Sithabisiwe Takawira – Zimbabwe


Date: October 12, 2015
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“I am a gender sensitive, self-motivated councillor”

A good leader is a leader with people’s well-being at heart, who puts the interests of others before his or hers; one who would go an extra mile to help others.
Last year I joined Mrs Mapaya, the child care worker, during visits to underprivileged children. We visited the Mashate family where we found a single mother of four children. She narrated how she ended up being a single parent citing how her husband left her for a younger woman, leaving her stranded in their rural home with no means to fend for her children. Her husband married another woman in Mutare town where he resided for purposes of work. Upon realising her desperate situation she went to look for a job as a domestic worker. Her husband returned two years later and then left again leaving her pregnant with her fourth child. He did not come back until she left the rural home to go to Beitbridge.

Mrs Mashate moved to Beitbridge to look for a job and left her children with her in-laws who were also very poor. Distressing reports from the village about her children were unbearable. They were no longer going to school. She had little savings which she sent to her in-laws to send her two older children Chiedza and Senzeni to Beitbridge. The children related sad stories about what happened when she had left them and she realised that the other children needed to come. She came to me to seek advice and I referred her to the social services where arrangements were made for her to get the children.

We approached the Beitbridge primary school headmistress so that these children could be enrolled. She quickly registered them with the Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM) and the children are now going to school. We advised the mother to do vending. She is now selling vegetables and mobile phone top up. Their life has improved compared to when they came to Beitbridge.

I started politics when I was twenty five years old. I was not all that active, but was supported financially until such time as I felt that I was ready to go public with my political affiliation. Amongst other reasons, family was the main reason why my activism was at a rather low level.

It was early 2008 when I felt it was the right time to participate publicly. I joined structures at ward level and that is where my journey started. In 2013 I was elected ward councillor. It was a good time for me to fulfil my wishes. It’s true that it is a “dream come true”. I like children very much so I visited social welfare services for more information about underprivileged children in my ward and to be introduced to child care workers.

I was introduced to Mrs Mapaya and together we visited some families where I discovered that most children were being raised by single mothers. Some children were from broken homes and others were orphaned. Most mothers were resorting to prostitution and vending which did not bring in enough to sustain their families. It was evident that these women resorted to prostitution as a last resort in order to fend for their children. One woman called Mary even said “Councillor, life is tough here, we did not go to school because our parents were poor and we do not want our children to live our life when they grow up.” This was very touching.

I visited our Town Secretary Dr Singo and explained my story. I asked if he could squeeze Mary and Mrs Mashate into the vegetable market in town. They both got market places. Mary started small with vegetables only. Her children are now going to school and she can now afford uniforms and food for the children. This is how I got involved with gender work.

My objectives are to be a leader who brings change to the society and who wants to see women in key positions in the work place. I want to be a leader who helps other people and who is able to listen to every one’s contribution without segregation by tribe, gender or political opinion.
My major objective is to see women in business not only on a small scale, but on a larger scale. Workshops will be conducted to capacitate those in business. I would like to encourage recognition for parents who are caring for children with learning disabilities through involvement in income generating projects. Social welfare services and some stake holders like Basic Education Assistance Model will be invited to partner with them. I want to create awareness on health, the environment and gender based violence at domestic level and at work places.

The nature of my work is to be a mother figure and leader, with people at heart, who is able to attend and listen to people’s problems without discrimination or judgement, regardless of political background, gender, religion or race. In other words I am a city mother.

The major key activity in the community is to convey messages from the people to the council and give feedback to the community. I represent the community in the council. I am a policy maker for my community. As a councillor I should see that the local authority delivers services to the community properly, for example refuse collection and attending to the reports of burst pipes or sewer lines. There are times when a burst sewer line is reported and no one attends to the call and if it is brought to my attention I will quickly convey the message.

As a councillor, I conduct meetings at ward level and form development committees which will attend to all developments and the greening of our ward for climate change. I also invite stakeholders like EMA, social welfare services, child care line for children’s welfare and health services for the health campaigns, especially when there are outbreaks of transmitted diseases like typhoid or cholera. I face some negative experiences when domestic violence occurs, as a councillor is not trained to be the counsellor, so we invite government counsellors, or police, who deal with domestic violence.

As a leader it’s a mandate to give moral support to those with functions, celebrations, funerals and visiting the sick in the hospital.

Resources mobilised for work on gender equality:
Amount local currency Amount in Rand Explanation
Gender specific allocation 324881.00
Gender in mainstream projects (please specify) 824610.00
635000.00
58312.00
360500.00
241300.00
40000.00
Amount contributed in cash or in kind by partner organisations (please specify) 20000.00
100.00
30000.00
TOTAL

I am a councillor for ward two in Beitbridge. As a councillor, I convey messages from the community to the local authority and give feedback.

My key challenge was when my mother and sisters discouraged me from participating in politics as they believed it was a dirty game and left little time for spending with my family, especially my children, as I would be trying to balance my work, personal projects and being a mother and wife.

My other challenge is that there are some men who still do not accept women in leadership. They resist attending meetings as they do not want to be addressed by a woman. Some women also have a tendency to suffer from ‘pull down’ syndrome with regard to other women leaders. When you call a meeting they will pretend to be coming and then do not attend. They start passing negative comments, like “how can we be addressed by a single mother?”

In the community where I reside there is tribalism. People prefer to be led by a person from their own tribe. One man said in a meeting “Shonas and Ndebeles want to rule in our town; Beitbridge is for Venda’s”. As a leader I have to represent everyone regardless of tribe or political affiliation. It is my duty to see that I earn respect from my community regardless of all the negative statements. It is very challenging when few people attend meetings because it becomes difficult to convey messages to the people.

There are duties I have to undertake which need money, but due to the financial crisis it is difficult to deliver services, for example, transport is needed for functions or funerals or home visits. As a leader I end up diverting family funds to help out. That is how family arguments emanate.

Regardless of all the problems, changes have been noticed. Illegal dumping along the roadside has been reduced. We have seen active participation in cleaning our ward by all, including men. This is due to the health campaigns that were conducted. Most houses now have bins. Some families have joined the council in greening our town as it is our town project.

Some women who were involved in prostitution are now doing small scale business, selling vegetable, fruits and mobile top up. Under-privileged children are now going to school through the support of Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM), this is a great improvement in the lives of the children.

People are comfortable approaching me about challenges they are facing on a day to day basis, both domestic and at the community level, as they have gained confidence in my ability as a leader and my fulfilment of my role as a city mother.

Championing gender has changed my life tremendously. There are some gender terms which I did not understand before I started championing gender. I thought the word gender itself only referred to women’s issues until Gender Links conducted a workshop for gender mainstreaming in Harare. My mindset also changed because I was capacitated and gained knowledge.

I used to lack confidence and was too shy to address people, especially people with high rank. Gender Links recommended twenty five women councillors to be capacitated by Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy (ICDL). My first strategic issue was “lack of confidence” which was addressed by the training programme. I am now able to address people with confidence, regardless of who is there.

Championing gender has made me love my work. I enjoy going on the ground documenting my good practices in my ward and attending activities taking place in the community and at our nearest primary schools. My love for children has been molded by championing gender. I sometimes donate things like building materials and packs of purified water to Beitbridge Primary School when they have sports days.

Beitbridge town council is a centre of excellence. When I started championing gender Mr Pio Muchena was acting as gender focal person. After last year’s summit I initiated that our council should have a new gender focal person since Mr Muchena had some other commitments. I approached the acting town secretary who was there last year, Simon Muleya. Lethubuhle Baloyi was chosen to be gender focal person. This year we managed to do a 50/50 campaign on gender mainstreaming since we now have a gender focal person. Evidence includes a letter confirming the appointing of Miss Baloyi as gender focal person.

On employment, I emphasised the consideration of women, although our advertisements encourage women to apply. All our heads of department are men and women must be recognised in such positions. There was a gender committee which was formed in 2010 and it was not functioning properly. I discussed resuscitating the committee with Lethubuhle Baloyi. Our gender committee has six key people including myself, Lethubuhle, Pio Muchena, Magic, Raniel Ndou and Gift Nyoni. This committee is to be adopted by the council.

As a result of the change in my life I have noticed great changes in the community. My influence in the community has made an impact in other people’s livelihoods.
Children who were not going to school because of school fees have been enrolled by Beitbridge Primary School. Most parents now understand the importance of education. The single mothers are able to work for their children by selling in markets. Even their mind set has changed, when you talk to them they speak business. Abused women and children now report their cases to me or the family friendly unit, previously many cases were not reported.

The community now understands the purpose of cleaning their places and even greening their yards. Both men and women participate in ward cleaning without resistance. Most households have purchased bins from the council. Roadside dumping has been reduced.

There are women who were scared to participate in politics but through my encouragement and influence they now participate and are willing to take positions, for example joining structures. This is a good sign that more women now understand the importance of women being in leadership or top positions. The 50/50 campaign which we conducted in March 2014 with regard to women in positions was also an eye opener for them.

A woman called Agnes Tore residing at 1649 Dulibadzimo T/ship Beitbridge who was working as a security guard in Beitbridge Railways joined politics when I approached her to join political structures at ward level. She has moved to another ward now and the community in that ward have appointed her as ward chair and they promise to nominate her to stand as their council candidate in the next elections. She said to me “Thank you my sister, I never wanted to join politics even though my parents were active, next elections I am going to stand as a councillor candidate”.

We have a letter from our nearby primary school confirming BEAM pays the fees for the underprivileged children and we have a video of the 50/50 cleaning campaign.

I have witnessed a change at societal level. Some companies still claim that women are not competent, especially in Beitbridge in clearing services where a physical examination is required and they say women usually do not respond to vacancy advertisements.

A company called Lanaheil Clearing Services, which is one of the biggest clearing companies in Beitbridge, has two sectors, clearing and the accounts department. It has employed a woman and a man in its top management. In the accounts department Vimbai Muleya is the manageress and in the clearing sector Wisdom Jiyane is the manager.

Both men and women with high ranked jobs participated in this campaign. Our council’s treasurer, Anymore Mbedzi, also joined us. In the past only women used to come to cleaning campaigns. We did another cleaning campaign at which the Zimra manager, Mr Swirls, also participated. There are videos and pictures of men and women participating in the cleaning campaign.

Anna Muleya, who is one of Lanaheil directors, indicated to me that Lanaheil adheres to the 50/50 campaign and she said their company have both males and females in top management.

Capacity building has taken the following forms:
The women I have visited door to door, especially those who had financial problems, have been capacitated. I introduced them to small scale businesses like selling vegetables and taught them some business ideas and management. There are flea markets which I advocated for them. They pay a dollar to the council.

Cleaning campaign: Both men and women were encouraged to keep their town clean. Men use to think cleaning was for women, but after the campaign most men understood the importance of cleaning.

50/50 campaign: In March 2015 we carried out a 50/50 campaign workshop working hand in hand with the gender focal person, Lethubuhle Baloyi. Different stakeholders were invited to participate in capacitating people. Stakeholders who participated were from the health department, social welfare, child care, legal advice and FSI.

Health awareness campaign: We conducted this workshop with Zimra and all the top management participated in cleaning and picking up papers along the roadsides. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) also participated and they taught people about the dangers of setting alight bio-degradable matter, for example leaves and other rubbish at home.

Women sell in flea markets and their markets are kept very clean. These women really appreciate it. When I call them for meetings they are the first to arrive and they do not miss cleaning campaigns.

Women were very happy with the 50/50 ampaign which was held in March. Mrs Libombo residing in house number 23 Dulibadzimo Township Beitbridge said to me “My daughter you have done well by opening our eyes with this campaign, we are now going to stand our ground as women as we now know our rights”.

I faced some challenges when I called meetings and only a few people attended. It was very difficult to convey a message to people. I had to create a group chart for my ward. Technology simplified my life. I also had a challenge when families had a misunderstanding or a fight, since such cases need a professional counsellor I would try to refer them to the family friendly unit but they would resist.

I have learnt that social networking is very important. You learn and share with others. I went to Kenya and Sweden for leadership training where we were taught about strategic issues and how to resolve them. I also learnt about the suppression technique, how women are being suppressed by men in politics. I had an opportunity to witness elections in Sweden and other politicians shared with us how they started in politics and how they relate with their opposition.

My next step is to plan for 2016 and how to help the children who are supported by the Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM) with uniforms and their wellbeing, so that they are on the same level as other children. I will also strategise on influencing other women to participate in politics. I want more people to be capacitated with regard to the 50/50 campaign on gender mainstreaming through workshops. I will also advocate for leadership training, especially for women and children at primary school level.

 


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