Zimbabwe: Tungamirai Dube: Driver of Change

Date: August 23, 2019
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I am a married woman from ward 20 of Manyame Rural District Council. Before I was voted into being a councillor I was more than willing to run some project for self sustenance. However, as I was living in the ward I noticed that we were achieving very little in terms of development. I tried to discuss this issue with other community members but as a person with little influence I did not achieve much. When time for elections came I decided to campaign and give a try into becoming a councillor. I won and became part of the Council’s board. I was then elected to be a Gender Champion a position I was more than willing to accept. The Chief Executive Officer said” you are now the voice of the voiceless.” My dreams were coming into a reality. In the ward I was now able to engage the community and share with them on what issues affect the ward and how we can address them. We discuss issues which affect progress such as lack of knowledge and I have been arranging for some trainings of both men and women in the ward on issues of loan financing and record keeping. I no longer work with one ward but am covering the Seke district. As a Gender Champion I travel in all the wards to hear about issues affecting people particularly sensitising communities to be gender responsive. I consider issues of youths to sensitise them on dangers of drug abuse, I also consider the vulnerable groups in the society. I am yet to achieve the targets of having all people understanding issues of gender, gender mainstreaming and equal representation. However, I understand and believe that I am a breakthrough. Slowly we seem to be moving in the right direction.

My objectives include advocating for a 50/50 equal representation of men and women, eradicate GBV and to assist survivors of GBV, eradicate gender discrimination and inequality, promote equal access and distribution of resources for men and women, reduce gender stereotyping in the societies, capacitate both men and women and empower them, promote child rights and advocate for ending of child marriages. Other objectives ranges from promoting the interests of the disadvantaged groups in society, sensitise communities to be gender responsive, champion gender work in the district to standing in for vulnerable members of society.

I attend to community work in my ward. We hold various meetings as I brief them on Council issues and expectations. I also get information on ward development project which I forward to Council. During ward visits and touring the district projects I identify areas in most need. At times I forward the community concerns to Council or I also engage development partners like the Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau assist with trainings, I also engage sector ministries through their ward co-ordinators to get assistance. Most of the work that I carry in the ward and the district is developmental work. Men and women work together to build schools, clinics, and also some ward work including refilling the dip tanks, cutting bushes along the road side clean up campaigns at the growth points. We discuss issues of safekeeping our environment to create fire guards surrounding the farms and to desist from starting veld fires. We take this time to advise the ward members to plant trees and stop the destruction of forests in search of firewood. We encourage the use of solar energy which is pollution free and is renewable. Women are taught the safe disposal of pampers to prevent polluting the environment. However all is not rosy in my work, there was still people who look and me negatively and feel that it is only men who can push issues of development in the ward. Some people work on pull her down and are always looking for negative aspects. I am working to excel and prove that as a women I can also bring development not only in my ward but the district. However since issue of gender are cross cutting there is need for a clear understanding on the issues and support since gender is an area which is trivialised.

Challenges encountered in pushing for gender are many and this shall be discussed here. Issues of gender are trivialised and during this harsh climate when the budget is not performing it cannot compete on the priority list like any other project in service delivery. There is no stand alone Gender Committee to fully articulate issues of gender. Gender is done on a part time and there is no personnel dedicated to gender issues and hence it becomes challenging to push issues of gender. Capacity building is needed but due to limited resources there is not much training being held and the need to cascade them to the grassroots level. There are less women in the Council system and men are called upon to go and preach about gender a thing which most of them are not comfortable with as they feel threatened. The Cultural aspect is a factor that causes gender equality not to be accepted. People believe that culturally women are under men and men should always decide on their behalf. In marriage institutions the husband who would have paid the bride price take it upon himself that he is the head of the house and women should just follow his decisions silently. Women are treated as objects hence they can be paid for to appease the dead spirit and once there one would have no say. In getting more women to enter into local governance, there is gender blindness at the party and hate speech and labelling of women councillors in the community. At times meetings are held and end at odd hours and this affect the their family life. Issues of literacy also hinder women to contribute meaningfully in Council debates and further their issues. It seems a circle as men dominate always in debates

After being elected to be a gender champion I did community sensitisation on gender issues resulting with less time left for family and hobbies. As a Gender Champion I received trainings and workshops on gender through attending meetings and workshops on gender thereby sharpening me. I attended Women In Local Government Forum meetings and visited gender specific projects in the district and the province. The Chief Executive Officer of Manyame Rural District Council, Mrs Guta inspired and I realised the potential in women leadership. I discovered that women can also take leadership positions side by side with their male counterparts.

The name of the person who commented is councillor Rebecca Musonza of Manyame Rural District Council. She is the Vice Chairperson of Council. She said “You are a typical woman of today who can handle both personal and business work”. This came after I had presented a full report on work covered so far in the district pertaining to issues of gender. I gave a full report with recommendations, findings and challenges. As an individual I have learnt to attend to multiple tasks and delegating as a way of also grooming other women leaders in the whole district.

At household level there has been some changes in that at times I am away on business at Council, in the ward or attending to meetings, workshops or touring projects. My time is divided and I have little time to relax with my family as before. When I am around I plan all my activities and ensure that I also attend to the household chores so as not to disadvantage my family. I no longer have time to spend with close family members orientation of my life. However with a number of projects being run family income has also improved.

At household level there has been some changes in that at times I am away on business at Council, in the ward or attending to meetings, workshops or touring projects. My time is divided and I have little time to relax with my family as before. However when I am around I plan all my activities and ensure that I also attend to the household chores so as not to disadvantage my family. I no longer have time to spend with close family members and as a result. Even when I meet with my relatives I also discuss gender issues.

At Council, male councillors say that they feel threatened by the fact that women new councillors will soon replace them. It is not very easy for people to accept change. I remember one of the male councillors saying I do not want the sensitisation program in my ward as women will vote for other women and unseat me. However it is a journey to educate them that this will also affect their children who need to be empowered as boys and girls. I pushed for the inauguration of the Junior Councillors although Council was struggling to meet service delivery. I also assisted a group of irrigation farmers running a co-operative to join and be allocated market stands at Westminister since they had a lot of green peas in stock which was excess of the export market which the contractor was paying for. Some of the peas were affected by weather and I market them to local business people so that they would be consumed locally. I assisted women in small projects to get microfinance and to attend a number of training where they learnt baking and detergents making. There is great improvement on issues of gender since I have joined Council in 2018.

There has been review of policies at Council as I highlighted. We are working on reviewing all the policies to align them with the current laws. As the Women In Local Government Forum, we have discussed issues which we feel should be forwarded to the National Forum. Gender Links’ hub and spoke has assisted Council to show case what they have in their district. We have brought the best practices to our Council and have pushed for Council to set aside funds to assist the GBV survivors. At the moment Council is providing inputs for the vulnerable, dipping chemicals, seed and fertilisers to boost production. In the meantime Council is partnering with development partners to assist in promoting small entrepreneurs and informal traders. So far I am in the leadership programme of training of local leaders. I am schedule to go to Sweden to showcase what my Council has, what the Province is doing and strides being made national to address issues of gender. After attending the annual summit I hope to attend the regional summit in South Africa before proceeding to Sweden. The theme and agenda is to promote gender equality and to lobby for policy changes to empower women everywhere.

At national level we have had that there are policy changes as evidenced by a number of bills passed to end Child Marriages, to stop the bill on civil association. The issues of gender are now receiving attention at Council level in full council. Once a resolution has been passed it becomes binding and empowers women to participate. There is need to look at setting up a Gender Committee, prioritise issues of gender and attending to forums and workshops on gender. There has been frequent monitoring of projects, pushing for setting up of business centres and mobilising women to participate in the upcoming summit. Sensitisation programmes are being done from the grassroots the VIDCOs and the WADCOs, right now we are riding on a programme from the Commonwealth Local Government Forum which is on ward based development. We are taking stock of all the village heads in the district, identifying areas that need to be filled and hold trainings on role clarity. The district Gender Committee needs to be activated and preliminary works to that has been done. However there has been a push for a quota system at local government level. Women in the district thanked for the visits done.

Trainings held so far are held so far include sensitisation meetings with a group of emerging entrepreneurs, the old entrepreneurs and other women in the district. At ward consultation meetings the Gender Champion and the focal person have addressed people in the meetings. Also schools have been visited and children sensitised on child rights and gender equality. A training on mushroom farming bee-keeping and soap making was held. At ward level I have managed to also share with women whenever I attend a workshop I come and train or give feedback both at Council and at the ward level. I am scheduled to attend a training of the local leaders in Sweden and opportunity which I feel will assist very much to make my organisation improve on handling gender issues. I also attend the Training Of Trainers workshop and at all Committees we made it a point that the issue of Gender be on the agenda. I am also pushing for bylaws to protect issues of gender. The Gender Focal Person and I have so far travelled to a number of meetings and compiled a number of reports which we are to share with others in Council.

So far I have learnt a number of lessons which are for gender to be a success there is for a multi-stakeholder’s approach. There is need to work very hard to break cultural barriers as this will always remain a stumbling block. I have learnt that exchange visits are very important as they make you copy the best practices from other people. There is need for constant campaigns for the issues of gender to sink as people are not acquainted to gender issues. The documentation of all activities is very vital. In spearheading issues of gender there is need to include men as if there is resistance from men , gender will always remain a dream. Women need to own issues of gender and should they take a backstage men will never create a platform for them to come and replace them in the chambers. The issue of gender need the local leaders, churches and Faith Based Organisations to join hands and assist. A number of Non Governmental Organisations are working on areas of women empowerment and there is need for concerted efforts to come up with a wholesome approach to end Gender Based Violence. Men enjoy dominance over women always.

My future plans are to rope in men in common debates and work on behaviour change. I wish to hold quarterly trainings of both men and women, boys and girls as well as the inclusion of the vulnerable groups. I also plan to spearhead the setting up of sub gender committees in wards to respond to gender issues timeously. I propose that Council sets up a Gender Department so that Gender is taken as an independent department, which will have its budget and with forecasted income and expenditure. If Council sets up an income generating project , this project will be self sustaining and will be there to meet the gender issues of the youths, the Junior Council, the elderly and the vulnerable group. I conclude that Gender should a subject taught even from infancy. If children grow up in an environment of being gender aware the girl child will not be disadvantaged and be less privileged. A national syllabus on gender and a number of competitions on gender, showcasing and even exhibitions on gender sensitivity would be most welcome. The work on gender responsive communities should be preached even in churches to those churches that do gender blind practices.