JASS Blog

by Everjoice Win on July 5, 2020 at 4:28 am

We walk in the footsteps of those who came before us.

What is your theory of change? But is it value for money? These pesky questions have become the bane of many an activist’s life in today’s development and civil society space. Countless hours are often spent writing very convoluted responses to donors’ enquiries. Even more hours are spent retelling the stories of what you did with that donor’s money to an ‘Africa specialist’, academic researcher, who by the time she is done with you, leaves you wondering where the women whose lives you were interested in impacting have disappeared to, as they are reduced into graphs, complex theoretical calculations, and some magical sounding theories of how change happens. Mabel Moyo, Bertha Jambaya, Betty Mtero, Lydia Chikwavaire, Agnes Kanogoiwa, Constance Mabusela, Emma Mahlunge and my late mother, Ediel Mawarire belong to that generation of activists who would be lost in today’s development-speak. Raise your left hand if you had never heard these names till today. Raise both if you had come across them and dismissed them as ‘those knitting and baking traditional women!’ It is ok. Let us help you. The most important thing for you to know, if you are a young feminist in Zimbabwe or any other country for that matter, today, you are walking along paths that were cleared for you by these women and the movements they built over decades. Thank them for where you and I are today, the freedoms we take for granted and the ease with which we claim our rights. Change does not magically happen. There are people, women, who fought hard and gave their whole lives to ensure that you and me, would not experience the hardships they faced.

I woke up to see a post on my Twitter feed that Mabel Moyo is gone. My Aunty Mabel. Our elder ‘sister’, Mrs Moyo, is gone. That smile. That energy. The elegance. That grace. That passion and commitment to supporting other women, is gone. Mabel was, until her death, the Deputy Director for Jekesa Pfungwa/Vulingqondo, (JP/V for short). Together with Bertha Jambaya, (the Director), these two women traversed the length and breadth of Zimbabwe building what still remains as one of the largest women’s movements in the country. Again, you are forgiven if you had never heard of them till now. JP/V was originally the black women’s wing of the white-led Women’s Institute of Rhodesia, (WI). Many of course are familiar with the UK-based WI, out of which the Rhodesian branch grew. Founded on notions of good housewifery, domestic skill building, and how to be an all-round ‘good woman’, the WI taught women skills such as knitting, sewing, baking, home-economics, and later on soap-making, garment making, small business management, marketing, how to form self-help groups etc. At the dawn of Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, the black women leaders in WI broke off to set up their own organisation. Initially, the focus was more or less on the same sets of skills, albeit in a new context. The liberation movement government was very strong on women’s empowerment, involvement in decision-making, as well community healthcare. Bertha and Mabel wasted no time in adapting their organisation to the times. The 1980s also saw the passing of new legislation and policies designed to increase women’s economic, social, and political empowerment. JP/V grew to a close 100 000-member strong movement. But this did not come overnight.

I was not a member of JP/V, so I can not tell the full story. My feminist journey coincided with that of JP/V in quite an interesting way, and that is the limited story I can tell. My mother, was a member of WI, and after independence moved with her friends Bertha and Mabel into JP/V.  Interestingly, my mother was also a member of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA-Zimbabwe), a competitor to JP/V, if you come from the scarcity school of thought. But she and many of her generation saw no problem. The two organisations helped meet different needs in their lives. Between 1980 and I would say 1995, it was Bertha, Mabel, and dozens of women whose names I can not even recount here, built their movement, village by village, township by township. A typical JP/V organising trip, which I had the pleasure of witnessing went something like this: travel from Harare to Chimanimani at the crack of dawn. Arrive at the home of one strong village health worker/community organiser/mothers’ union leader, whose name we would have been given by someone who knew her. The host would share whatever food, lodgings she had. Very often the one mismatched set of china plates, or the least chipped Kango (colourful tin painted plates), would come out. The one set of bedsheets, nice blanket, one pillow and not tattered sleeping mat would be rolled out. Next morning, we are introduced to the local power structures; chief, headman, ZANUPF (Zimbabwe National Unity Patriotic Front) chairman, ZANUPF women’s league chairwoman, etc. Everywhere, getting their ‘blessing’, to do ‘development work’, with the women. Without this, you could not even gather the women. But that is a story for another blog. From there, your local host would then gather the small group of women in her community, and over a two- or three-day period, you would have a conversation with the women about the problems they had as women. The things that made them happy. How they are organised. What their needs were. Who else was supporting them in the community? Government? Another NGO? A religious group? You had to come back to the same group of women for three, sometimes five times in one year. Each time, building a group, some projects, some awareness about rights, new practical skills.

I have often heard the work that Mabel Moyo and the women’s movements of the 1980s-90s’ dismissed. Indeed, these women did not base their work on any cleverly thought out theories, or what we now call a theory of change. And yet, when we look back, we can see the real impacts the work had. Let me outline a few:

  • Each woman can proudly show you the things she bought with HER OWN income, that she got after selling some products as taught by JP/V or Association of Women’s clubs, or YWCA; a wardrobe, a set of big pots, three goats which produced seven more goats, a cow – which has since produced 10 more. Their own clothing. A suit for the husband. Blankets!
  • Sending their own children or grandchildren to school. Buying groceries.
  • Travel to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia to sell some handicrafts and came back with a fridge, freezer, and beautiful memories.
  • Travel to conferences, workshops in the next town, the capital city, sleeping in a hotel. Travel to the Beijing conference in 1995, and the memories!
  • Learning to read and write, taking adult literacy classes.
  • Knowledge about contraceptives, introduction to your own body, your sexual health, and reproductive choices.
  • Awareness of legal rights; marriage laws, divorce laws, inheritance laws, child custody, how to claim maintenance for children.
  • Awareness of HIV & AIDS, and how to protect oneself. Where to get antiretrovirals. Diet and nutrition.
  • Participation in campaigns for legal or policy change, national budgets, local governance etc.
  • Some of the women got elected into community-based decision-making structures like Village Development Committees, District Development committees, and much later, many ran for parliamentary seats.

One of the impacts my own mother often talked about is worth recounting. She would say: ‘Just the idea of me leaving your grandparents’ compound, spending the whole day with other women, laughing, learning something new, baking, or just talking was a major thing. Besides going to church on Sundays, or the Mothers’ Union, (which were seen as benign, decent places for a married woman to go), where else would I have gone to get some rest from the pains of being an unwanted daughter in law? Just for those few hours, I was free! Free! No children. No in-laws. No husband. Just me, doing something for me!’ To you and me who are so used to waving goodbye as we stand at the door, or calling from the departure gates at an airport, this was huge for women of that generation and from that context. Some impacts can not be captured in a log-frame.

Another less known story, is about the work JP/V and other so-called grassroots women’s movements did, was around the constitutional change process in the late 1990s. This part deserves to be retold, and the role that Mabel Moyo and women like her played. Before the formation of the National Constitutional Assembly, (the social justice movement, not Lovemore Madhuku’s current political party, please note), most women’s organisations in Zimbabwe focused on educating women about their newly found legal rights. Newer (decidedly self-named feminist organisations), such as Women’s Action Group, (my alma mater), Musasa, and Women and Law in Southern Africa were born out of the need to ensure that women enjoyed the rights that new laws passed in the 80’s and 90s truly benefitted them. An example of this was the Legal Age of Majority Act, which, in summary, conferred majority status on black Zimbabwean women for the first time ever. No sooner had the law been passed than a strong backlash was mounted by some traditionalists and conservative elements, including amongst some of the very legislators who had passed it! The big excuse was that this new law made children, (and women by extension/same difference to some people), wayward. They argued that children and women no longer listened to men. They drank and smoked. Went out too late at night, and they were now breeding all sorts of ills like baby dumping. Similarly, the new Maintenance Act came under attack, with most mass media hysterically running long pieces, talk shows, etc. about how women were abusing the law by collecting maintenance from several men for one child. Dramatic stories of these wayward ‘prostitutes,’ (a word often thrown at any woman who crosses the invisible patriarchal line), who collected thousands of dollars and used the money to drink with yet more lovers and produce yet more babies, were created, retold, and passed on as fact.

The newly set up feminist organisations were very good at policy analysis, legal drafting and doing policy advocacy at national level. Most of us had neither the skills, nor the power of numbers to shift the public conversation. It was to the JP/Vs, the YWCAs, and AWCs (Association for Women’s Clubs) that we looked to talk to women directly, raise their consciousness using the most accurate information, and mobilise them to defend the gains we had on paper. This part of the story, I can tell more eloquently because I was there. Women’s Action Group (WAG), a fairly younger, and smaller, Harare based group was formed to educate women about their legal, sexual, and reproductive health. We produced a popular magazine, Speak Out/Taurai/Khulumani, (in those 3 languages). But we had no direct constituency. Enter Mabel, Bertha and Betty Mtero. We formed a partnership. WAG would produce the magazine as well as other popular education material. The big movements would collect these materials, and we would train community based popular educators, who would take the message to the dozens of clubs, groups who met faithfully each week. Amidst the sewing, knitting, or jam-making, women would be taught about the new laws, how to make use of them and where to go for help. We also dispelled some of the myths brought out by the backlash. One literate woman would read an article, a pamphlet for the others. Later, we partnered with the Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe, (FAMWZ), to produce what we nowadays call, ‘podcasts’, but in those days it was messages taped onto good old TEDELEX cassettes, and then played over one community radio. The women could write letters in response, or with their own specific problems, and solutions would be provided the following week. Overnight, we had constituencies running into hundreds of thousands of women, who met each week, somewhere under a tree, or in a classroom, and in their own way, made change happen.

This was the infrastructure the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) depended on to mobilise women to define what they wanted in a new Zimbabwean constitution. When the ruling party tried to impose its own version of a new constitution, it was roundly rejected. We owe a great debt to women like Mabel Moyo and her peers, for the organising they did. It breaks my heart that from the early 2000s till now, the story of Zimbabwean civil society organising has been told and seen only through the prism of a very narrowly defined democracy and governance agenda – read that as electoral politics. JP/V, AWCs, the Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau, (ZWB), and YWCA-Zimbabwe, and other broad-based movements were cast aside, because they did not speak that language. And if they did, they were not seen as ‘political enough’. Many a donor agency has been too lazy to look beyond the big, capital city based, and slick sounding names with a fancy website and a social media profile to match, rather than invest time and resources into grassroots movements. I was quite horrified two years ago when a very senior UN staffer told me that she had never heard of JP/V or the other older women’s organisations. But she definitely knew the one person’s outfits who were always at every donor gathering, every CSO consultation, and were referenced in every conversation on Zimbabwean civil society. That too is the story for another blog.

As a result, most of the broad-based grassroots movement type organisations have almost collapsed into oblivion. That JP/V still stands today, is due to Bertha Jambaya and Mabel Moyo’s incredible leadership, personal commitment, and their ability to adapt to the context as well as the foresight they had to buy or build physical infrastructure such as offices and training centres which they often hire out to other organisations. I also know that at the worst of times, the two of them have used their own personal resources to keep the organisation alive. I have no doubt that if you travelled in any direction in Zimbabwe today and found a group of women seated under a tree, and asked how many are members of JP/V or AWC, at least three will raise their hands! They can show you the material goods they acquired thanks to the economic empowerment by JP/V.

As we say a painful farewell to Mabel Moyo in the midst of this pandemic, (which has deprived the thousands of women who should have been there to do so), this is a good moment to answer that pesky question. How does change happen? It happens, when a small group of women come together and decide that they will reach out to a dozen, then a hundred, then thousands of other women, and bring them together to say, ‘enough!’ Change happens when a woman called Mabel, and her friend Bertha have a vision of what social justice for women looks like, and they invest years of their time, financial resources, and their love, to build a formidable movement across a big country, one village, one township at a time. Feminist leadership makes change happen. Yes, that is what we call it, even though the two of them may have never used the F word. It is not a requirement. Hard, slogging work of popular education, consciousness raising, leading to COLLECTIVE action and mobilisation, on the streets, on radio, via SMS messaging, in the community, makes change happen. And most definitely jam-making, baking the most delicious scones and knitting the most beautiful cardigans, or the daintiest doilies, while you discuss the national constitution you want – definitely makes change happen!

Rest in peace Aunty Mabel. Aunty Bertha, we put our arms around you and cherish you and all your peers still with us. Thank you for making the paths that we now walk so confidently, and so proudly.

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by Shereen Essof on June 18, 2020 at 4:04 am

This is an important week for reflection. Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, sits alongside June 16th , the day that saw a series of uprisings in South Africa led by black school children, that shaped the course of the anti-apartheid struggle. Both of these historical moments are momentous in that they are markers of endings and beginnings located within the histories of struggles against white supremacy at a time of powerful reminders that #BlackLivesMatter and that movements for black lives and breath still require the courage to face the might of armed racist violence.

The killing of Breonna Taylor and the deaths of countless black womxn in the United States, is part of the same story as the recent deaths of Tshegofatso Pule and Naledi Phangindawo and the countless black womxn in South Africa. The outrage we are seeing spilling onto the streets in these pandemic times in the US are an extension of the struggles on the African continent where neo-colonial agendas exacerbate racism, sexism, classism, and violence. These struggles, we can say, are part of the unfinished business of liberation. Visions of true liberation and real, meaningful decolonisation once and for all, has been part of black liberation movements from way back when.

Why are we in this position of ‘unfinishedness’? Did our liberation movements simply lack the time to finish this quest? Did the two-stage theory of liberation mean we didn’t get to stage two? Or was there, perhaps, a lack of a script that completely rewrites the world of nationalism, capital, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, militarisation?  

We know that the script of true liberation has always been present. In South Africa, and on the African continent, there were always demands to centre womxn’s liberation in the struggles against colonialism and white supremacy, but we cannot honestly say that the movements that led these struggles heeded these demands. The same can be said about the land of the free and home of the brave: we remain with questions – which free and which brave?

The inability to fully realise liberation has put us on dangerous and precarious ground in this June 2020. There isn’t any place for black people, for poor people, for womxn, and for countless others to plant their feet on the ground anymore. This is not just about a few. Large majorities of people have been written out, have no place.  They have no place in the imagination; they have no place in the institutions; and they have no place in the law.

This is part of the reason why black people and black womxn are paying the price of unfinished liberation with their lives. I guess the question that remains is: how do we turn our rage and resistance to once and for all usher in this liberation we so desire? What would a vision and the process of true liberation ultimately look like?  

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‘Youth Day’ also known as ‘The Soweto Uprising’ is observed every 16th of June in South Africa to commemorate the uprising that was led by black school children in protest of the Apartheid regime’s discriminatory laws. In January 1976, the regime mandated only English and Afrikaans as the languages of instruction in schools, banning all indigenous languages. These protests were met with police violence and killed 176 students, although estimates suggest hundreds more. Read more about the full history including how the Soweto Uprising is a pivotal part of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle here: https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/june-16-soweto-youth-uprising

Juneteenth (June 19th), while not an official United States holiday, is recognized and celebrated as a day that marked the end of slavery when the remaining enslaved black people in Texas were freed in 1865. This day celebrates black people’s freedom but is also an important marker of the work still ahead in struggles for racial justice. Learn more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/18/juneteenth-celebration-events-protest-activism

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**The use of ‘womxn’ denotes the inclusion of and orientation towards the issues of trans, non binary, queer, differently abled, black women, WOC and all other marginalised genders.

**Photo credit: 'And Still I Rise' Typographic Poster by Katherine Kelly; Poem, Maya Angelou

 

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by JASS on June 10, 2020 at 9:40 am

By Hope Chidugu (HC) and Rudo Chigudu (RC)

HC: Wake up RC and service your vehicle known as your body. It is the only one you have; once it gets grounded or overloaded, it will not serve you maximally. Your vehicle enables you to do everything including your activist work; it is your medium and hope. Servicing your vehicle is extremely important especially now when we are living in a harsh terrain and your vehicle has to cross rivers of volatile rapids and deep whirlpools. It has to navigate twists and turns of transitions and disruptions, the corona virus is just one of them. The vehicle needs to be extremely strong and remain in good repair; on top of other responsibilities, it has to continue puncturing the huge tyres of a trailer known as patriarchy.

RC: Your poetic language is beautiful but why have you chosen to harass me today, of all days?

HC:  Now, more than ever, we must pay attention to the vehicle. Doing so on a normal day has been a challenge for you and for many others; imagine trying to protect your emotional health amid a global pandemic. Well, we are in this together and for now, this is our new normal.  Today is the time to come together, build a community supported by rituals, and do our best to support and uplift one another, daily.

RC: Rituals? I associate rituals with pagans and indigenous communities.  

HC: And what are you if I may ask? Were you imported from heaven? Colonialism built its house on your brain! Healing, rituals, and community—these three elements are vitally linked. Community is important because human beings are collectively oriented. The general health and well-being of an individual are connected to a community and are not something that can be maintained alone or in a vacuum. I am talking about the gathering of people with a clear healing and wellbeing vision. Some of the problems experienced in some countries; (which I won’t mention) from the pain of isolation to the stress of hyperactivity are brought on by the loss of community.

RC: Seriously HC, I was taught that the word ritual refers to some sort of dark, pagan and archaic practice that has no place in modern society. As far as I know, the only accepted ritual is what we see in the Sunday church service of organised religions.

HC: When I talk about rituals in this conversation, I am talking about something much deeper. As much as our bodies require food for nourishment, our souls and spirits require rituals to stay whole. Without the spirit being nourished in us, the body pays for the consequences. Rituals are also necessary because there are certain problems that cannot be resolved with words alone. For example, the pain of abuse that someone carries within, the trauma of unfilled dreams and the sorrow of loss are not the kind of feelings that go away easily over time. Whether we deny them or not, they remain as part of the weight that keeps our bodies tensed and our spirits constricted. When they are addressed in rituals, we get the chance to heal them.

RC: Am a private person, why would I want to be part of a community and expose myself?

HC: Expose yourself to what?  Being in a community leads to a healthy sense of belonging, better distribution of resources, a greater generosity and awareness of the needs of the self and others. In a community, the needs of one are the needs of many. In this way, being part of a strong community strengthens one’s individuality by supporting the expression and enjoyment of one’s unique gifts and talents. A community can flourish and survive only if each member flourishes living in the full potential of her purpose. So in a way, when you take care of your vehicle and I take care of mine, we are both bound to benefit.

RC: I am not convinced that a community is important.

HC: I won’t convince you if you don’t want to be. But let me share this information with you. In my culture, when women wanted to make pots, they would sit together in a circle and sing until they were in some sort of ecstatic place, and it’s from that place that they would begin moulding the clay. It is like the knowledge of making their pots is not in their brains but in their collective energy. The product became an extension of the collective energy of their circle. The product of their work, the pots, embodies the intimacy and wholeness experienced by the women over the course of the day. They understood that it was important to reach that place of wholeness before they could bring something out of it.  I think that you know that farming worked the same way in many cultures. In short the point was not just to get the work done but to feel nourished by it. So RC, keep yourself plugged in friendship circles or in a community of people who share your well- being values.

RC: Taking care of my vehicle is on the list things to do. But for now, I have reports that I am finalising, am fundraising for my organisation, Healing, ritual and community-these three elements are vitally linked. Our organisational clients are asking me for help, I have demanding bosses and impossible work schedules, bills that continue to pile up regardless of how much I save, drama with my family and friends that seem to never end, and the challenge of raising children. Then there are all the other million stressors I encounter every day; sometimes I feel as if I am holding my hand over a burning candle…

HC: Set boundaries because if you don’t stop and take care of yourself, the candle will surely burn not just your hand but the whole body. This is why it makes sense to strengthen your body’s ability to support you no matter the situation. You have been procrastinating on servicing your vehicle for the past three months. Why?  Did I not see a sticker stuck on the area around your navel, the seat of power, (solar plexus) that says; ‘exercise your will everyday’. Why do you put stickers on your body if they mean nothing to you?  Go read the sticker again and it should remind you that will is the means by which we overcome inertia; it’s the special spark that ignites the flames of our power. Filling our emotional reserves takes intentional effort.

RC: Tomorrow I’ll go to a sports store and buy a funky, gym sportswear. Then I’ll start exercising.

HC: You always talk to rural women about harnessing their power for their own self-empowerment. Yet here you are failing to harness yours. Let me remind you that personal power without will is limited. Will is the combination of mind and action, the conscious direction of desire, the means through which we create our future. It is through daring to use our will that a stronger sense of self is born and through that strength, the will is further developed. Like a muscle, we can’t strengthen our will without exercising it. It serves us better when we exercise it wisely.

RC: Are you saying I am not empowered just because I am too busy to service what you are calling my vehicle.  I have plans of doing so, I keep telling you. How do you expect me to go outside during this rainy season?

HC: You keep buying gym clothes. When will you have enough?   Its work, its rain, you have overeaten and fear bursting, the gym instructor is sweaty…the list continues to grow longer. Who says there is one way of servicing your vehicle?  The vehicle has many parts; emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological; they all need to be well for the vehicle to function smoothly. Just as there are many parts of the vehicle (body), there are many ways of servicing it

RC: Why are you taking me on a guilty trip as if I don’t know what you are talking about?  Servicing my vehicle or self-care is one of the things I prioritised two months ago, when I was in Ghana, attending a feminist retreat called Flourish, organised by the African Women Development Fund (AWDF). I even created my well-being ‘passport’ which sits comfortably in my bedside drawer. I will retrieve it when the time comes. During the retreat we were told that self-care is a political act. I am an empowered feminist, very political, the power within me shines bright, and it can burn you. Go away. It’s my body, I I’ll take of it.

HC:  You can send me away but you can’t send away your body. It’s your body alright but when you are not well, we all suffer. You go around with your mouth wide open looking for someone to devour. A small comment makes you curse every feminist in the world.  You get into depression and expect all of us to be depressed with you. You accuse us of not caring. How many times have I heard you say, ‘I have given up on the feminist movement, sisters don’t care…women pull each other down … no one has visited me’, yet when I come to you in the spirit of sisterhood, you dismiss me like a dog dismissing money.

RC:  Let me confess, I have turned my shame into anger. I have been creating one excuse after another until I believed them. I make many plans, they are sitting in my head; I can visualise and almost touch them today but come tomorrow, nothing happens. I procrastinate. I postpone, and I wait. If it’s walking, I pray for rain. There are times when I have pleaded with the goddess to make the day shorter so that I have a legitimate reason for not doing that which I planned to do. When its yoga time, I lie down and pray to the universe to lift my legs. My part of the body that stores the spark of enthusiasm, that which ignites fire needs to be activated. I am convinced that the fire of my will is not strong enough to propel me forward, and to liberate me from fixed patterns so that I can create new behaviour. I have failed to take strong, difficult, and challenging actions related to my mental health and my wellbeing, so that I can move towards something new.

HC: Don’t despair. Power within is an openness to the flow of power around us, and our wills wrap themselves around our purpose gracefully when these powers are aligned.  Once we know our will, we should return to the practical level, how do we effectively exercise it? 

First, we need to carry out a scan and identify those things that unground us, find ways of replacing them with those that ground us. Without grounding we are not plugged in, we do not have the force of the liberating current running through us. We are more easily pushed around, often responding to other’s wills or spending our time castigating other people as if they control our lives.

If you treat me well, I’ll share some of the strategies for strengthening your vehicle. Don’t look at me as if am about to order you to carry Kilimanjaro mountain. The strategies are not difficult. I’m not going to ask you to live like a monk, buy a new house on top of a mountain top, stand on your head or on one leg for 20 minutes, completely cut yourself off from society and meditate 12 hours a day.  No, the strategies are easier. Listen to your soul, listen genuinely, it knows what your body needs.

For starters, join a community of believers.  But for today, we are going to look at your wellbeing ‘passport’ and implement at least one thing. Even if it is just a gentle walk around your house.

 **** Rudo is every woman

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