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.
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.