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Days and nights of activism

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We are coming to the tail end of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, and I am wondering what this means to the regular Zimbabwean man and woman. Activism as a concept requires vigorous lobbying, petitioning or campaigning to bring about social or political change.

Opinion by Thembe Sachikonye

So when we talk about days of activism, are we suggesting that everyone becomes an activist? Are we requiring people to take to the streets and march in protest? Are we requiring men and women to stand on a platform in front of a microphone denouncing our social conditions? Should we provoke violence so that we can become poster girls for a cause we really do believe in, demonstrating visibly how vile men can be? How do we go about the process of activism if we are not what we commonly understand to be activists?

These questions and many others remain unanswered for those who are not part of organised movements and those who perhaps fear the social and political consequences of being part of organised movements. Wikipedia comes to our rescue in describing the many different forms that activism can take: “Activism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronising businesses, rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, and hunger strikes. Activists can function in roles as public officials . . . some activists try to persuade people to change their behaviour directly, rather than to persuade governments to change or not to change laws.”

So essentially, you and I can indeed become activists, even if we engage in activism only for a brief period (although of course if it is a cause one believes in, we should be engaged in the longer term). We are fortunate to live in a time and space where social exchange can take place via the Internet and other forms of media. While this is not necessarily accessible to the generality of the population, it does provide us with a starting point.

My colleague Tapiwa Gomo wrote a thought-provoking piece on the subject in NewsDay earlier this week (See NewsDay December 3, 2012). No doubt an emancipated man, Tapiwa sought to understand what it is that women want, citing examples of voices that were sounding contrary to the cause of women’s emancipation.

I can see how confusing it might be for a man, when women take up platforms and send conflicting messages. In a way, this is part of the beauty of social media — that it democratises everyone who has access, that even the smallest, most contrary voice can find a space to be heard.

In a group email conversation about gender roles, a Canadian friend of mine defended emancipation by outlining all the ways in which she can choose what her role as a woman is. What she didn’t take into account was the confusion this creates among those who many not have the same choices, and indeed may not want the same choices. Emancipation has opened up choices for us, but hasn’t necessarily made us happier. I believe the Western paradigm of happiness is heavily bound to choice and self-determination, or perhaps individualism. But I believe our design as human beings is to be communal creatures. We thrive in communities and even the things that require doing are better done in communities – finding food, raising children, creating shelter. We therefore have to engage one another when we face problems that affect society.

Our common understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman is important for purposes of sharing, communicating and meeting collective expectations and helping us to achieve a peaceful reciprocity in the communities in which we exist.

I want to believe that I can make a change without making a public spectacle of myself. I want to believe that I can act and speak in ways that will ensure that my children will know that they are high value individuals who do not need to sustain conditions of abuse. I want to believe that my choices can take me to a space where my days and nights are relaxed, respectful and rewarding, and where there is no space for violence.I want to believe that my role as an activist for the things I believe in is a continuous one that goes beyond 16 or even 17 days.

But will this be enough?

  •  Thembe Khumalo Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on Twitter www.twitter/localdrummer or visit her facebook page www.facebook.com/localdrummerzw

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