IWD: We the poor women in this rich world

Activism, Africa, Emancipation, Gender, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women

*I would like to sincerely apologise to those who follow my writings for my long absence. Among other things I have spent the past month focused on lobbying the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, (the CEDAW Committee) to, in its review of the state of Zimbabwe, take on board the issues of the women on the ground as represented by our views to them as Zimbabwean civil society*

 Each year as we commemorate International Women’s Day personally my heart bleeds as I think of all the troubles, injustices and pains that my womenfolk are exposed to. If you can’t get what I mean look at it this way: Somewhere in this world, right now, at this very moment, a woman is getting raped. A mother is dying giving birth. A woman is being abused, verbally or physically by her partner. A woman is going hungry and her heart is breaking as she looks at her children starving yet she has nothing to feed them. A woman is freezing from cold because she can not cover herself adequately. A woman is walking miles to get water, or firewood or to reach a health facility. Yes at this very moment, somewhere in this world, that is happening, believe it or not!

 This year’s theme in commemoration of international women’s day is focused on eradicating poverty among rural women. In my view poverty needs to be eradicated amongst all women not just rural women. Indisputably, our rural women suffer the most as they live in the areas where basic services are the least accessible hence making life much more difficult for them.

 But today my view is that the women of this world, not only rural women, and especially on the African continent do not only suffer from the kind of poverty that is measured by their inability to access basic resources such as food, shelter, clothing, shelter and education. They suffer huge deficits in basic dignity subjected to all forms of degrading, inhuman and humiliating treatment at the hands of their governments, their own families, their male counterparts and society at large. Hence the lives of most women of this world are bankrupt in monetary, emotional and social terms. Not by their own design, of course but as a consequence of the circumstances in which they stumbled upon when they exited their poor mothers’ safe, warm and secure wombs.

 We talk of human trafficking especially modern day sexual slavery where women are held forcefully and prostituted, feminicide-the widespread killing of women, systematic rape, female genital mutilation, child marriages, domestic violence, wife inheritance, polygamous relationships and the toil they exact on women emotionally, economically and physically (spread of HIV/AIDS), and many other harmful cultural practises that women are forced to endure. We talk of discrimination in the community-where women are considered lesser beings, in the workplace-with women earning less than men or expected to give sexual favors in return for promotions yet they deserve the promotions anyway, discrimination in the family –with the boy child preferred over the girl child.

 And I have people asking me why women are still making noise about discrimination and why they still demand for equality when national constitutions say we are equal.

 Excuse me! If you are living in a hole where you are not privy to the sufferings of this world then stick to your hole. Not everyone in this world is encased in a little world like yours. Women’s struggle for dignity is far from over. Besides, a constitutional provision talking of equality does not guarantee equality! The substantive nature of equality demands that the law manifest itself in the lived realities of women. Only until that point when women are treated equally, when it is a given that men and women are equal, when women feel and can see that they being treated equally can we say there is equality.

 To bring it closer to home, in other countries, International Women’s Day is a holiday. Just across the border in Zambia women are resting today and celebrating their womanhood. In Zimbabwe, we shall commemorate it but our government does not think it important enough to set aside this day as a holiday. Instead we have Defence Forces Day as a holiday to celebrate the militarisation of our state and the consequent impact this has on women as they are abused by the very same people who are supposed to protect them. Police brutality and abuses by the armed forces against women are commonplace in Zimbabwe.

 Just yesterday, I witnessed a very disturbing incident. I was using public transport in a commuter omnibus known as a combi in Zimbabwe. As this was during the rush hour, there was a lot of confusion with the traffic and on this particular junction (the Corner of Robert Mugabe Road-(no wonder) and Harare Street it was worse as there is no traffic light. There was a gridlock at the intersection. A police officer, going in the opposite direction, blocked by the combi I was in, got out of his car, started slapping the driver in the face and ordered him to reverse. Right there in broad daylight, in the most humiliating manner the poor guy (the driver) quietly reversed his car.

 The police officer’s behaviour was inexcusable. Had he ordered the driver to reverse in an attempt to bring the traffic to order then there could be a slim chance of justifying his behaviour, but alas, it was completely for his own selfish ends. Soon after the combi driver reversed the police officer got into his car and drove off leaving the chaotic traffic as he found it. He was a law officer, one on whom society is supposed to depend to respect, enforce and restore law and order.

 This incident reinforced the reality that Zimbabwean society has become so permissive of systematic abuse.  Can an abused woman depend on this kind of police officer to handle her case of abuse in a victim friendly manner? Will the same officer hesitate to wield and unleash his baton stick on a woman human rights defender if he finds her protesting on the street? Clearly not! Is it any wonder then that women in Zimbabwe are exposed to all forms of abuse including politically motivated rape when the culture of violence has become so commonplace?

 Oh we suffer, we the poor women of this world. But guess what; women are made of sterner stuff than steel. If men had to endure half of what women endure, this would be a women’s world. No men left! We celebrate womanhood today, we embrace our strengths, we remember our sorrows and tribulations but we applaud our convictions and immense willpower to soldier on even in the most difficult circumstances. That is what International Women’s Day is all about.

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 12: Chiwoniso Maraire

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Women, Youth, Zimbabwe

Many young people live with the misguided notion that success in life is synonymous with a fat bank account. Oh yes I will not dispute that having a fat bank account will give you all the luxuries that make life a whole lot more comfortable and easy to go through, but, money is not synonymous with success especially if the money is coming through your hard labour, yet you hate what you do. Happiness on the other hand is synonymous with success. Will Smith may have given us the idea that we are always in pursuit of happiness, which is partly true, but it is the things we pursue in life that determine whether that pursuit is endless or at a time what we pursue is actually realised. I am one of those people who believe in pursuing a career of my choice, a career that I love, that I have a passion for, that I feel I am good at, one that gives me satisfaction, one that gives me happiness and consequently success. Unlike our neighbours, the South Africans, most Zimbabweans do not value art and do not think there is a future in art be it music, dance, poetry or theatre. If a child declares that they want to study art, the parents become distraught. ‘Why won’t you study ‘normal’ subjects just like any other child in this country?’ they will ask, normal being law, medicine, engineering, accounting and all those other subjects that are perceived to be the means to a bigger and better life. Don’t get me wrong- I studied law, and I loved it, and it helped shape the perspectives I hold of life in general and other subjects I talk about, but if I had not made the personal choice to study arts in high school, and if my father had not supported that decision I would be a bored, depressed accountant with a fat bank account today. I was good at it but I hated it. Many other people out there are in this situation because they do not understand that life is more than having a well paying job and success is more than a fat bank account.

Today’s feature is living proof of that old-old and overused adage “Where there is a will, there is a way.” To put it simply this woman made her career choice because she loved it, she worked at it and she made it! I suppose she was fortunate to have a father who taught her what she chose to pursue in her life, a career in music. Her father was an ethnomusicologist, a big word for the study of music of different cultures,  and he taught mbira and marimba in the United States where she was born.

 I adore her music, her style, her voice, her lyrics, her look. My Ethiopian friend Zemdena Abebe in Addis Ababa and my American friend Max Zalewski in Cairo know this too well. If these two had not loved her music too, they would have endured in sufferance my constant chatter about her. Probably what I think is the coolest music any Zimbabwean artist has ever produced would have been just ‘loud-pounding African drums’ to them, but good for me-I introduced her to them and they both loved her.

Chiwoniso Maraire, beauty, brains anda magical voice

Chiwoniso Maraire is a Zimbabwean musical icon. Her stage performance always ignites cosmic energy. Her true fans (and I admit I am one of them) know her as Chi or feisty Chi. Indeed she is feisty but feisty for a good cause. As she says ““Music…It’s an expression of God. All pain, joy, rage, love..wisdom, can be found in music. I am in awe when in the presence of its power. There’s a place from where the music comes. The life essence…”

Chi’s first professional musical performance was with her family when she performed alongside her mother, Linda Nemarundwe Maraire and recorded the song Tichazomuona ‘We will see you again’ when she was only 11 years old. Their whole family also recorded an album entitled Imwi Baba ‘You, Father’ and called themselves Mhuri yaMaraire ‘Maraire’s family.’

Later on Chi joined became a member of the group, A Peace of Ebony comprising American, German, Malawian, Russian and Zimbabwean artists. The group recorded revolutionary rap music in English, Shona and French and won the Radio France International ‘Best New Group out of Southern Africa’ Award in 1994. Between 1994 and 1998, Chi worked with Andy Brown, another Zimbabwean artist in his group ‘The Storm.’

Chi produced her first album “Ancient Voices” in 1996. The album is a unique fusion of  jazz, rap, reggae and other genres I cannot identify, since I have no musical expertise  but all put together they make Chi’s mbira sounds. Through this album she pasted mbira music on the international charts.

In 2011 Chi launched the musical concept Hokoyo naChi  ‘Lookout for Chi’ in which she collaborated with many other Zimbabwean artists and showcased her own extraordinary talent and versatility.

She is not just any musician, but a conscious musician.

She has performed songs on unrequited love, a theme which many of us can identify with. Her song Wandirasa ‘You’ve deserted me’, is a plea by a woman to her lover who treats her like she is the world to him when they are alone but treats her badly in other peoples’ company. She questions why he has thrown her away.

The song Ndipe rudo “Give me love” directly addresses domestic violence as the woman asks her husband who is supposed to be her friend why he does not give her love and why he does not listen to advise from his family. The woman in the song resolves that since she is still young, she would rather leave him than wait for him to kill her at her tender age. Clearly that song speaks to all the women who stay in abusive relationships hoping that someday things may change. Chi urges them to consider leaving and rebuild their lives.

In her song “Madam Twenty Cents” she explores the theme of poverty because the young boy asks for ‘just’ twenty cents, says his mother is sick and disabled and his father left and never returned. This song speaks to the many street children’s ill fate. Chi’s empathic voice is meant to move us and the world to take action in alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than we are.

Her song ‘Iwai Nesu’- ‘Be with us’ appears to me to have been a prophetic depiction of the effects of climate change that the world has begun to see in earnest with floods in Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines and raging droughts in Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, shorter rainy seasons in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique and harsh winters in Europe and North America. That song also speaks to the injustices of the world, the social disparities where those who have, have too much while those who do not have, have nothing at all. She begs God to be with us, His children.

Iwai Nesu
Vamwe vaparara nenzara (As some are dying of hunger)
Vamwe vachifa nekuguta (Others are overfilled)
Kumwe vaparara nemvura (In some places they have been destroyed by water/floods)
Kumwe vachipera nezuva (While in others, they are wiped out by the sun/drought)
Kutungamira nekutungamirwa (In leading and being led)
Tiri vana venyu (We are your children)

Ivai nesu Mwari Baba (Be with us God our Father)

Chi has always been one to give straight talk against government repression, women abuse and other human rights violations. Her 4thalbum” Rebel Woman” predominantly confronts the issues of freedom, equality and justice.

The Cover for theAlbum-Rebel Woman

The lilting lyrics in the title track reflect her empathic nature when she says of the woman fighter,

There will be no compensation

It was of your free will

Oh, that you stood on the frontlines

Rebel woman, these are the rules of war

Remember that you fought for your people

I know the freedom has been hard won

It’s been so hard won

But as you weep Rebel Woman

Remember you are strong

Her song ‘One world’ on this same album is one of the most moving songs I have listened to, depicting the role that we, as adults and parents have and should prioritise – to shape the kind of future we want our children to inherit.

Ngatibvisei zvibingaidzo izvo (Let us remove these barriers)

Rusarura neruvengo, zvinoparadza (Discrimination and hatred can only destroy)

Vana vanotarisira rudo kwatiri (Our children expect love from us)

We have only one world, to give to the children

She also sang and performed with the multi-national all-women’s band Women’s Voice consisting of American, Algerian, Norwegian, Tanzanian and Zimbabwean artists between 2001 and 2004. In 2007 Chi became a jury member of the Creole Worldmusic  Competition. She has performed in Europe at musical festivals Europe such as the Africa Festival Wuerzburg in Berlin,Germany and the Afro Pfingsten (festival) in Switzerland.  She has performed alongside African musical giants such as our very own Oliver Mutukudzi, as well as Salif Keita and Habib Koite of Mali, Ishmael Lo, Youssou Ndour, Manu Dibango, Baaba Maal of Senegal, Achieng Abura of Kenya,  and Koffi Olomide of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chi in a live performance

Chiwo has won quite a number of accolades for her music. Ancient Voices won her the Radio France International (RFI) Decouverte Afrique 98 award. In 1999, she won the UNESCO Price for Arts at the MASA festival in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She was also nominated for the KORA Best Female Vocals of Africa Awards in the same year.

I am pained to see thatdespite her outstanding talent and splendid perfomances, Chi has never won an award at home. It is only befitting that  I recognise her  as one of the women in my country  to whom youths can look  for guidance in their chosen career paths and wish to emulate. If I could sing she would be my mentor.

Feminist Chronicles: Diary Three: Gertrude Hambira

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Human Rights, Peace, Politics, Women, Zimbabwe

In 1981, before I was even born, she was a factory girl, a machinist in rural Zimbabwe. By 1987 she was an active trade unionist affiliated with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In 2000 she was elected the first ever female Secretary General of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), a trade union that advocates the rights of farm-workers. A mother of four and an activist, Gertrude Hambira is one of Zimbabwe’s most courageous women. Her courage can not be fully understood without explaining the context of her work.

Gertrude Hambira

In 2000, Zimbabwe began a land reform process in which government claimed to be addressing and correcting historical imbalances in which the 5% white minority in Zimbabwe owned more than 80 % of the arable land. However, evidence on the ground illustrates that instead of giving the land to the majority black population, the process simply created a black elite to replace the white elite. The land reform process failed to sustain the economy of the country, as it was the backbone of the economy. With an underperforming agricultural sector, Zimbabwe’s currency devalued to the extent that it was discontinued from use. The land reform process is therefore one of the most contentious and politically sensitive issues to talk about in Zimbabwe. Most non governmental organisations skirt around this issue and even then when they do talk about the issue, it is almost always in light of the economic implications rather than a direct scrutiny into human rights abuses that resulted from it.

Gertrude Hambira is one of a kind. She talks incessantly, openly and firmly about the human rights abuses that arose and are still occurring as a result of the land reform process. These abuses were not just perpetrated against white commercial farmers as most of the mainstream media likes people to believe but against black farm-workers as well. As the Sec-Gen Gertrude is the lips and the voice of the Union, reporting the thousands of farm-workers who suffered violent attacks, eviction and forced displacement from farms. Some of them were wrongly perceived as loyalists or at the very least sympathetic to the previous commercial white farmers who owned the land.

Gertrude has stood firm for the farm-workers, who have become one of the most marginalised groups in Zimbabwe. In particular she fought for the women and children who bore and continue to bear the physical brunt of homelessness, inaccessibility of schools and medical facilities and general lack of food because of their terrible situation.

In 2006 she condemned the increased use of child labour on Zimbabwean farms. She estimated that close to 10 000 children were trapped in child labour. She lamented the meagre wages that farm-workers earned then; Z$600 000 equivalent to US$6 per month. This was beyond the poverty datum line pegged at Z$28 million equivalent to US$282. She blamed the new black farmers for the child labour saying that it was a direct consequence of the underpayment of farm-workers. Parents were forced to bring their children to work on farms to raise as much money as possible to sustain their livelihood.

Gertrude also fearlessly allocated responsibility to the land reform process for increased unemployment. She gave numerical evidence of the decrease of farm-workers in employment from 500 000 in 2000 to 200 000 in 2008. This resulted in a direct decrease in GAPWUZ’s membership from 150 000 to 25 000.

In 2009 Gertrude and GAPWUZ released a documentary accompanied by a detailed report, exposing the violations that were being perpetrated against farm-workers. The documentary; “House of Justice” and the report “If something (is ) wrong” were well received by other civic groups, diplomats, the press, regional and international human rights bodies as evidence that the plight of farm-workers in Zimbabwe needed greater attention than it had previously been given.

These truths that GAPWUZ, through their mouthpiece, Gertrude revealed damned the land reform process. Not only did they show that process did not address historical imbalances and were about a black elite’s self aggrandisement but also that the process came at the detriment of black farm-workers who used to benefit from employment, access to education and medical facilities on these farms.

Gertrude endured physical and verbal abuse as a result of her determination to highlight the plight of farm workers. When she was eight months pregnant she was abducted by ‘war veterans’, a group of former liberation war fighters who commit many atrocities with impunity claiming to be defending the ‘gains’ of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe.

In December 2008, while taking part in a demonstration against shortages of hard currency inc circulation under the banner of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in which GAPWUZ is a member, Gertrude was severely beaten by the police in the street. She was arrested and held in detention for a couple of hours.

On 6 November 2009, armed men forced their way into her home in her absence. They fired a shot towards her husband while her 5 year old son and her 70 year old mother were in the house. Although no one was physically harmed, the incident left Gertrude and her family traumatised.

On 19 February 2010 Gertrude was summoned by the Joint Operations Command comprising 17 high ranking security officials from the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the army, the airforce and the Central Intelligence Organisation for interrogation. The interrogation was focused on the report and documentary that GAPWUZ had released regarding the plight of farm workers.

In September 2010, Gertrude fled the country after 5 men and a woman who identified themselves as officers from the Criminal Investigations Department raided GAPWUZ’s offices looking for her. She gathered that from the statements of the police that she was wanted for contravening Section 31 of the Criminal Law Act, which makes it an offence to publish or communicate false statements prejudicial to the state, she was supposed to be arrested and subjected to detention without due legal process as had previously happened to some activists in Zimbabwe.

She has been living in exile since then, first in South Africa and now in Canada where she continues to denounce the mal-treatment of farm-workers.

Gertrude is the symbol of the struggles of women in decision-making positions especially if their views are divergent from those of those in power.