When ‘i’ means ignorance

Activism, Youth

I was sitting amongst a bunch of teenagers in an internet café when the things I observed inspired this article. I peeped at the screens of the computers they were using and made some interesting observations. Two were playing games. One was hiding his screen and from the corner of my eye I saw naked women, probably he was watching porn. The other two were comparing pictures of celebrities. Another one was complaining about how slow the internet was as he was trying to stream a video of one of Lil Wayne’s songs. So I sat there, busy looking for information on human trafficking on Google and I wondered if this was a generational thing.

Indeed the advent of technology with i phones, i pads and ido not know what else will follow has brought forth new dynamics in communication. The era of letters when we would run like mad puppies to the gate to collect letters from the postman or the age of landlines when at the first ring you would run to make sure that no one else picks up the phone in case it was your boyfriend and you did not want your mother or father to pick up are over. Even the use of cellphones’ has metamophorsised from a mere tool to receive calls and send sms’s to become an i(nnovative) tool of technology, where you surf the net, you skype and do all sorts of innovative things.

We live in the era of i pads and i phones

Yes the internet is a Revolution and communication will never be dull again. I love the emoticons on Skype, enjoy chatting on Gtalk, Nimbuzz, Facebook, Whatsapp and everything else that I know which is available. With a multitude of passwords, I am even amazed at myself and wonder how I keep up with all these different technologies. And if I, at my age, am such an addict surely teenagers can be forgiven for burying their heads in this technology.

The internet has become the backbone of life for today’s youths. My worry however is that, that backbone is collapsing & the future rests precariously on a skeletal figure. When we were growing up, we read novels, watched cartoons and played puzzles or Snakes and Ladders. We learnt a lot, we sharpened our brains and we had innocent fun.

We watched cartoons such as Captain Planet and the Planeteers, an animation that taught kids the importance of protecting the environment. The characters who came together to defend the earth from subversive elements namely;  Kwame from Africa, Wheeler from North America, Linka from the Soviet Union, Gi from Asia, and Ma-Ti from South America represented the collective effort of the global community in all continents to come together and defend the well being of the planet earth.We were captivated by the adventures of ‘Denver the last dinosaur’ which were entertaining and non-violent.

Denver the last dinosaur with his friends

This was way different from what the kids of today invest their time into (especially teenagers) when they are on the net. Most of the time a good guess would be, watching porn, playing games, chatting with possible ‘soul mates’ and watching some more porn, in that order.

The few more ‘innovative’ ones will watch sport, follow tabloids, chat with friends, and check out the latest fashion and such other things. Oh yes it is ok to want to read about sport or fashion or sex or gossip on celebrities. After all these things are proven stress relievers & once in a while we all need to let go of this complicated world of politics, global finance, abuse, hunger and poverty to think of things that do not stress us or give us headaches.

My worry is however that the youths of today do not make these things (porn and games) a pastime. It is their way of life. Young people do not like to read. They prefer watching pictures of naked women and rich people instead of figuring out how to get rich. Very few of them realise that it is in reading and critiquing other people’s thoughts that we sharpen our minds. And not just any junk but meaningful work that talks to our daily issues. They do not realise that it is through reading that we develop critical thinking which took many people far in developing innovative technologies-including the ipads and i phones that they abuse when watching porn. They also do not realise that it is through reading that the soul finds fulfillment & enrichment; after all ignorance is just as bad as death.

I wonder what it will take to develop & resuscitate a youth that loves reading, not just any lump of words put together, but meaningful reading that gives them much more value than that  famous article with close to a billion hits entitled ‘How to get multiple orgasms.’

I have considered giving my blog posts raunchy misleading titles hoping that the youths will read them even after discovering my deceipt? But then again I realised that they will read the first paragraph, realise that the content is not what they expected and leave a rude message to the sum of: “WTF is this s***!!!This article contains none of the things implied in the heading.”

Surely the creators of modern technology did not mean to create generations of ignorant beings. The internet is supposed to be a media for education and information dissemination as much as it should be a source of entertainment. Oh well, besides writing this article and hoping it changes a few of the youngsters’ minds about the kind of stuff they invest their time in when they are on the internet, I will just sit and hope for a miracle that a conscious bolt of lightning will strike them and implant in their thoughts ideas of development and progress to override the prevailing thoughts of women or men, sex, drugs and money!

Can we interest the youths in snakes and ladders once more instead of watching porn?

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 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 11: Dr Fay Chung

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Those of you who may have read the profile of Beatrice Mtetwa may recall that she is Swazi by birth but Zimbabwean by marriage. Apparently, there is something about Zimbabwe that breeds women of courage and integrity as integral members of our society. Dr Fay Chung is another one of these women. In her case, the circumstances are a bit different because not only is she Zimbabwean by birth but also a veteran of the fight for Zimbabwe’s freedom from colonial repression. When you take a look at her picture do not be perplexed, obviously, she is Chinese by descent, her grandfather having been a peasant farmer in Nanpan Village near Guangzhou in China but she is very much Zimbabwean in her heart and soul.

Dr Fay Chung

Her forte is education, the education of women and children being the hot embers that burn in her heart. Being an educated woman herself holding a first degree and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Zimbabwe
an M.Phil in English literature from the University of Leeds as well as BA in Economics from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, it is not surprising that Fay Chung wants the same for her fellow Zimbabwean woman.

Fay Chung joined Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle in the 1970’s and was instrumental in developing a Research and Teacher Education programme for Zimbabwean (then Rhodesian) refugee schools and guerrilla camps in Mozambique and Zambia.

After Zimbabwe’s independence was declared in 1980, she was instrumental in the setting up of the Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production, an organisation that provided education for war veterans and returning refugee children from Mozambique and Zambia. She served in various capacities in the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education including as Deputy Secretary for Administration in the Ministry of Education. The highest post she ever held was that of Minister of Education, Sport and Culture between 1988 and 1993. She resigned from this post following ideological disagreements with the government. During her tenure as Minister of Education Zimbabwe reached an unprecedented 95 % primary education rate, vastly improved secondary education and developed a progressive curriculum for teacher training institutions.

She has worked with the UNICEF as Chief of the Education Cluster in New York from 1993 to 1998.  She was also the first Director of the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a position she retired from in 2003. She served as an honorary special advisor to the Organisation of African Unity now the African Union.

In 2006, Fay Chung’s book “Reliving the Second Chimurenga: Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle,” was published. It was the first initiative of its kind by a Zimbabwean woman, chronicling her experiences and perspectives on the liberation struggle as well as the power struggles within the political parties of the day. Although this book has been discredited by some reviewers as being at odds with historical facts it still remains a necessary tool facilitating dialogues and reflections on the struggle for independence. Coming from a woman, she paints a vivid picture of the harsh living conditions in the refugee camps of Mozambique from a gendered perspective, and giving specific details on the challenges that children faced, something rarely reflected in post conflict literature.

Having noted the underrepresentation of women in tertiary institutions and recognising the need to cultivate progressive female leadership, Fay Chung cofounded, together with other Zimbabwean women, the Women’s University in Africa in 2002. She serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for that university. She is also a founder of the Forum for African Women Educationalists and the Association for Strengthening Higher Education for Women in Africa.

Her current preoccupation is the renewal and restoration of Zimbabwean institutions in her capacity as the Director of ‘Envision Zimbabwe.’ Envision makes use of research, discussion, policy and strategy development to address Zimbabwe’s multi-sectoral social, economic and political challenges. It also promotes good leadership and accountability at all levels.

Dynamite indeed comes in small packages!

Feminist Chronicles: Diary One: Dr Amy Tsanga

Activism, Emancipation, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Radical, somewhat rebellious, robust. Those were my first impressions of this woman when I first met her. Then I was a naïve-mousey thing, studying for my undergraduate degree in law. I observed how she had embraced her feminine self and African-ness yet she had also surpassed societal stereotypes of who an African woman is and what she can be. I mean here was a woman who lived through an era when the education of girls was not a priority yet she had done it and done it well too. She was my lecturer and I simply idolised her or maybe was it, uh, hero-worshipping. Gentle, yet firm, she spoke so eloquently and confidently and I was hanging onto her every word. She convinced me that women’s rights are human rights; as inalienable, indivisible an interdependent as any other right in relation to other rights. And from then on I have been fighting relentlessly for the empowerment of women and the realisation of their human rights.

Dr T on a tea-break at a transitional justice workshop exploring the Nairobi Declaration on Girls' and Women's right to a remedy and reparation in 2009

Her name is Amy Shupikai Tsanga, but I, like many others who have had personal contact with her, like calling her Dr T. Maybe I may be blowing my horn too loudly, but I would like to think (an impression which I hold to date) that we took an instant liking to each other. Over the years she has become more than just my lecturer, she is my mentor, my (free) career guidance consultant, my friend, my big sister and my role model.

One cannot talk of women, law, gender and education without mentioning Dr T.

She earned her Ph.D. in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1998, a certificate in Law and Development from the University of Warwick (UK) in 1991, a Diploma in Women’s Law from the University of Oslo, and a BL/LLB in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1986. During her undergraduate studies she received the university Book Prize as the best Law student in 1985. She was also a Fulbright Scholar and visited the University of San Diego in 2010 as part of the Fulbright Scholars’ Occasional Lecturer Program.

Currently, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe ( UZ http://www.uz.ac.zw )and the Deputy Director of the Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women’s Law (SEARCWL http://www.searcwl.com ) famously known as the Women’s Law Centre, Dr T is a woman of outstanding achievements. The Women’s Law Centre is popular for its excellence in gender, women’s studies and the law. As a lecturer she is responsible for teaching the modules in women’s law and the law of succession for undergraduate Law students (which she taught me and ably so too). She also teaches numerous courses on the regional masters in Women’s Law which is designed to bring students from Southern and Eastern Africa to pursue studies in women’s law. So far the Masters has pooled students from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, DRC, Botswana, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

She has an outstanding record as an academic, challenging the patriarchal system and advocating legal systems and processes that correspond with the lived realities of citizens. Her many publications in the areas of violence against women, women and development, human rights and gender are evidence of her academic prowess. Among her publications is the book ‘Taking Law to the People: Gender, Law Reform and Community Legal Education in Zimbabwe’ which explores the myriad of challenges that organisations face in transmitting the law to the people on the ground.

’She also co-edited with Anne Hellum, Julie Stewart and Shaheen Sardar Ali the publication ‘Human rights, plural legalities and gendered realities-Paths are made by walking,’ which addresses the failure of human rights norms at the national, regional and international levels to afford ordinary citizens at the grassroots the projected human rights benefits and protections. Her featured articles in that publication are entitled “Reconceptualising the role of legal information dissemination in the context of legal pluralism in African settings’ and ‘The widows and female child’s portion: The twisted path to partial equality for widows and daughters under customary law in Zimbabwe,’ the latter which she co authored with Professor Julie Stewart.

She featured the article ‘Dialoguing Culture and Sex: Reflections from the Field’ in the Pambazuka publication ‘African Sexualities: A Reader.’ She also authored ‘Women and law: innovative approaches to teaching, research and analysis’ together with Professor Julie Stewart. The book looks into the manner in which legal teaching methods can be tailored to engage and explore women’s experiences with the law in various legal disciplines.

Dr T also designed together with Ige Olatokumbo a Manual entitled ‘A Paralegal Trainer’s Manual for Africa’ which is a publication with the International Commission of Jurists. She was featured in the African Yearbook of International Law with article such as ‘Moving Beyond Rights in the Realisation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Challenges in Contemporary Africa.’

As a gender activist Dr T has played a pivotal role in influencing legal, policy and institutional reforms to ensure gender equality. She sat on the Board of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association as its Chairperson from 1998 to 2001. ZWLA provides legal assistance to indigent women. She is an award jury member on the Body Shop Human Rights Award, an award that was set up to give recognition to groups working in the field of socio-economic rights and other fields of human rights that are usually not recognised. She was also board member of the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights from 1995 to 1999. Since 2005 she has sat on the board of Musasa Project, a Zimbabwean organisation that challenges and addresses violence against women and since 2010 sits on the board of the Institute of Creative Arts for Development in Zimbabwe.

In July 2010 she briefed Parliament on how to ensure a democratic and inclusive Constitution for Zimbabwe that addresses gender equality. In that article she emphasised the importance of an inclusive constitution-making process; the expansion of grounds for non-discrimination; improving women’s participation in politics and decision-making; ensuring women’s equal status before the law and in marriage; and a proper enforcement of the Bill of Rights as some of the prerequisites for achieving gender equality in Zimbabwe.

For all her outstanding work Dr T received the national Women’s Human Rights Defenders Award in 2009.
I always look at her and admire the dexterity with which she has mastered the art of methodologies, which happens to be one of my biggest nightmares. The vivacity with which she pursues the empowerment of women is beyond words. And that is the story of one of the women in the women’s rights movement in Zimbabwe whom I admire verily.