Get Up, Stand Up!

Young Women and Work in Zimbabwe, Young Women and Challenges in Zimbabwe, all about the Young Women’s Leadership Initiative (YOWLI) and more on Mywage Zimbabwe.

Young women in Zimbabwe face pressing challenges on many fronts living and working in this country. Central to the women’s struggle for rights and equality is the issue of the body and sexuality. These struggles have inspired the formation of feminist groups such as the Young Women’s Leadership Initiative (YOWLI) as a way of creating space for young women to make make themselves heard.

The following is an interview with Rudo Chigudu, a member of YOWLI.

How did the Young Women’s Leadership Initiative (YOWLI) start?

It was started, not by an individual but by a group of young women. It was born out of conversation with friends about the situation of young women in Zimbabwe.

We discussed how issues of sexuality are at the core of the young women’s struggle for a number of reasons: It (sex) was becoming an instrument to go through college; a source of violation for young women entering jobs so that you started to feel as if you were selling yourself in exchange for work.

What challenges do you find working within Zimbabwe as a Feminist Movement?

I think for YOWLI this was one of the issues that was big because a lot of organisations, even those that work with women, would convene meetings and only older women would attend. Young women never attended the meetings. 

We have found that we are able to engage with young women who are in college and high schools. We can target them because they are in one place. But once a young woman becomes a working woman its harder to connect and work with them. The women we work with in different communities are often part-time workers;

How do you see yourself overcoming the current challenges and bringing young working women into the movement?

In terms of mobilizing strategies we need to build our capacity. We know that we have to start building a movement of young women. There are many who are interested and excited about what we are doing, excited about learning more about sexuality and reproductive health, but the fact that they are so isolated. We need to focus on building a critical mass. 

What does the future hold for young women in Zimbabwe?

In my work with the Young Women Leadership Initiative and in our work with young women in Zimbabwe, we firmly believe that greater strides could be made if women’s groups were more engaged in the process.

What efforts are you making as an organization to foster gender justice in the workplace?

We are not yet directly involved as YOWLI in the “official” gender justice programme.  The gender justice programme supports the workplace HIV and gender projects to prevent abuse and exploitation of young women at work. Gender justice partners include Oxfam, Padare Men’s Forum for Gender, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, Women and Law in Southern Africa, and Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building.

Looking at the law, do you think young women are being adequately protected by law?

Although Zimbabwe has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), it has not ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.

We also acknowledge the ratification of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development.

However, we remain particularly concerned with obstacles to access to employment. Women in Zimbabwe generally have lower incomes and less job security than men. Most women are employed in the agriculture forestry, farming industries and domestic sector, in which salaries tend to be low.

Be that as it may, we are very happy with the sterling work being done at ZCTU in empowering womenfolk. Women's issues are right at the top of their agenda. In 1994 they had a programme specifically for women talking about equality. 

How were things before?

Prior to independence, women were treated as inferior to men. So as a union, over and above what the government was doing about women, they came up with a specific programme for women trade unionists in order for them to also influence society and to talk objectively and eloquently about women's issues. 

After the education phase, they began the integration phase whose thrust was to empower women to be able to stand up on their own and be bold enough to fight for their own rights, and therefore integrate themselves equally with men. And I think they have been successful in that respect, and the objective has been achieved. 

It is heartening to note that in their leadership it is 50 percent men, 50 percent women. 

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