Councillor Bernadette Chipembere

Councillor Bernadette Chipembere

Date: July 22, 2012
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A team of Gender Links (GL) staff arrive an hour late for a meeting with the Chiredzi Centre of Excellence (COE) for Gender in Local Government, but the 46 women gathered under a tree continue with their monthly 50/50 campaign meeting. The community mobilisers in this sugar-growing hub of south east Zimbabwe are engrossed in the Shona and Ndebele pamphlet on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development provided through DFID-funded GL programmes.

Several interest groups explain enthusiastically how they have been applying the sub-regional instrument with 28 targets by 2015 (the same year as the Millennium Development Goals) in their daily lives. They include aspiring councillors (Zimbabwe is due to hold elections later this year); widows; caregivers; informal traders; unemployed women; survivors of gender violence; those fighting trafficking to neighbouring South Africa and sex workers. The hot button issue is a petition led by the council’s gender champion, Bernadette Chipembere, for the release of dozens of women rounded up by police during a crack down on sex workers. The women argue that police should also target the male clients of sex workers.

One of the winners in the 2010 Gender Justice Local Government Summit, Councillor Chipembere has made sure her council develops a gender action plan; monitors local police action on gender violence, helps widows fight legal battles, and promotes women’s economic empowerment. Inspired by the national launch of the 50/50 campaign as part of the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance governance cluster activities, Chipembere vowed to take the campaign door to door in her community, targeting the poorest neighbourhood (known as majarada) where families share rooms and toilet facilities. “As a councillor I cannot just sit there and say, ‘I do policy’ when things are not right on the ground,” says Chipembere. “If you do not get on the ground, you cannot be effective.”


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