Changing Lives: Unity Jaji – Zimbabwe

Changing Lives: Unity Jaji – Zimbabwe

Date: June 30, 2015
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I am the Acting Director for Housing and Community Services in Gweru; I joined the council in 1999 as a Senior Administration Officer, and moved up to Assistant Director of Housing and Community Services. My role involves housing management; mainly, I deal with selling and renting out stands, but it also includes dealing with sales stands and welfare assistance. The council runs four youth development centers which I am involved in, and I am also involved in sports development; we identify upcoming sports talent. I am involved in hiring out of council properties – the town halls, for example, as well as HIV and AIDS projects. I have also been involved in the greening of the city and in education projects. By working with Gender Links, I have learned how to mainstream gender in all my work.

I always wanted to work with the community, though I do sometimes get caught up in the politics of local government. Through Gender Links, I have been trained, and as a result, have stronger capacity in many areas. I’m no longer afraid of various titles and portfolios that in the past, I didn’t have the confidence to handle. For example, once, there was a repossession issue that came under my responsibility, and I had to be very firm in this repossession. The tenant called the governor, who then confronted me directly. It was an intimidating situation, but I was able to maintain my composure throughout the conversation, hold my ground, and react in a calm manner because of all I learned from Gender Links. In the end, we reached a constructive resolution. I have learned to be strong and firm, and not to buckle under pressure from the levels above me. Gender Links has trained me to face all kinds of challenges, and maintain my confidence through them. Now, I can stand by the truth, and know that it guides me.

Priscilla first visited the Gweru Town Council offices in 2009 accompanied by Susan Tolmay, who was then the Governance Manager at GL. They were initially referred to me, and I admit that I was skeptical at first, because they interviewed me. To me, it felt like a bit of an interrogation, and given the political climate in Zimbabwe at that time, I felt very suspicious. I wasn’t sure who the report was going to, or for what purpose it would be used.

In 2012, Priscilla started calling the council offices and I was confused. The Zimbabwean Women’s Resource Center and Network (ZWRCN) were coming to Gweru with a gender budgeting programme, and here Priscilla was calling with her own gender budgeting program. I didn’t understand why the two organizations didn’t join forces- after all; they were coming with the same product. Every time Priscilla would call, I would ask her to call UCAZ and come through them. By this time, UCAZ had already signed an MOU with GL. GL had no office, and did not feel legitimate to me. Priscilla continued to bring GL publications, and my reaction was that GL wanted to make money.

After many phone calls, the council staff and members finally met with Priscilla at the Fair Mile Motel in 2012 for their first workshop. Priscilla presented herself in such a simple and straightforward manner that it made my colleagues and I even more suspicious of her motives. But by the end of the workshop, Priscilla had conducted the workshop so well that all inhibitions disappeared and everybody engaged fully. I remember being very impressed by Priscilla’s delivery. Council members then went to South Africa and finally saw the GL they had wondered about for so long.

With the power of hindsight, now I can see that GL invests so much time in people, and because of this, people take the programme seriously. Had it not been for Priscilla, I feel the Gweru Council would not be where it is today. It is the commitment and dedication of Priscilla that ensured our progress, and strengthened us so we are now willing and capable of being proactive on this agenda.

The most important thing I learned is that if one tackles gender issues, we have tackled service delivery issues. From that perspective, Gweru has come a long way from being skeptical of taking gender issues seriously to making it central on our agenda. This is due to all they have learned from GL. So far, we have had two workshops, including one on GBV, and we communicate regularly with GL to ensure our progress and support where we need it.

I can even say my personal life has changed drastically. My husband is an engineer, and I am able to find ways of communicating with him that I never have before- now I know my audience. I have learned to be more supportive of my daughter, who has commented on my change in behavior. My conflict resolution skills have been enhanced as well as my communication skills. I am able to council people better, and speak in public more effectively. At church, the congregation sees leadership skills in me. They approach me with responsibilities they think I should take up. A lot of the time, these responsibilities involve addressing large crowds, and I rise to the occasion. This never would have been the case before. I’m very proud of my newly developed skills of facilitation. If I look at all spheres of life, I can see now that I want to think smart, and be the best I can be. I can be my best everywhere I go.

Even with these skills, my job is not easy. I am the only women in a management team of 10, and I have to fight hard every day. I am grateful to my husband, who has supported my every endeavor. He is a manager where he works, and he understands my role as I move higher and higher in the council. My children also reaffirm me daily. Another major factor in my support system and growth are my siblings, who always stand together; we grew up without a mother, so my source of inspiration has always been my rather. He was a teacher who worked tirelessly to make sure all his 12 children got through school, and through our tertiary education. I think God for the strength and will power I have in my work. I have a wonderful team of people around me, and they are a constant source of support. They are strong, and constantly affirm each other. They have a good working spirit, and we work well together to do good work.

In the future, I want to focus more on GBV. I feel there is a lot people don’t know or realize when it comes to GBV, and I want to educate everyone as best I can on the topic, and help eradicate it for good. I want to focus more on the people on the ground, and make sure that every woman knows her rights. I am so passionate about GBV, and I want to spark that passion in others too. I want to see more women in positions of power, and I want to hear them talk about GBV. For me, it is simple, and I am sure that it can happen.


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