Usually when we talk about the stories of marginalised women and girls in marginalised communities of Africa the narratives include those who are perceived as nonentities, the undermined, disadvantaged, oppressed, silenced, unrecognized, disrespected and minorities.
The broader thinking is that those young women are ‘them’ and not ‘us’. For me that is not the case. I am proudly one of this group of young women, and to challenge that notion of ‘them’ and ‘us’ it is my pleasure to share with you my story and where I draw my inspiration to champion young women’s rights activism:
I was born and grew up in the rural communal lands of Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe. My family like other peasant families relying on farming struggled to fund my education, and although they tried hard, it was not easy with society dictating that the girl child is not worth investing in. Religion also made the situation worse as their church doctrine emphasized that the girl child has no right to choice but should only be recognized as a subject of her husband.
By the time I reached university level, my parents had succumbed to societal demands and realities and I was left alone to find myself menial jobs during vacations for my self-sustenance and ultimately to finance my education after the government removed the grant system to university students in 2006.
While I celebrated that I was successfully laying a strong foundation for my future and a decent life ahead, in the eyes of society including the church and even close friends and relatives I was being a ‘rebellious girl child’. I was defying societal norms, religious norms and as such I was not a normal girl child. Questions like, ‘’if she is a normal girl child like other obedient and respectful girls in this community, why does she want to be more educated than boys and young men, what will she use the education for? What man would want to marry such an educated woman?’’ It was such sentiments that gave me more strength to soldier on, more power and courage to fight for the rights of girls and young women in my community.
So in University, I joined the Students Representative Council, and was the only female in the council. Due to the high levels of polarization that prevailed in the country, I saw myself in police incarceration several times – my charge “fighting for and representing students’ rights. Even though people close to me called me a jailbird, I had a deep conviction that I am the only normal one here and I was fighting for the right cause, the right to education and the rights of girls and young women in a free Zimbabwe. So no arrests, intimidation or threats of abductions could stop me.
As I did my voluntary work and subsequently as the Gender and Women’s Rights Officer with a local youth organisation from 2008 up to 2009, I felt that I wanted to do more to fulfill my vision of fighting for the rights of my fellow sisters in marginalized communities to include rural, farming and ,mining areas, the majority of whom could not see the door of a classroom, the majority of whom are married off as young as the age of 12 because religion allowed it, the majority of whom were born in abject poverty, knew only of poverty and never believed that there can be another life outside their confines, the majority of who contented to Violence Against Women even after the country had passed an anti -domestic violence law, the majority who despised and labeled other girls and young women because they were going outside the societal dictates and boundaries and pursued their studies.
So in 2009 I resigned from the youth organisation to go back to Mashonaland Central, where I was born to start organizing young women under the initiative of Institute for Young Women Development. Today I acknowledge that I have won some battles at an individual level but remain conscious that the struggle for the recognition of young women and girls is not yet over. The IYWD has created that space to fight for our collective voice as marginalised young women and girls both in our private and public lives. We remain resolute in the struggle for our recognition as full citizens. The struggle for economic independence, self-determination and representation. We are fighting the systems that undermine and marginalise us. Because of the strength and magnitude of the systems that we are fighting, we need to build an equally strong system, as a collective and speak with one voice in order to transform our status quo. In my activism and everyday work I bring my personal story with me and draw my energy, inspiration, courage and wisdom to do the work, for myself and to transform the template of our narrative as a collective