women have less power] determines the risk [higher] of getting HIV/AIDS and reflects in the prevalence [higher among women].

What have we done well?

  • HIV/AIDS testing has significantly improved. It takes less time to get tested and the counselling services have improved.
  • The roll out of the Anti-Retro Viral Treatment (ART) has been largely successful, with free drugs being provided for patients in public hospitals.
  • The successful implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) has helped reduce new infections in children.
  • The availability of malaria and tuberculosis (TB) drugs for free in public hospitals has helped the fight against both diseases.

What have we not done?

  • We only have 2 public hospitals treating cancer – Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo and Parirenyatwa in Harare.
  • These hospitals have very little in the form of radiation therapy equipment, drugs and manpower in the form of specialists.
  • We have not opened our eyes to the reality of the increase in cancer detections enough to take steps to prevent its outbreak.

What more can we do?

  • We need to allocate more funds to addressing all these diseases. Relying on external partners’ support is unreliable and risky and as proved by the withdrawal of funds by the Global Fund, the plug on such funds can be pulled off any minute. Government must adequately budget so that donor funds become surplus, not the core.
  • More focus needs to be paid to dealing with cancer as cancer deaths are on the increase. Further, awareness efforts on what causes cancer and how it can be cured need to be scaled up.
  • Above and beyond the policy and practice, we need to address our ethos as a people. The reality of the high HIV infections among women lies in unequal gender relations where women are unable to negotiate for safe sex. Without addressing these gender relations, women will remain vulnerable.
  • We must address corruption; Salary-gate is part of the reason why people died of cholera and typhoid. Those who sanctioned and those who took fat salaries home while some poor people drank infected and dirty water to their death bed have blood on their hands.

#CSW58-MDG 5: Promoting Maternal Health

Activism, Africa, Development, Emancipation, Gender, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

When I reflect on the risk and sacrifices that women make in this world, it makes me wonder when, why and how it came to be that in many parts of the world, they are regarded as second class citizens. What am I saying?

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) of 2011, at least 10 women die every day due to pregnancy-related complications. Did you hear that, 10 women die every day while giving birth to children, some of them sons, who will then turn on their mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins and treat them as second class citizens. Isn’t that ironic?

Millennium Development Goal 5 is definitely one of the goals that Zimbabwe will not be able to meet. With maternal deaths estimated to be above 960 deaths for every 100 000 live births, the target of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters can remain an aspiration for now. Given that the 960 deaths are official statistics, which God knows how accurate they are, with the way our government is out of touch with the issues on the ground on so many levels, the rate is possibly even higher.

Let us assume for a minute that these statistics in fact are right, I am still perplexed by the worrying trend that factors such as education, class, location and age are no longer critical in determining who is affected. Uneducated and educated, poor and rich, rural and urban, and older and younger women are all dying in child birth. Clearly there are hidden nuances to the problem and successfully dealing with maternal health will needs exploring these. For instance, cases of celebrities who passed on in child birth, grabbed the headlines, raising the need for a more concerted effort into addressing the issue of maternal mortality.

What are some of these nuances?

  • We simply do not have enough trained health professionals to deal with the delivery of our babies. Our nurses left and we are not doing much to motivate those who remained behind to remain in our service and to be motivated at work.
  • The private health-care system has not been effectively regulated. Just in the past year I have had 2 friends and a relative who have had nasty encounters with private health practitioners. The first friend went to a reputable women’s health centre where she was told she had a growth in her uterus and needed to have her uterus cleaned. Fortunately for her, she chose not to do that and sought a second opinion. Guess what-the supposed ‘growth’ in her uterus was a baby. And to think these people have advanced machines for scans and all that other fancy stuff!!

Another friend elected to deliver her baby through a Caesarean and informed her gynaecologist of her choice. However, he kept pushing the dates for the performance of the Caesarean forward, in what she feared was an attempt to create complications in her delivery, leading to her increased stay in hospital and increased bill=more money for the doctor.

My other relative had had two babies, delivered through normal births without any complications. However for her third baby, the doctor dramatically chose to ‘induce’ her labour prematurely. She could not understand why he did so when her labour was not delayed and her pregnancy was advancing normally. Eventually she found out why when the bill came with a breakdown of:

  1. Costs for inducing labour
  2. Costs for delivering the baby
  3. Costs for doing the ‘stitches’ on the mother
  4. Costs of medication to clean the wounds

She also complained that the same doctor had developed a reputation of forcing women whose babies he delivered to have more ‘stitches’  or proclaim non-existent complications requiring caesarean delivery because doing so meant he would charge more for sewing them back together and performing the surgery. It seems the love for money far exceeds the observance of medical ethics these days.

What have we done well?

  • Our implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme (PMTCT) has significantly reduced cases of HIV/AIDS infections in children at birth. HIV testing has improved and the responsibility lies with the mothers to choose life for their children.
  • The adoption of the National Campaign to Accelerate the Reduction of Maternal Mortality (NCARMM) directly corresponding with the African Union (AU) Campaign on the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa in itself is an important development as it affirms government’s recognition that maternal mortality is a serious problem that needs addressing.

What have we not done well?

Government admits that most maternal deaths are a result of time taken to seek healthcare because of ignorance or lack of funds to pay for hospital care; time needed to reach a healthcare because hospitals are too far and there is no easily accessible transport to and from the health facility or the cost to do so is high and unaffordable and time taken to access care at the health facility-where there is generally an air of neglect of women in health-care facilities by highly unmotivated nurses.

Generally health services are inaccessible particularly in rural areas where hospitals and clinics are not within easy reach and the transport networks to the major clinics and hospitals are not easily accessible. Increasingly, the service in hospitals, particularly public/government hospitals, has deteriorated and has become poor. Pregnant women suffer neglect in hospitals resulting in some avoidable losses and deaths. Socio-economic challenges, related with the current economic environment significantly impact women’s access to medical services as they cannot afford to pay the user fees. There has been reduced uptake of contraception for inexplicable reasons.

What more can we do?

  • We need to adequately fund all our health institutions. Although a government policy stating that women should not pay user fees exists, it is impractical. If clinics do not make women pay, then they will not have the gloves, medication and swabs to attend to the women at child birth. Until and unless government adequately funds these facilities then the assertions that user fees have been scrapped will remain what they are; mere rhetoric!!
  • We must address religious and traditional practices that deny women access to medical facilities or that delay until patients are in critical condition. Zvitsidzo (Apostolic sects’ version of maternal wards), located in bushes in the middle of nowhere, secretive and denying access to the public, are an example of how maternal care is being compromised. Because of the veil of secrecy that these sects throw over these spaces, it is not clear how many women actually die and whether there are any complications that women have to live with for the rest of their lives for failing to give birth in certified maternal health care facilities.
  • We must maintain our reliable supply of contraception BUT we must find out, through comprehensive research, why there is reduced uptake of contraceptives.
  • We must take measures to motivate our nurses to do their jobs effectively. Without the necessary incentives, women will continue to lose their lives in avoidable circumstances.

#CSW58-MDG 4: Reducing child mortality

Activism, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

In 2013 we are losing 57 children for every 1000 children that are born alive. These children are dying because of neonatal causes such as birth complications (34%), others from HIV/AIDS (20%), Pneumonia (10%), Malaria (9%), Diarrhoea (7 %)), Injuries (3%), Measles (1%), Meningitis (1%) and other causes. One famous (and hot) actor recognised the source of the problem as lack of political will and conscience and stated;

“Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have. Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right to life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold.”-Brad Pitt

He is right. The major reasons why our children are dying are circumstances that can be avoided and addressed with the relevant political will to do so. We would have less babies dying in child birth if our hospitals were more accessible and affordable. Women are already doing a national duty in giving birth; should they be made to pay for it as well? If anything, should they not be given allowances for allowing our nation to grow? Service fees must be scrapped; however the reality at the moment is that this is not a viable option because government is not allocating enough funds for the public clinics and hospitals to run efficiently. How about switching that defence budget and making it the health budget, dear government?

The high levels of diarrhoea are a direct consequence of the poor sanitation (where 35% of our population has no proper sanitation) and unsafe water (with 20% of our population having no access to safe and clean drinking water). When will our government get its priorities right; to address corruption within local councils, to cut those $35 000 salary pegs for top municipal bosses and reallocate the funds to purchasing water treatment chemicals instead? When will our rural district councils stop buying fancy land-rovers and prioritise sinking and maintaining boreholes so that the 50% of the rural population who have no safe drinking water can have their needs met?

Malaria can be prevented with the availability of mosquito nets, mosquito coils, and mosquito repellents, fumigation of households and swamps and ingestion of anti-malarial tablets. It can also be cured if the drugs for curing it are made available, readily and easily. How about government allocating all its available funds to address malaria to ensuring its prevention and cure-more practical efforts, less printing of Ministry of Health with the ‘Let us prevent Malaria message at the back’ t-shirts that I see people brandishing at the gym?

Previously it was almost like a death sentence for a child to be born to an HIV positive mother but technology has shown that mother to child transmission can be avoided during pregnancy and during birth as well. Government should increase its efforts at rolling out the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) programme. We want an AIDS free generation as soon as yesterday and as long as we do not prioritise preventing the birth of HIV Positive babies; that will remain a pipe dream.

What have we done well?

  • Zimbabwe has been doing well with its voluntary HIV testing of expectant mothers. PMTCT has significantly reduced HIV/AIDS infections in young children.
  • We have successfully vaccinated the majority of our children with BCG, Whooping Cough, TB, Polio 1, Polio 2, Diphtheria and Measles vaccines being administered.

What more can we do?

  • To succeed in significantly reducing child mortality, we need to get rid of malnutrition and that is possible when we improve food security broadly and have supplementary feeding programs for children in schools and at clinics;
  • We need to scale up our PMTCT;
  • We need to have free and accessible vaccination of children from curable diseases;
  • We must improve our water supply and sanitation to avoid avoidable deaths from diseases such as cholera, dysentery;

We should never forget that the solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today. (Margaret Mead)

#CSW58- MDG 2: Achieving Universal Primary Education

Africa, Emancipation, Women, Zimbabwe

Of all the millennium development goals (MDGs), achieving universal primary education is something that Zimbabwe has recorded tremendous progress in.  We boast of the highest literacy rate in Africa, recording an impressive 90.7%; the only country on the African continent with a literacy rate above 90%. I, as some Zimbabweans do too, consider these statistics with a pinch of salt, given that in my context-it is not how the world views us but how we view ourselves that matters the most. Even though we may be considered highly educated, I am disgruntled with the quality of education that our children are receiving. The education system is fraught with challenges, among these;

  • the inability of parents to pay fees because of the harsh economic climate resulting in school drop-outs and frequent absenteeism;
  • the inability of government to protect children who cannot pay fees from getting expelled from school. Even though policy says children should not be expelled, its implementation is weak;
  • the brain drain which has seen  many qualified teachers migrating to so called “greener pastures” because they can’t stand a life of grooming other people’s children to become significant members of society while their own become paupers given their meagre salaries;
  • the lack of motivation amongst our teachers because of their poor working conditions characterised by low salaries and no incentives, which causes them not to teach our children in normal time and forces parents to pay for “extra-lessons;” and
  • the challenges that the examination body; the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) faces in creating examination scripts, disseminating examination material, marking examinations and distributing results of examinations on time.

It is consoling however to hear that enrolment into primary school is still high despite the fact that primary education is not free anymore as it was soon after independence. Rural areas record higher rates of enrolment (84.1%) than the urban areas (73.4%). This could partly be explained by the fact that the majority of Zimbabwe’s population resides in the rural areas. The number of girls in primary school also remains high, although dropouts begin to increase from secondary level going upwards.

Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children

Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children

What have we done well?

  • The Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) has been instrumental in enhancing girls’ and boys’ access to education, especially orphans and other vulnerable children. This programme has paid school fees and other levies for the under privileged members of society. However it is worrying that this programme is undergoing financial challenges, meaning that many of its beneficiaries have been left stranded and are likely to fail to continue going to school.

What have we not done?

  • Our budgetary allocation to education remains low. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), recommend that an education budget should be at a minimum 6% of the Gross National Product. Although we have done this to the book, our economy’s performance means that this amount is so little that it only pays for teachers’ measly salaries.
  • We have not been compiling statistics on the completion rate of primary level education by girls, to understand in particular why girls drop out of school. This would help us to understand the prevalence of some of the factors that cause girls to leave school such as child marriage,early marriage, sexual violence against girls, teenage pregnancy, domestic servitude and inability to pay fees and how much girls suffer because of it. It would also help us to know where we should focus our interventions.

What more can we do?

  • We used to have free primary education soon after independence, what happened to that? Now parents have to bear the costs of sending their children in a challenging economic environment. Let us bring it back if we want to ensure that we have an educated nation. Primary education is the most basic form of education and if we can’t give that to our citizens then what kind of population are we growing?
  • It is clear that some traditional and religious practices are preventing children from going to school or continuing with their education kunyanya mapostori. Mere policy encouraging them to send their children to school remains inadequate. We need stronger penal provisions to force such religious sects and traditionalists to conform and allow their children to have the most basic need in their lives; an education. If politicians are going to mix and mingle with mapostori when they campaign during elections, but fail beyond the campaigns to have meaningful dialogue with them about treating their women and children better,  then the politicians have failed us all and these children.
  • We allowed our schools, especially primary schools to be used as political bases where rallies and political meetings were held. In the 2008 election period, such activities were marked with devastating levels of violence which children either experienced or witnessed resulting in some dropouts. Teachers were also targeted, some beaten, others abducted and causing many teachers to desert their posts and migrate. Most of these were replaced by unqualified temporary teachers. Cumulatively, this has also affected the quality of our education and we need to address this and ensure the highest quality of education.

We love bragging, and we have reason to brag because we are better educated than all the other African countries but can our government fix all these problems already so we brag some more!

#CSW58 Zimbabwe’s progress- MDG 1: Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Development, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

Over the past 15 years, Zimbabwe has not made great strides in achieving the goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger due to the economic decline that has persisted since 2000. Although efforts have been focused on improving economic growth, with our GDP improving from 5.4% in 2009 to 9.3% in 2011, the process of growth has not been inclusive. A comprehensive approach to ending poverty and ensuring inclusive growth, to me, would mean
1. the creation of decent employment;
2. the promotion of entrepreneurship through development of ICTs and other infrastructure;
3. the enhancement of access to and quality of social services;
4. a reduction in inequality between men and women and between social classes;
5. the promotion and implementation of a strategy to address the effects of climate change and the environmental hazards it brings

We still have a lot of our people living on less than $1.25 per day which is the global index measure of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2012 we only managed to reduce hunger by less than 10% while other countries such as Ghana, Congo, Mauritania, Malawi and Angola reduced hunger by a margin of 50% or more.

There is limited availability of loans translating into poor access to loaning facilities. This means more corruption by those who hold the reins to the finance, but of course in Zimbabwe that has a different name-it s called sanctions. The conditions of accessing the loans are extremely stringent for women, who predominantly are outnumbered by their male counterparts in owning immovable property that is required as collateral. If anything the last 15 years have seen increasing levels of poverty as our country has lost its middle class to create two classes, the poor and the rich. I am one of the poor. The majority of women-66% are in the informal sector, providing domestic labour and farm labour. Only 34 % are in formal employment.

What have we done well?

  • There is a marked decline in the number of underweight children under the age of 5 from 11+% in 2009 to 10% in 2012. This means that our fight against malnutrition in young children has largely been successful. I reckon the feeding schemes in schools and hospitals are what has paid off. I am not sure how these will be sustained since most are funded by donors (read western stooges and detractors).

What have we not done?

  • Our agricultural sector has not been performing well and we are being mocked, left right and centre as the classic example of a nation that turned from a bread-basket to a basket case. Food insecurity has also increased as a consequence of increasing concentration in commercial cash crop farming rather than growing food crops.
  • We continue to marginalise the people who till the land-the women- in land allocation processes. Only 20% of the beneficiaries of the land reform are women.

Photo

  • We redistributed land to poor peasants but have not followed up their ability to utilise the land through the provision of capital.
  • We have no data on how well we are doing. Most of the available statistics are outdated to 2011 [Is this a reflection on the incompetence of ZIMSTAT or are they just underfunded?]
  • We do not have gender disaggregated data [again this is an indictment on ZIMSTAT to pull their socks up].
  • We have not and are not adequately funding women dominated sectors of the economy including small scale farming and other small to medium enterprises (SME’s).
  • We have no comprehensive social protection services [and how could we when our National Social Security Authority (NSSA) is busy investing the funds workers contribute  in shady deals]

What more can we do?

I have a proverb that I like which says “Give a woman a dollar and she will either create another dollar or feed her family with it. Give a man a dollar and he will buy a beer.” Yes, this may sound stereotypical of men but the reality on the ground indicates this is true. The majority of women place the needs of their families and children above their own in almost any given circumstance. This is why a wise government should know that ending poverty is possible when we invest in our women. This is what I propose we do;

  • Our commitment through the budget to fund women’s projects must increase and extend to ensuring equitable, non-partisan distribution of the funds. This business of giving farming inputs to certain political-party-card holders should stop.
  • We need to increase women’s participation in both small scale initiatives and large scale ones, be it in mining, agriculture, fisheries or any other area.
  • We must recognise the informal sector as the current backbone of our economy and give better protection to the women in the informal sector through enacting the relevant legislation. Current labour laws are focused on regulating the formal sector with very little attention paid to the informal.
  • We must negotiate the inter-Africa trading space with women in mind. Our cross-border traders, who are predominantly women, need a friendly and safe working space to enable them to continue to provide for their families. We must never forget that had it not been for cross-border traders, Zimbabwe would have collapsed in 2008-2009. They brought us bread, mealie-meal, soap, cooking oil, milk and even eggs from across the borders.
  • We must have a land audit to ensure optimal utilisation of the land by repossessing all the land not being fully utilised and redistributing it with a focus on women farmers. We cannot afford to have idle individuals with big-fat behinds to claim ownership of land that they do not know how to till, do not till and does not produce anything meaningful except spans of grass and thorns.
  • We must increase our investment in women farmers as a means of increasing production, reducing hunger and malnutrition and increasing food security.
  • Our reliance on the rains (which are erratic) to sustain our agricultural sector is unsustainable. We must invest in irrigation. However this will also mean improving our electricity supply, which at the moment is nightmarish for the average urban dweller and totally gothic for the rural dweller.
  • We need to resuscitate our manufacturing industry, which used to provide employment to the majority of urban dwellers and whose closure has resulted in increased unemployment and poverty among our urban population. This business of grabbing productive companies and industries and turning them into rat-breeding warehouses must stop. Let those capable of running industries do so. If we want to capitalise from their hard earned productivity then let us create a taxation regime that gives the fiscus significant gains. Alternatively we should create a labour system that allows the employees of these companies to have share schemes and benefit from the huge profits we are sniffing after. We do not have to own companies to benefit from their existence in our country when we can’t run them profitably; although owning them and making them truly productive would be ideal.

Spaces and Power: The story of Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda

Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

On Wednesday the 10th of July, I woke up to the disappointing news that  UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had not appointed Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda as the new UN Women Director. I was disappointed for a number of reasons;

  1. She is a Zimbabwean woman and as one of us I stood solidly behind her just as the African group Gender Is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) stood behind her .
  2. I had hoped, beyond hope that her appointment would be the beginning of the recognition of Zimbabwean citizens within the global system as individual citizens of a country with a complex history but also with amazing capacity to hold key and top positions rather than as an extension of our government which is not exactly the most popular nor the most influential within global politics.
  3. But above all, I was disappointed that the process of appointment was mired in secrecy and a general lack of transparency. First there were six candidates as listed here . Then there were seven as listed here . Commentaries such as this ; predicting who would be appointed never mentioned the individual who was finally appointed. But clearly there were eight or more candidates.
    Nyaradzai in conversation with AU Chair Nkosazana Dlamini, Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Thokozani Khupe and GIMAC founder Mama Ruth from Uganda at the AU Women Stakeholders' Conference on Agenda 2063

    Nyaradzai in conversation with AU Chair Nkosazana Dlamini, Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Thokozani Khupe and GIMAC founding member Mama Ruth from Uganda at the AU Women Stakeholders’ Conference on Agenda 2063

Should the UN have been more transparent?  In my view, yes because if the global body that preaches transparency and accountability does not practise what it preaches, what are we to think? I believe I had a legitimate expectation as a supporter of Nyaradzai’s candidacy to know all those who were in the running for the same position?  Surely it is not too much to ask that those who were vying for this position should have been so declared, openly and publicly. Why then this secrecy?  I agree with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in expressing deep disappointment in the lack of transparency of the UN in appointing the UN Women Executive Director.

I do have a good idea why things went the way they did.

A couple of months ago, a good friend of mine-Marjoca-introduced me to the concept of people, power and spaces. She gave me an article by John Gaventa called “Finding the Spaces for Change: A power analysis” in which Gaventa analyses the different kinds of spaces in which citizens operate, trying to engage policy processes from local to global fora. Gaventa makes a very incisive observation; that it is not about the presence of institutions that citizens are able to engage effectively but rather about power relations that exist between and among those seeking to engage these institutions.

Gaventa talks of closed or uninvited spaces where decisions are made behind closed doors with no pretence of broadening the boundaries of inclusion. Attempts to try to penetrate these spaces are futile. To mind comes the core of the UN Security Council, what the world has come to know as the superpowers; China, Russia, France, the US and the UK. The BIG FIVE.   Just like the big five within the African context- the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo- no matter how much the zebra asserts her belonging in the animal kingdom; she will never be one of the big five. Unless of course, maybe one of the big five goes extinct- something that we all hope never to happen for the sake of future generations. But my point is-such spaces are so closed yet they make decisions for and on behalf of others; decisions that are not always for the good of all represented.

Gaventa also talks of invited spaces where individuals can enter by invitation. The rules of engagement are already set. So you may try to change them, but will only make so much headway. To mind comes the UN Secretariat where anyone who works for it goes knowing that they are subject to rules, regulations, codes of conduct and of course the crippling bureaucracy.

Gaventa then talks of claimed spaces where individuals enter into spaces, set the rules, learn how to push the boundaries and ensure that the process of inclusion is not just window dressing. Maybe just maybe, someday the UN will become this space. Maybe the time will come when we won’t ask questions like; who is allowed into that space? Who isn’t allowed into it and why? What can we say and do within that space? How effective are we in influencing that space to cater to our needs?

In my mind, I am clear why Nyaradzai did not make it. She is a radical at heart, the embodiment of activism, heading the world’s largest grassroots movement the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) and tackling girls and women’s issues in the most brazen manner. Why shouldn’t she be radical, when she has worked with women for so long that the work is now her life? Why shouldn’t she be brazen when her life and experiences embody the lived realities of the suffering African child?

Nyaradzai receiving African solidarity from sisters from the continent in Addis Ababa early on in the year

Nyaradzai receiving African solidarity from sisters from the continent in Addis Ababa early on in the year

She walked barefoot to school, braving the cold. She learnt to manage hunger and live on what was available. She knows the value of education for the girl child-she is a living testimony of the results of the value of an educated and empowered girl child.  She knows what it means not have access to clean, safe and accessible water. She knows what it means to walk miles to a hospital just to get painkillers for a headache, only to get back home with sore feet and a headache.

Is this kind of individual not exactly what the hungry, war-torn, sick, education-hungry, battered, barefoot, pregnant, poor women and children world over needed?

Surely if the UN Women Director post had been filled based on popular support and global citizens’ belief  in individual candidates’ ability to best represent the wishes and aspirations of women and children, then I have no doubt Nyaradzai would have made it.

But decisions were made, we know not how; we were just informed after the fact. One of the requirements was that the candidate must be politically astute and able to engage effectively with a wide range of key actors in international negotiations. Clearly, for the UN such politically astuteness means you must have been a politician in your past life if the precedent set so far is anything to go by. Its first Director was the former President of Chile (2006-2010) and its second Director is the former Vice President of South Africa (2005-2008).

When I was a little girl, I had big dreams. I dreamt that one day I would be the Secretary General of the United Nations. Then I grew up and I began to understand that not my passion, nor my dedication to the cause for human rights would get me to where I wanted to go. There were other factors that would determine whether I made it into that space like; where was I born? Was I born male or female because in its whole history the UN has never had a female Secretary General? Instead it has been one male after the other rotating from region to region Ban Ki Moon, the current Sec Gen; Kofi Annan from Ghana (Jan 1997-Dec 2006); Boutros Boutros-Ghali from Egypt (Jan 1992-Dec 1996; Javier Pèrez de Cuèllar from Peru (Jan 1982-Dec 1991); Kurt Waldheim from Austria (Jan 1972-Dec 1981; U Thant from the then Burma, now Myanmar (Nov 1961-Acting, Nov1962-Dec 1971); Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden (April 1953-death Sept 1961); and Trygve Lie from Norway (Feb 1946-Nov 1952).

Would I make it as an African? And even if the choice was meant to come from Africa would I be from the right region? Would I be from the right country? Which of the BIG FIVE would support my candidacy?

More and more I realise that we are all born people, but as we grow older some are moulded to become more “human” than others because of their nationality, race, ethnicity, gender and so on. The ability to enter different spaces at different times differs depending on who you are. Yet I still hope, for real change, for real equality, for true humanity and for the reinforcement in each individual of true dignity. Someday…for now, the world keeps failing me.