This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) marked the 40th anniversary of the commemorations, and on March 8, Zimbabwe joined other nations in commemorating the day under the theme ‘Make It Happen’, setting in motion a month-long celebration of international women’s month. This year, IWD also coincided with the 20 year anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was signed in 1995 during the Fourth World Conference on Women, and is – to date – considered to be one of the most progressive documents on the advancement of women’s rights. everywhere in the interest of all humanity.
Locally, the run-up to IWD celebrations began with the official national launch on Friday 6 March organised and hosted by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC). The theme of the launch was ‘Beijing +20: The journey towards women empowerment in Zimbabwe -Successes and challenges’. The event was attended by government officials, civil society organisations, multilateral agencies and members of the civil service and the general public.
UN Resident Coordinator, Mr Bishow Parajuli, delivered a statement on behalf of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. In the statement, Ki-moon acknowledged that although there had been successes recorded, women’s rights activists around the world were still risking their lives by advocating for greater gender equality. He however commended the Zimbabwean government for enshrining gender equality laws into the new constitution.
The Guest of Honour for the occasion was First Lady, Grace Mugabe. Mugabe clearly stated that women themselves must make a stand and take action to improve their realities. “Tinoda kuona mapurisa Commissioner General we police ari mudzimai. Tinoda kuona zvekare Commander Defence Forces ari mudzimai. Toenda kuna Commissioner General Prisons ari mudzimai zvekare,” she said (“We want to have a female Commissioner General of police, also we want a female Commander of Defence forces and Commissioner General of Prison Services”.) “In all of us as women, there is that giant potential which needs awakening,” she added.
She also gave a long-awaited response to the latest incidence of a young woman who was stripped in Harare by touts who victimized her for wearing a miniskirt. In her response, she castigated all perpetrators of violence against women, especially violence targeted at young women. She encouraged society to employ conventional means of advising their children on how they dress rather than using physical abuse and violence.
On March 7, Women’s University in Africa (WUA), supported by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and UN Women, took the celebrations to Marondera. These were attended by over a hundred delegates, including rural men and women from resettlement areas and farms who are usually sidelined on such occasions. Influential women who include the Standards Association of Zimbabwe Director General, Eve Gadzikwa, Chief Executive Officer for Alpha Media Holdings, Rita Chinyoka, and UNFPA Gender Coordinator, Choice Damiso, led a panel discussion where they shared different challenges and successes involving women in their academic and professional lives. The discussion also went online with members of the public contributing via a Twitter hashtag #MakeItHappenZim.
Provincial Administrator for Mashonaland East, Cuthbert Ndarukwa, delivered a speech on behalf of the province’s Minister of State, Joel Matiza. In the speech, Matiza acknowledged that in as much as there have been efforts to raise the position of women in society, increased cases of gender-based violence were a challenge in his province. He added that his office was trying to increase the level of economic empowerment for women in order to reduce the vulnerability of women to their male partners who are usually their providers.
That evening, the two co-founders of the African Women Association (AWA) Carol Nyazika and Lisa Chiriseri officially launched the African Women Awards at an event supported by Arundel Village in Harare. The awards are intended to reward women’s achievements in business and enterprise, entertainment and arts, and politics and community activities. The first edition of the awards will be held in November this year. “Our panel of judges comprises people who have been successful in the categories we have,” said Chiriseri. “They will assist in measuring the success made by the nominees.”
Women in sport also commemorated IWD in their own right on March 8. Zimbabwe Women’s Rugby, with the support of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union, hosted two rugby tournaments in Harare and Bulawayo. The tournaments were part of a wider effort to promote development of the sport in Zimbabwe among teenage girls.
A third in a series of events involving UN Women was the Breakfast Meeting held on Tuesday the 10th of March in Harare. The meeting was supported by the European Union (EU), the Swedish Embassy and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) and featured a roundtable discussion during which the Swedish ambassador Mr Lars Ronnas, The Zambian Ambassador Ndiyoyi Mutiti , the EU Head of Delegation Paula Vasquez and Ambassador Marcia Marco Da Silva shared their experiences and progress in women’s empowerment over the past 20 years.
This was followed by the signing of the “HeForShe” pledge by Ambassador Ronnas. The campaign was launched in September 2014 by actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson and seeks to encourage men to be responsible for advancing gender equality. Journalist, Vimbai Kamoyo, emulated Ronnas by signing on behalf of the men who were part of the event.
A new and unique addition to the celebrations was an exhibition by photojournalist Cynthia Matonhodze, entitled “A Living: Diary of the Lives of Street Vendors also on March 10. Matonhodze’s exhibition depicted untold stories of the lives of female vendors with her images revealing the hidden realities of being a vendor in Zimbabwe.
Matonhodze decided to launch her exhibition in March with the aim of honouring female vendors during women’s month. “I realized that their story could not be told in one piece and I decided to make this a project,” said Matonhodze. This is work in progress and I am not sure of what the end product will be.”
Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU) hosted the IWD commemorations for Mutasa’s women under the unique theme, “Purple Politics: Politics with Dignity” in Manicaland province on March 10. This was also the organisation’s message for women’s month. Female councillors, together with women from their wards, designed placards and posters where they painted messages in purple; most of the issues raised by these women dwelt on service delivery.
The sentencing of the two ‘miniskirt touts’ became one of the notable events of women’s month with magistrate, Rekina Dzikiti, sentencing kombi touts, Marvelous Kandemiri and Blessing Chinodakufa ,to 12 months in prison a few days ago for assaulting a young lady for wearing a mini skirt in a video that went viral last December. In response, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe organised a press conference on the 31st of March where its members challenged more women to come forward and report any cases of abuse. The sentencing of the touts is considered one of the victories in punishing perpetrators of violence against women.
Unlike previous years, 2015 commemorations were more concerned with reviewing past successes and failures in an effort not to repeat the same mistakes in the future. This was motivated by the “Make It Happen” theme which called for actual action rather than rehashed policies and lip service. Different women contextualised the theme in a way that related to issues that were of great importance to them. However, the general views shared showed that women want to do away with ‘talk’ and start ‘acting’ to achieve their goals. Here are a few of the sentiments shared:
“Work hard for your success. Don’t fall for the ‘ladies first’ rhetoric; you will be given less than what you deserve. We need to have confidence in ourselves and to be fearless to stand up for ourselves. Do everything with passion so that you can be respected.”- Senator Prisca Mupfumira, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Services
“’Make it happen’ means that by the next election we should attain 50/50 gender parity through representation in parliament. We should have more women owning companies. Seeing the rural woman easily accessing financial resources for whatever projects she is carrying out to support her family is making it happen for me.”-Honorable Edna Madzongwe, President of the Senate
“We should take out our issues and provide solutions. Those who acquired skills and education should do something within the community that others can learn and emulate from. We women are silent and we do not talk or do much, we should make our own success happen.”- Professor Hope Bakasa-Sadza, Chancellor of Women’s University in Africa
“Women must be successful in their various areas of specialisation by taking advantage of opportunities. We need to invest in education, corporate governance and business and entrepreneurship so that we actively participate in the growth of the economy. We are not victims, we are leaders and advocates.”- Eve Gadzikwa, Director General Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ)
While these sentiments are admirable, it is fair to note that during commemorations such as these, it is easy to get caught up in rhetoric and sentiment. Let us put our money where our mouths are and take the steps that actually change women’s circumstances for the better.