THIS past week, a particular memory has been replaying on my mind over and over again.
I must have been 14 years old and in high school. It was very rare to have classes called off no matter what had occurred.
On this particular day, classes were suspended and we all sat down in neat rows listening to this woman talk about developing communities and ensuring that women had access to clean water.
This was going to be achieved through sinking boreholes under the District Development Fund.
I was thrilled to hear this woman speak with passion, insight, vision and knowledge as was common with women in my household when they were alone.
What my less conscious mind had not known then was that this was Zimbabwe’s future first female Vice-President.
Her eloquence inspired me and I never forgot that moment. This writing has nothing to do with being her fan, supporter or not, but as a feminist, I have always been intrigued by her leadership and rise to power in such a highly polarised and patriachal space such as Zimbabwe.
What a timely recollection of a high school memory at a time we commemorate International Women’s Day (which was on March 8).
Women’s leadership is rarely appreciated and sometimes misconstrued in many forms.
However, it is critical to embrace women’s leadership by understanding that it is not about women taking over the world, but being contemporaries of their male counterparts who can contribute equally to the world’s transformation and development.
Celebrating women leadership
I find it rather sad that despite the many efforts and hard work of various players, it looks like the gains of the Beijing Platform for Action of 1999, are slowly being eroded. Sadc boosted of two women occupying powerful positions when it came to political power but 2013 saw Joice Mujuru and Joyce Banda being “stripped” of their power and struggling to maintain their balance in the usual space of politics.
I do know that there have been many campaigns developed to show solidarity to women who have suffered various forms of atrocities at the hands of their lovers, friends, families and political parties. These continue.
However, it is critical to note that since time immemorial, women have always been brilliant leaders. From my grandmother in Chihota single-handedly co-ordinating the whole clan, to my sisters crossing the border or vending to fend for their families, to the mother at home running her household affairs more meticulously than a regiment to whatever woman you can recall.
Women are good leaders and given the chance, they do transform spaces in the best way they know how.
It is, however, unfair to judge women’s leadership based on a purely patriarchal bias that says leaders should exude unemotional masculine tendencies. Women should and can lead in their own way that should be embraced, accepted and developed in many ways than one.
It is unacceptable that in a progressive global world, African women be treated as second-class citizens whose efforts are hinge on what their male counterparts think defines leadership. Moreover, women could do themselves a favour and demand plus claim their space and lead in ways they understand and know.
Indeed the pressures of patriarchal tendencies of leadership might prevail but they are not the ultimate to decide what women’s leadership is about.
By speaking out and holding hands where violations are experienced especially in politically polarised spaces in Zimbabwe, we begin to re-write the narrative of women’s leadership.
By letting young girls and women lead from their small corners, we contribute to future generations of female leadership that is worth our while.
There will be women to mentor future generations by inspiring them as I was those decades ago as I sat and listened on DDF issues.
I did not have to be part of her political party that is not the basis of women’s development. Whatever political party or whatever side one belongs, women can come to realise that there is strength, power and dynamism in diversity.
Women are not a homogenous group and thus cannot speak with one voice but they can come together and work towards a common goal of emancipation and development at many levels.
Stepping up women’s leadership
Women’s leadership is definitely outside the domestic space borders. This is the time that you and me can step up and claim space wherever we know we can contribute meaningfully to making a difference. It is about grabbing the quota systems of sixty parliamentary seats and showing the world that we are not “baccossi”.
I read a book once by Sheryl Sandberg on women “leaning in” and claiming their rightful leadership space. It does have its backlash but I guess the most important aspect is coming together and becoming a formidable force for transformation. It is about denying becoming each other’s enemies by basically offering support whenever a sister is in distress.
It is about making sure that we let our light shine from our small corners and bring the difference we want to see in the world.
Stepping up women’s leadership means that whenever possible, women will refuse to gate-keep and perpetuate patriarchy by tearing down the next sister.
Stepping up in leadership translates to women being able to live in safe cities that secure their rights and ensure that at whatever costs, women are respected as citizens appreciate that they have the procreative force that perpetuates generations to come.
As the world celebrates women’s month this March 2015, I call upon you to denounce violence against women especially that within political spaces and is woman on woman violence. In Zimbabwe, women form about 52% of the population, we are the majority.
This means women can come together and say no to the nonsense that sometimes happens in this nation and is a threat to the future of the children we bear when we choose to exercise that aspect of our womanhood.
By going about speaking out and encouraging fellow women as I was that day in my high school by another woman, we can all come together and do the same. It is never too late to mend, so let’s do this!
Grace Chirenje writes in her personal capacity and would be excited to hear from you. You can contact Grace on firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on twitter @graceruvimbo or like her Facebook page Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje.