I am a Zimbabwean, and while I have worked in many countries I always regard Zimbabwe as my home. I have been an active member of the struggle for women’s rights and recognition in Zimbabwe, Southern Africa and beyond. In Zimbabwe I have worked with the Women’s Action Group and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF). I have also helped found a number of other women’s organisations.
I currently work as the International Head of the Women’s Rights Theme at ActionAid International, based at their head office in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this role I oversee the broad strategic direction of the organisation’s programs and campaigns on women’s rights.
I call myself a feminist because, well, what else is there to call oneself? Let’s look at the options: a gender activist (what is that)? A development worker (sounds like something to do with banking)? A human rights activist (but which humans)? Feminist just says what needs to be said. It communicates the exact “attitude” that needs to be communicated and how far I am prepared to go on anything.
Many women in Africa fear naming themselves as feminists, which means, by extension, endless apologies and fear of being named. Another problem is the overwhelming tendency to tick boxes, deliver projects, hold events and activities rather than focusing on the long hard political work of transformation. We need to stay true to our vision, in spite of the seemingly intractable practical problems of HIV, conflict, or the food crisis.
I keep asking myself in whatever I do or say – will this change women’s lives in the long term? Will this alter power relations? I have been lucky to always work in organisations that enable me to do this. I am able to work with other feminists, take time out to just talk things through and re-strategise. Although I strive to think of the big picture it is important to ensure that the practical interventions remain strategic and speak to feminist values and behaviour.
As a movement we still need to grow our numbers numerically and to build more organisations that define themselves and work as feminists. Related to this is building individual feminist leaders and their leadership skills inside and outside our own organisational “safe zones”. And we must not be afraid to take up more “air time” in public spaces and claim our space in the mainstream.
My heart fills with joy when I see a young black woman break out of her shell like a fledgling: growing wings, flying up, up, and away. I laugh when I hear my 14 year old son say very loudly “my mum is a feminist and she is head of women’s rights! ”And he tries to explain to someone in great detail! I am inspired by very materially poor women that I often meet, but who have a great sense of self and are very clear about their rights. A beautiful heavy African summer downpour on Sunday night followed by intensely beautiful sunshine on Monday morning keeps me going all week!