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 6: WOZA women

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Human Rights, Politics, Social Justice, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

WOZA women demonstrating

Bread and Roses: Woza's motto

I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me, to fright me, if they could; but I will not stir from this place, do what they can. I will walk up and down here and I will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid.” [Bottom, one of the characters in ‘A Midnight Summer’s Madness’, William Shakespeare.


I imagine these are the words that each of the members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) repeats to herself every time she takes to the street, knowing full well that the day will end with her thrown in some dirty cell of one or the other of Zimbabwe’s remand prisons. These women are unstoppable. They have been heavily assaulted by the police, arrested and detained in terrible conditions (some with their children), but they do not give up. They have been threatened with death, stalked and placed under surveillance and some have been kidnapped but they continue their fight.

Their leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu have been held in prison the longest times. Jenni has spent more than 20 days in prison at a time and each time she has been released after the state case has been dismissed for lack of evidence in the courts and at times she has been released without charge. For their courage, Jenni and Magodonga and WOZA have won many awards. In 2007 Jennie received the Women of Courage Award from the US State of Department. In 2008 WOZA became the recipient of the Amnesty International Human Rights Award, awarded by the German Section of Amnesty International. In 2009, WOZA won the Annual John F Kennedy Human Rights Award. In 2011, Jennie won the French National Order of Merit. If ever I have seen a stubborn group of women, then these women top them all.

Flirting with danger, they challenge a despotic regime, a ruthless security sector defending an ungrateful nation full of cowards (Zimbabweans like calling their passivity peacefulness.

These women are freedom fighters, struggling to realise social justice in Zimbabwe. The issues they raise target the basics of life including access to clean and safe water, adequate food in reliable quantities and nutritional value, supply of electricity, access to affordable schooling, access to medical care and medical supplies, proper housing, and proper sanitation. That is why their leading mantra is “Bread and Roses;” a fight for the basic but a fight done in love, with love, out of love.

Their strategy; street protests, has earned them labels such as ‘idle prostitutes’ ‘imbeciles’ ‘useless noisemakers’ and ‘professional demonstrators’ among many other disparaging terms.

Yes, onlookers (who do not apply their minds to the whys of what WOZA women do) may see it this way. However my experience in Tahrir Square, being part of the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring, taught me that it is through the efforts of groups such as WOZA that networks of resistance are developed. It is through their sporadic efforts as little pockets of disaffection that one day a Revolution can arise. After all if a government is not for the people, of the people and by the people, from whence does it derive its legitimacy?

Why do you think WOZA women are constantly silenced? Why do you think they are always harassed? Why is it their leaders are always incarcerated. I salute these women of courage. It is such a shame that their bravery and amazing contributions are more appreciated by the outside world than by Zimbabweans whose interests they serve. Let’s be honest, if today WOZA demonstrates against power cuts and the government concedes that power cuts shall be consistently done in accordance with a reliable timetable which communities can work around, would the whole nation not have benefited? If they deliver a petition to Parliament against school fees hikes and government then passes a school fees reduction memo, would the whole nation not have benefited? If they march to the police headquarters demanding that the police desist from assaulting protestors or throwing tear gas their way and the police concedes, would that not be a victory to freedom of association and assembly?

This is what WOZA women do, and of course due to the political climate, they have not yielded much success. This does not make their work worthless. Trust me, those sitting in their high seats of (stolen) leadership know what I know, that these women are raising issues that, if the nation were intelligent (or is it brave) enough to support could result in a complete social, political and economic transformation. Remember it was the bread riots that sparked off the French Revolution in the 18th Century. Also remember that it was a single man, Mohammed Bouazzizi’s act of self-immolation against the destruction of his fruit stall and source of livelihood that began the Tunisian Revolution which inspired the Arab Spring in the 21st Century. So let us not undermine and undervalue the work that WOZA women do when they raise bread and butter issues.