GENDER activist and MDC-T Proportional Representation MP Fanny Chirisa (60) had so much love for women emancipation to the extent that it cost her marriage.
But, this did not deter her from pursuing her political and gender activism career.
Instead, the problems she experienced during her marriage days taught her to fight for women’s rights and to capacitate other women to fight for theirs too.
The following are excerpts of an interview between NewsDay Senior Parliamentary Reporter Veneranda Langa (ND) and Chirisa (FC) over her career as MP and gender activist.
ND: Who is Honourable Fanny Chirisa?
FC: I was born in Mutare in 1951 and grew up in Sakubva where I also did my education up to high school. I then got into a lot of courses and training in relation to women’s issues because that is where my passion was. I also studied social work, got married and have two children.
However, when I became a women rights activist, it got into the nerves of my husband and resulted in our separation. I did not give up the fight for women’s rights and when I was working for Nango in 1984, I got an opportunity to attend a United Nations programme at the University of Iowa in the United States where I attained a diploma in social work.
I also worked for Save the Children Norway and was deployed in Masvingo where I headed the feeding programme for seven districts,where we built schools, clinics, nursing homes, pre-school shelters and recruited youths as builders.
I also had a four-year stint with the Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre Network as a programmes officer where I worked with women MPs, linking them to their constituents. Later I joined the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) where I worked for 13 years as director.
ND: So, you left a good job as a director for MP? Why?
FC: I believe I had done a lot as a gender activist and by the time I left I had reached retirement age. Since 1998, I have been working with female MPs and I thought it would be best to pursue a political career as an MP to further promote gender issues.
ND: What is it that really makes you have so much passion over women issues?
FC: During my marriage days I suffered a lot at the hands of my husband. I was very young, but my experiences pushed me to work with women to ensure they are empowered to defend their rights and marriages.
ND: You came into Parliament through the Proportional Representation (PR) quota for women, what issues have you been raising in Parliament?
FC: When I got into Parliament, I joined the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Accounts (PAC) and the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, my political party, MDC-T, made me the shadow minister of women affairs, and so I opted to leave the PAC in order to be a member of the Portfolio Committee on Gender and Women Affairs. I also left the Foreign Affairs Committee to join the Mines and Energy Portfolio Committee where I chair the sub-committee on energy.
I have made a lot of contributions on energy issues and have contributed extensively to debate in Parliament on issues such as cancer and gender. I have also contributed to motions to do with economic and finance-related matters.
ND: Would you say that the women who came into Parliament under the PR quota are doing well?
FC: The PR quota system is a good idea, but what I think should have been done was to come up with clear regulations or strategies of how we are going to manage the PR system because at first men thought that women have the PR advantage and so they should only take those seats and not contest at constituencies. Men also think that because we do not have constituencies we are not efficient.
ND: What are the challenges being faced by those women that came in through the PR quota and are mum in Parliament?
FC: The idea of having MPs is that they go through policies and analyse them. So there is need for women MPs to get assistance from civic society and the Parliament research department, so that when issues are raised in the House they are able to debate meaningfully. It is not for us PR beneficiaries to scrutinise our own performance, but I would say we have been doing well during debates in Parliament sittings and committees.
ND: Can you comment on calls that the PR quota must be extended for another 10 years?
FC: I support the calls because the first five years are the pilot phase where the PR MP is learning about Parliament. The first year they will be crawling, the second year they will be trying to stand up, the third year they try to walk on their own, and the fourth and fifth year they will be walking and running. This is the fifth year and women in the PR quota system have just started to run and contribute in Parliament. In 10 years’ time most of the women that came through the pilot phase will be experts in Parliamentary procedures. We cannot, therefore, start to evaluate their performance using the first 10 years. We need to give them another 10 years and you will begin to see women competing with men. They can even be left to contest elections so that new women can come in through the PR system.
ND: How did you join the MDC?
FC: When the party noticed that I was interested in women empowerment they invited me to join them, and that is how I joined the MDC-T.
ND: Do you see yourself coming back in 2018?
FC: I do not know yet because the party is still quiet about who will represent them under the PR quota. But, I believe I have done well and would like to come back.