By Joyce Mukucha
In spite of the evolving world with some women beginning to experience equality in different circles of life, in other parts of societies around the globe, other women are still deprived of the privilege of equal participation particularly on the African continent and rural Zimbabwe is not being spared.
Many of the world’s most impoverished women in rural communities are confined to their households. They lack mobility and freedom of association and have no opportunity to learn their rights and take action to improve their lives and those of their family members.
In the quest to fight and end inequalities that exist between men and women, Zimbabwean rural women are taking a leading role in empowering one another through making sure they support each other to accessing opportunities without any limitations or restrictions such as in education, profession, and in their way of life.
Empowerment is the process that creates power in individuals over their own lives, society, and their communities making them feel entitled to make their own decisions.
Trying to have a deep insight on how rural-based women are changing their lives through self-empowerment, Spiked Online Media managed to conducted interviews with various women and girls to understand how they are taking actions that give them respect, confidence, and a voice.
“Women empowerment is a big issue in our societies. As women in rural areas, we are thriving to make efforts aimed at equipping and allowing women and young girls to make life-determining decisions through different programs in society.
“So in our community, we formed a club called ‘Empowered Us’ a group driven by a mandate of eliminating all practices that discriminate women and girls assisting them to establish and realize their rights, including those that relate to reproductive and sexual health,” said Miriam Muguti who is based in Lalapanzi, Gokwe.
Another Chirumhanzu based lady, Abigail Murimba said they were working tirelessly in their community taking actions of raising the status of women through education, raising awareness, literacy, and training, and also extending training related to self-defense.
She said they have weekly sessions where they convene and create dialogues where everyone can contribute and learn.
“Though there’s been some improvements and changes during the past few years, most women still do not have a voice, yet we believe women are the pillars of society. Women have for a long time been marginalized by religion, culture, and a whole lot of issues. So we are standing up for ourselves saying fellow sisters, mothers, and daughters, let’s us give each other a shoulder to lean on and eradicate all forms of inequalities.
“What we do is we motivate ourselves and our young girls to work hard, desist from depending on men. Once we recognize our strengths and help one another to deal with weaknesses and eradicate a dependency syndrome, we believe that we are empowered to climb higher upgrading ourselves and achieve balanced societies,” said Murimba.
In their sessions and discussions, she highlighted, women do not discourage what their husbands and male counterparts do but rather urge them to support women’s efforts in building better communities.
“The full participation and partnership of both women and men is required in productive and reproductive life, including shared responsibilities for the care and nurturing of children and maintenance of the household,” added Murimba.
In other parts of rural Zimbabwe, women are supporting each other through empowering themselves to start their own businesses with the government putting in place some policies to upgrade women.
Speaking to Shelter Kwarimba of Bikita rural, she said, “Through the Women Banks, we are managing to start our own businesses and projects and we are able to sustain ourselves and families. It is the duty of women’s cooperative to ensure that no one is lagging behind in as much as striving for better lives is concerned.
“As women , we are also using many ways of helping one another through cooperatives where we raise awareness reminding women that they too have rights. In our cooperatives and clubs, we are also aiming to fight and avoid child marriages reminding men in our village that educating a girl child women is not a waste of money thus they should invest in women’s education,”she added.
A number of researches indicate that child marriages cut short a girl’s education and freedom of choice. It also often costs her life due to early pregnancy which leads to or causes maternal mortality.
Other studies reveal that in most regions of the world, women receive less formal education than men, and at the same time, women’s own knowledge, abilities, and coping mechanisms often go unrecognized.
Celebrating the 2019 International Women’s Day which positioned “innovation by women and girls, for women and girls”, at the heart of efforts to achieve gender equality, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that women’s empowerment and gender equality are “essential to global progress.”
This was seconded by the President of the United Nations General Assembly who once told gender equality leaders that without the full participation and leadership of women, there is no hope of realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In all parts of the world, women are facing threats to their lives, health, and well-being as a result of being overburdened with work and of their lack of power and influence.
In line with this, another lady in Mhondoro rural said,”We are the first to rise and the last to go to bed, working on average twice the hours of men, often with the most backbreaking work, hauling water and firewood, pounding grain, weeding farms using short-handed hoes and with children on our back, head-carrying produce to market and working as laborers.
“Therefore, in our community, as women we are motivating one another to stand up and air out our views ensuring that our rights are also respected and our labour is appreciated. We are joining hands as women to reduce drudgery as we aim to give ourselves enough time for development.”
When it comes to forms of violence such as rape, incest, and murder which are becoming rampant in many rural communities of various cultures, women are also working hard to help one another realise their rights.
“In many areas, if a woman were to report abuse or rape at a police station, she may be attacked again. In our clubs and cooperatives, women are also working tirelessly to end such kind of behavior encouraging each other to report abuse,” another Chivhu lady said.
Others are also making concerted efforts to ensure that equal leadership prevails in rural communities.
“Women are denied a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. The best way to transform this condition is to uncompromisingly require that at least 50 percent of leadership positions be reserved for us from village councils to parliaments,” said another Hurungwe woman who identified herself as Mandy.
Studies show that when women become leaders in their local community, they transform the development agenda focusing on water, sanitation, health, education, and nutrition, and combating corruption, social exclusion, and domestic violence.
Numerous studies show that when women control money, it is far more likely to be invested in the health, nutrition, and education of children than when men control the money but in some cultures where women touch money, it still is regarded as a taboo.
Other women who opened up to this publication said, “Education is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process.
Education, other women, and girls added opens doors and helps women grow up the ladder.
“Education boosts one’s self-esteem. So we are empowering women through projects ensuring that all of us access education and resources that can enable us to make decisions.
“We are fighting against rural power relations that impede women’s attainment of wealthy, health, and other better opportunities,” they said.
The Beijing Platform for Action again calls for greater parity and justice.
In the wake of COVID-19, women, and girls in rural areas have urged the government of Zimbabwe to put women at the centre of recovery and response ensuring that gender equality is achieved.