Nyaradzai Gumbodzvanda

Nyaradzai Gumbodzvanda

Date: August 31, 2011
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Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda is the Secretary General of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA), a global network of women and young women leading social and economic change in 125 countries. She is a trained human rights lawyer with extensive experience in conflict resolution and mediation. For some twenty years, she has been working on issues of women and children’s human rights, with a special focus on crisis countries. Active in the women’s movement, she has more specifically focused on issues of violence against Women; peace with justice; property rights; sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV and AIDS. She is a recipient of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association conferred the third annual Women’s Human Rights Defenders Awards to human rights defenders who have been working at different levels of activism – July 2011. Read more about this.

Fungai Machirori, editor of Young Women first newsletter, a publication of SAFAIDS, recently caught up with Gumbodzvanda to findout her views on 100 years of commemoratingInternational Women’s Day, and also what herhopes are for the newly formed UN Women. Gumbodzvanda was one of the candidates short-listedfor the position of UN Women Executive Director,so she has a very clear vision of where UN Womenshould be going in the coming years.

Going into 100 years of commemoratingInternational Women’s Day, what are your thoughts?
We have to honour our mothers andgrandmothers who invested in the wellbeing of their daughters. Before a girl can go to school she hasto come from a family that sees value in sendingher to school and investing in her education. Sowe should celebrate the many unsung heroineswho are doing everything to ensure that the futuregeneration has a differentexperience to their own.Click here to read more – Simone please upload full article and link here.

From a cultural perspective, we have alwayshad a notion of inter-generational mentorship (young women talking about issues with olderwomen like aunts and big sister). A hundred yearsdown the line, it is important to assert that it’simportant for women and girls to have their ownsafe spaces so that they can continue to havecrucial conversations about issues that affect them.

We also need to continue to have an intergenerational perspective because we, as human
beings, transmit values and ideas based on ourown experiences. And in the context of HIV, a fairlynew epidemic, we can no longer talk secretly aboutlove and sexuality because our statistics tell us thatyoung women are at highest risk to HIV and STIs.

We therefore need to speak openly, looking also athow young people born 30 years ago, when HIVwas first discovered, are dealing with issues aroundlove and relationships. We can’t pretend they don’thave sexual issues.But nowadays, the family structure is notas strong as it used to be. Many times youwill find that mothers, aunts and oldersister live very far away from the youngwomen who need their guidance.

How can this intergenerational mentorship still take place?
Yes, we need to recognise there is afracturing of our social institutions. The family isfragmented but what remains important is thatyoung women and girls be in a social support network. The network does not have to be your family, just as long as there is trust, respect, openness and understanding. The network could be a circle of friends, or a church support network. What is important is that the network is empowering. The space needs to be a listening space and not a moralising space where young women are judged or blamed.

What if the network doesn’t support openness about sex and sexuality issues?
Sexual issues will always have a measureof privacy, no matter how much we talk about condoms or the right to abortion in public placeslike workshops and conferences. When it is aboutyou being raped yesterday or being touched byyour boyfriend in a way you didn’t like, you can’ttalk about it publicly. You need someone youcan trust to share your emotions with. You needsomebody to talk to in confidence and to get thesupport and advice you need.
At YWCA, we always ask that if you call yourself empowered, you should be able to identify two women older than yourself with whom youhave a close relationship; but also two younger women whose hand you are holding. Immediately,you have four women who care about you andlove you. These small circles of sisterhood are whatmake the difference.

What do you think of the InternationalWomen’s Day 2011 theme, which states,
“Equal access to education, training andscience and technology: Pathway to decent
work for women”?
It’s great because it reminds us that while we push governments about education, we need this to be accompanied by programmes that don’t justfocus on academic outputs so that our womenand girls can also develop life skills. It’s not just inthe classroom that counts, but also access to thewider perspectives of the world. If our local schoolsor clubs or youth centres had facilities for videoconferencing via Skype we could get young peoplefrom across the world talking to each other.

If governments invest in technology for youngwomen who cannot get out of the village, they will at least be able to experience a different worldthrough technology. Young people should be a partof the process of shaping what social media shouldlook like. That’s what excites me about the theme.

What do you think will be the role of UNWomen in the years to come?
I thought about this having been one ofthe 26 women nominated for the position of Executive Director. My recommendation to Michele (Bachelet) is that UN Women has to be a place for ALL women : girls and young women need to feelthat they belong, that UN women is their entity,that they are entitled to be a part of UN Womenand therefore claim that space as their own.Also, UN Women has to be a champion of young women’s issues. While the demographicsof the world show that the world is 50% women,the majority of these women are young womenand girls. Therefore, UN Women has to engage inissues that affect young women. Empowerment has to start early. UN Women needs to embrace an approach that will create a sustained voice foryoung women and girls for the next 100 or 200years. If we invest in young women, we will havechampions being groomed perpetually.Every young woman wants to go to school, to be an entrepreneur or get a job. We need to ensurethat young women aren’t getting married merely asan escape route out of poverty. It’s only when they have education, skills, opportunities, income and employment that they can get into marriage out of love and choice.

Finally, I would push for young women to have caucus meetings with UN Women and not to have one young woman at high level meetings standing as the representative of all young women’s interests. We need UN Women to create a quality space where women are not just subjects of adiscussion, but are actually active participants.
Source: Young women first Issue 2; SAFAIDS


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