Zimbabwe: Merjury Svisva

Date: September 25, 2018
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“Lobbying for every effort to broaden women’s participation.”

Merjury Svisva is the Assistant Chamber Secretary for Marondera Town Council. Working in an environment dominated by men was a challenging undertaking for her.

She soldered on in the face of gender inequality at institutional level that was quite apparent given that about 80% of the staff was male and she has this to say: “African society has been highly unequal in terms of gender and traditionally the sexual division of labour ascribed women the role of manual labourers and the situation eroded women’s rights along with their status in general. This can also be confirmed by the disparity in staffing levels at council.”

She decried the fact that since 1985 to 2012 her organisation has not taken a resolve to address gender inequalities at the work place. She said that there has not been any affirmative action policy in place since independence and there were no women at the highest leadership and decision making echelons of the council. “Women were crowded in the lower levels as clerks, sweepers and council nurses in the housing department. However it is quite pleasing to note that since 2013 council with the assistance of Gender Links has resolved to mainstream gender into its establishment.”

As the Assistant Chamber Secretary her main duty is to assist the Chamber Secretary. “I am also a gender focal person for council and I am currently advocating for council to prioritise gender equality in the organisation among competing objectives and ensuring that the policy process is reorganised so that ordinary actors know how to incorporate gender perspective as a normal requirement for decision makers because women and men experiences are affected differently by the services they receive from council.”

Svisva is lobbying for every effort to broaden women’s participation at all levels of decision making and that council take practical steps to embrace the diversity of local communities to achieve gender equality, equity and justice in its policies and service delivery. She is willing to ensure that there is a change in some traditions and stereotyping of women that contrive to reinforce inequality, exclusion and gender neutral policies which fail to address practical gender needs.

Says: “Council for a long time has had a male dominated management team and work force therefore I am also making an effort to ensure that council develop Human Resource policies which support gender equality and equity and promote a gender sensitive organisational culture as well as establish gender management systems that will safe guard the gender equality and gender justice of staff.”

Her appointment as the gender focal person, seen her organising and carrying out campaigns on issues that affect women as well as capacity building around key gender issues at both council and community and rolling out the COE work to council and the community of Marondera.

As she was working hard to mainstream gender in local authority activities she realised that men have taken it upon themselves to participate side by side with women as well as support the COE work. She however has reservations on the fact that some men are playing lip service to gender issues and are not actually putting it to practice because of cultural beliefs.

“Priority is not also given to specific gender issues when it comes to budget prioritisation of financial support it is taken as a secondary issue.” On the future plans she is prepared to work hard towards capacity building at the work place as well as the community on gender concepts so that it will be engraved in the mindsets of our community at large. Working in a male dominated environment she feels that she was an endangered species and the situation made her to realise the importance of gender as issues that affects women both at council and community level was usually ignored.

The training she received from Gender Links shaped her opinion and made her to always recall the words of Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek.’’ As if the words of Obama were not enough she said, “Unless I was going to take the first step no one else was thinking of driving the gender agenda in council I just had to take that step.”

Svisva gives credit to Gender Links and commended its governance, media and gender justice programmes. “Gender Links has immensely contributed to my work in a number of ways, capacity building, financial support for campaigns, and networking. My memorable encounter with the organisation was at a meeting for WLGF where some Councillors who had travelled to Sweden shared their experience. I saw the councillors who had gone through the grill and I vowed to drive the gender agenda in my organisation, try and capacitate women and men to understand that gender is every one’s business it does not need women to do it but even the men in decision making can make the change today since they are making the decisions, they do not have to delay.”

She is currently working towards ensuring that COE work is promoted and the number of women participating in council elections in 2018 increase through capacity building. She is encouraging other women in council to train in areas that were previous dominated by man through the training and development policy in council.

She is proud of playing a part in the formulation of the gender action plan and she vowed not to rest until the action plan is reviewed and auctioned upon in council. On a parting note she said, “It is also important that at some stage I also pass the button to someone else whom I should groom to ensure the COE is carried forward.”