23 Mar

Snippets of My Life (5)

It was in 1998 when I took the BOLD decision to take a job in war torn Liberia, as Human Rights Officer with UNICEF. It was a non family duty station, and the best I could negotiate was to be there with my husband, and the children could not come with us. At least there was the rest and recuperation (R & R) entitlement that enabled me to travel to Zimbabwe often.

It was a tough decision for a young woman in love, with her man, her children and her career. I am always grateful to family especially my sister in law, Jennifer Mugaragumbo who just was an extraordinary soul and friend.

Leaders and mentors like Scholastica Sylvan Kimaryo, the UNICEF Rep in Liberia, made it possible for me to find the balance of family and career. Many young women are not as lucky as I have been, much more because they have not been surrounded by understanding and support, which is just so important.

I give a special salute for all who go an extra mile to hold the hand of young people as they search life, love and their future.

13 Mar

Snippets of My Life (4)

EnisiyaIf I was in New York for the UN Commission on the Status of Women this week; I will definitely have raised the issue of women and girls with mental health. Such issues are often a faint echo drowned by the screams of all the other “more important issues”.

I would have honoured my late aunt Enisiya who had mental health problems. She was sexually abused and she gave birth to her only child when she, herself was still a child.

She lived a alone, stigmatised and ostracised, even though as a family we surrounded her with love. One day, she just went missing, and she was never found.  Abducted? Murdered?

This was almost twenty years ago.

She never had a birth certificate, an ID or a death certificate. She has no known burial place. Its like she was never born, never lived on earth!

Mainini Enisiya.

 

@Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2014

09 Mar

Snippets of My Life (3)

MathI passed my secondary exams and I got a place at  Gokomore for my A levels. I did not feel the distance from Zvishavane to Gokomere when I took the bus that Monday early morning, when I went for registration. I was requested to choose three subjects. These were to be a passport to my future.

After filling in my papers, the Deputy Headmaster, Mr. Mapengo looked at me pitifully almost and shook his head. I was petit and nervous. I had heard that he was a no nonsense person and he was feared. He handed me another set of clean forms. “The math class is full of boys with straight A’s. It will be hard for you to compete with them. You better settle for something else,  arts or commercial subjects.  With the grades you have, I am sure you will go to University”, he made the point clearly and firmly. Case closed.

I really wanted to do Maths, but I had no skills to negotiate for what I wanted. I was simply happy to be admitted to Gokomere High, one of the prestigious Catholic Mission schools. The teachers wanted to ensure that the school remained competitive with St Ignatius, Kutama and St Augustine. Having some girls with B grades could compromise this competitiveness even though such girls like me qualified to do Math.  As he signed the forms, he told me that classes will be starting in two weeks time!

I left with all these mixed emotions. I did not feel the distance from Gokomere to Zvishavane. I sat at the back, thinking. I was happy to be admitted to this school and yet I was not quite sure what I was going to do with the subject combination that HE had selected for me:  languages and history. At least he had assured me that if I worked hard I could go to law school.

When, I arrived home, my brother was surprised to see me unhappy.  “Well you can always do the Math one day if you want. At least you got a place”.  My brother Alphonse reassured me. He is a person who always looked at life positively. He had carried me through secondary education, paying fees and all. I will always be grateful.

I studied very hard and was one of the best two female students in my stream when I graduated from Gokomere, but it was not in Math. I went on to study law. However, this experience remained with me for almost three decades.

Today, I went to the International Car Show in Geneva with my son. I naturally drifted to the engineering and manufacturing gallery. My son said, “Mom, do you still want to do Math?” I had told my children my Gokomere story many times. My son who is studying computer science had even offered to tutor me in A level Math!  One day, I will write my A Level Math paper at Gokomere High School. I will for sure continue to tell the story.

I just wonder how many girls in the world are unable to make decisions about issues that that affect their own lives and for which they have an opinion or a perspective. I wonder how many persons, parent, teachers, doctors, social workers, friends et cetera have the respect and patience to support girls in their decision making process. Unfortunately, many girls often have to live with the consequences of someone’s decision for the rest of their lives.

@Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2014

 

08 Mar

Too Much Rhetoric on Transformation of Women’s Lives in Communities?

Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda

Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda

As I celebrate progress made on gender equality, my heart bleeds when see the reality of women’s lives in our communities.  I wondered today if I had any reason to stand on top of the mountains and sing a joyful song for International Women’s Day. The minimum I could do was to recognise my late mother Rozaria, for all she did against all odds to ensure that I get an education. Yes, I celebrate my sisters, my mentors, friends, many women and men who believe in this struggle for human rights and for dignity for the majority of humanity.

I have been listening to the painful world of statistics and evidence being rolled out in many statements landing on in my in-box. Do I really have any reason to celebrate when women are dying while giving birth; they are dying due to preventable causes; when women are dying due to conflict; when girls are forced into marriage, when we have these levels of illiteracy, when Africa has only 3 women in the presidency; when many places there is no water, toilets, firewood, no road, no telephone and no food. Each statistic mentioned, a single statistic is actually speaking of a real person, with family, friends, hopes, dreams and potential. Then, I really find no reason for a real celebration.

My mind wonders off to the development jargons that continue to patronise communities experiences. We still refer to “grassroots” women. I do not know really the meaning of this word. If women and girls in communities, are grassroots, what terms is used for the rest. Yes, and we hear of women from the “field”. Someone’s whole world, perspective, knowledge and power is undermined by the single use of this term. Its a term that makes many community women lose power, voice, authority and knowledge. Its a term that assumes that those going to the field are bringing “capacity, knowledge, transformation and a better future”. Embedded in these development words is the perpetuation of class domination of women and girls in communities. As one community woman leader asserted recently “the fact that I can not write A.B.C, it does not mean that I have no knowledge. It does not mean that I am stupid”. I fully agree with her, for in her statement lies the fault lines that are slowing down transformation for empowerment of women.

In the recent past, I have witnessed the emergency of a new the approach of “High Level” clubs. These could be circles for conversations, events, meetings, forums, consultations. This is where decision makers, persons of influence, and often those of affluence gather to dialogue, shape strategies and make commitments to transform the world, and create a better future for all. Somehow, I have found myself as a member of these important spaces of influence.

What I struggle with all the time is the effective participation of women and girls from communities. Its tough always to negotiate to have a speaker from community. One has to give a strong, long and “evidence based” rationale for the person to be accepted. When finally, the slot is secured, the community person often has to represent all sectors that can be defined as civil society.

In many cases, this “grassroot woman from the field”, often has to speak last. This woman often with least amount of time, and she is expected to speak in the language of the meeting (there is limited funding for translations). This is the speaking time when people are tired, one or two of the most important leaders may have left, and people are hungry and want to break for a health break ~ which could mean food, bathroom or smoking!

Real transformation requires that those whose lives are the subject of the conversation should share their experiences, thoughts and shape the core and the tone of the conversations. Unless the trend is reversed, these platforms could easily create more rhetoric and become self-perpetuating.

Well, for transformative change to happen it requires a shift of perspective and approaches. It is not only a function of good policies and laws, nor adequacy of funding and outreach. It is about according recognition and valuing the innovations and contributions of women and girls in communities. Yes, I continue celebrating the past and its progress, knowing that the journey ahead could be long and tough. I will keep the pace.

@Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2014

 

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