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Honouring African Women

Collage of WOZA images

It is International Women's Day today - March the 8th - a day described by the United Nations as a time to,

reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

Days like these are well worth marking, but am I the only person who thinks, 'ONE day out of the year to think about progress and honour women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their country and communities? One day? What about the other 364 days in the year'?

All women in Zimbabwe are extraordinary - by caring for the frail and vulnerable, the very young and the very old, all are playing an extraordinary role in their communities. And I don't mean that in a I'm so sensitive I respect everyone exactly equally kinda way either! I say it knowing how difficult it is for all women to get by in Zimbabwe today.

Can you imagine, for a moment, being the primary caregiver in a country where inflation is rocketing towards 800% and unemployment is at around 80%? Can you imagine trying to take a very sick child to a clinic, desperately hoping the clinic will help, yet knowing at the same time that they can no longer even afford to stock asprin? And when you can't feed or heal your family, how do you find the will to go on when your loved ones are weakening and suffering before your eyes?

It is extraordinary that Zimbabwean women manage to keep putting one foot in front of another when their stomachs are empty, their hearts are breaking and their heads are swimming with worry and despair. It is even more extraordinary that they are able to do so surrounded by a deafening silence from a seemingly indifferent international community. All of these ordinary women deserve to be recognised as 'extraordinary human beings', and it seems hopelessly short of the mark to recognise this fact on one day of the year when the struggle they fight is a relentless soul-crippling daily grind that goes on for 365 days, and then starts all over again.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) stand out as a group of women who, through non-violent peaceful action, give a public face and press-friendly words to the experience that weighs on all women in our country. Just last month I found myself laughing out loud one afternoon when I turned a corner into a busy street and unexpectedly saw the road awash with flyers and leaflets. Cars driving past sent them swirling and passers-by picked them up.

A few hours later it started to rain - thunder-clouds and lightning and raindrops the size of waterbombs. My only thought was, 'Their flyers. They've just distributed their flyers and now no one will see them because they'll be turned to soggy pulp'. Little did I know that, by then, the brave distributors of the flyers had already been arrested - 181 WOZA women and male members and 14 babies. Remember my concern about the rain....?

They were held at Bulawayo Central and due to flooded cells, the group were kept in a cage outside in the courtyard with only standing room until 10.30pm in heavy rain. [my emphasis]

Soggy pulp was the least of their worries! And things got a whole lot worse for them in the days that followed.

What is remarkable though, when you read about their arrests and the lengths the police went to to get them to sign admissions of guilt, is the knowledge that all this heavy-handed thuggishness took place because a group of women - some with babies strapped to their backs - decided to march down a street in their own country, distributing flyers which announced that they were, "marching for bread and roses"; in other words, bread to signify food and a decent standard of living for families, and roses for love, safety, security and non-violence.

Who in their right mind could take issue with demands like that?

Well, the Zimbabwean government does object, and the women's demands for bread and roses resulted in this sort of treatment:

Today lunch was not allowed into the police station. The women were also told by police that they preferred to give water to prostitutes and vendors rather than WOZA women. Access to toilets is also being denied. Reports are also being received that several women were assaulted on Tuesday by a PISI officer, Mhondoro, who has beaten WOZA women in custody on several occasions in the past. Some were slapped with an open palm across the face; others were kicked in their sides by booted officers as they sat on the floor in detention. (Names of some of these women are available.) 38 women spent Tuesday night standing in one tiny cell. Those on ARV treatment were unable to take their medication because they were denied food. From 2 to 6pm yesterday, women were made to sit in the hot sun just out of sheer malice, it seems.

What is it that the government is so afraid of?

It isn't as if WOZA's actions served to expose a deep hidden truth or draw attention to little-known conditions experienced by a tiny-minority of people. It's not as if the government is jumping to conceal a dangerous 'state secret'. We aren't talking about ladies and babies hurling petrol bombs or throwing their bodies recklessly into police barracades ...

All these women have done is state the obvious. Not even the Zimbabwean government can claim that things are alright in Zimbabwe - but it is nevertheless still criminal for ordinary people to give voice to the basic reality that every single person living in Zimbabwe knows and feels in their bones.

What the WOZA women have shown - largely through the absurdity of the police reaction to their work - is that the truth stated out loud bothers our government. No surprise there then! But given the fact that everyone already knows the truth, it becomes clear that what bothers the government even more - the biggest threat they face - is the simple refusal of ordinary people to be frightened of them.

Hollywood movies and TV action series convey the perception that bravery comes with lots of sweat, pumped pecs and tight abs, blurted single word commands, a touch of glamour and a cowering victim or two to rescue. But who would have thought that one of the bravest things a person could do is walk down their own street, pass a piece of paper to a person standing near by, and ask quietly and peacefully for food and love.

It is in Zimbabwe.

And for that reason we honour WOZA women today. We honour them not only because they are undeniably brave, but because we recognise that their actions give a voice to the experiences of Zimbabwean woman struggling to survive on a daily basis. And through honouring them we recognise the courage of all Zimbabwe women battling in these difficult times - not just for today, but for every day of the year.

And what do WOZA have to say on this, International Women's Day? This comes from a WOZA statement released today (see our previous post):

We will be coming to a place near YOU and asking you to DREAM with us! We will also be asking you to join us in marching to turn those dreams into POSSIBILITIES. We believe the solution is in our own hands and even ‘babies’ are doing their share of the work.

Leave a comment for them here!

Sokwanele - Zvakwana - Enough is Enough

Other bloggers honouring African Women today include: Kenyan pundit; AfroMusing; Uaridi ; Mad Kenyan Woman; Rombo ; Poi ; Mental ; Mama Junkyard ; Mshairi ; Fire Pussy; Nubian Soul; Molara Wood; Zimbabwean Pundit; 007 in Africa; Adefunke ; Pilgrimage to Self; Ore ; Afroblog; Soul on Ice; ET!Weichegud; Journal ; Black Looks; and Jangbalajugbu Homeland Stories.

[tags]International Women's Day, 8 March, Zimbabwe, WOZA, Human Rights, protest, non violent action[/tags]

Comments

D. Stevens says:

These brave women have been noticed, by the government of that sad little tyrant, by all Zimbabweans, by freedom loving people in the free world.
The conduct of the Mugabe government, faced with a modest and peaceful march by women, showed its weakness, its terror of 'the people'.
I live in Canada; how can i help.
My respect and love to all those involved.

Submitted by D. Stevens on 8 March 2006 - 10:13am
N.A.A. says:

I sometimes wonder if the WOZA women are mad or brave - maybe it is a bit of both. All I would like to say today is that I am so glad they do what they do, and (regardless of their state of mind :-) ) I am very very very proud of them. They are true Zimbabweans.

Submitted by N.A.A. on 8 March 2006 - 12:12pm

[...] Sokwanele - This is Zimbabwe celebrates the women of Zimbabwe through WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise) WOZA stand out as a group of women who, through non-violent peaceful action, give a public face and press-friendly words to the experience that weighs on all women in our country……..We honour them not only because they are undeniably brave, but because we recognise that their actions give a voice to the experiences of Zimbabwean woman struggling to survive on a daily basis. And through honouring them we recognise the courage of all Zimbabwe women battling in these difficult times - not just for today, but for every day of the year. [...]

Submitted by Global Voices O... on 8 March 2006 - 1:08pm
JimH says:

Brave brave people who risk their lives and safety. We salute you and all that you stand for. Keep going, the rest (including the men) will follow!

Submitted by JimH on 8 March 2006 - 2:15pm

[...] African bloggers are using the occasion of International Women’s Day - today - to honor great African women, whether these women are public figures, or simply figures significant to their lives. Global Voices Africa editor Sokari Ekine has a comprehensive roundup in two parts on our site. It’s an amazing tour of the women in the public sphere and family life of bloggers across the continent. Sokari chooses to honor OC Odua, a Niger delta activist who stood up to powerful oil companies who attempted to displace her and her family from her community in the Niger delta. Also very much worth a read is Sokwanele’s celebration of WOZA - Women of Zimbabwe Arise. Happy International Women’s Day, and congratulations to the amazing women honored in all these posts. [...]

Submitted by …My heart’s in ... on 8 March 2006 - 7:24pm
Kristopher says:

Not showing fear.

Not being obedient.

Add voter apathy, alienation, a strong belief that the current government is both ridiculous and illegitimate, and you will be ready to get started.

Good luck ... liberty gets hard, dangerous, deadly, and ruinously expensive from here. But even then it's still a bargain.

Submitted by Kristopher on 9 March 2006 - 1:30am

Dear Sokwanele,
Would you consider submitting a version of this International Women's Day post to the anthology I am co-editing, "Women Writing Resistance in Africa"? We don't have any submission so far that talks about women's resistance in the political sphere, and sorely need one!
All best,
Jennifer

Submitted by Jennifer Browdy... on 9 March 2006 - 1:56am

Happy IWD. This is belated...bt tiz for a woman and country I respect lots....

Submitted by Kenyananalyst on 11 March 2006 - 3:56pm
Mfoster says:

These women are heroes. So many of us today in the United States take for granted the priveleges (read:not rights) we have. I am proud to live in this country, however, I am repulsed by the idea that not everyone is even close to being so lucky. To not be able to walk down my own street, to not be able to speak out for a cause so worthy and so basic is disgusting. How can the male sex be so ungrateful to the very cause of their existence? My heart goes out to WOZA and I admire their strength, their pride, and their determination to acknowledge and fight for a cause that is so important and vital to a functional society. I wish WOZA the best of luck and may God bless their souls and their efforts to one day be successful. I'm still young and in High School, but something must be done to help. What can I do?

Submitted by Mfoster on 2 May 2006 - 1:34am
Kate Sobo says:

I stumbled upon this blog in my research this morning regarding International Women's Day.
I host a weekly internet-radio show (see below). I will be sharing this blog entry "Honouring African Women" today on my show between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time - New Jersey USA. Bless you, and we will pray for these brave women and their families. peace, kate
The Radio Kiosk
www.HomegrownRadioNJ.com
Fridays 11 - 1
Internet radio
Music and Commentary

Submitted by Kate Sobo on 9 March 2007 - 3:15pm

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