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