By Loveness Nyathi
PATRIACHY remains entrenched in rural African societies, where conservatism and tradition rules. Acceptance of women into leadership position has been very difficult with traditional African practices emphasizing on male leadership. A Gwanda-based woman is making inroads in the acceptance of female leaders but most men still refuse to give their women permission to join organisations or take up leadership posts.
Juliet Nkiwane saw her efforts to heal a community divided by election violence transform into a women’s organisation seeking to uplift women in rural Gwanda.
She joined hands with other women to come up with Women Development Association of Zimbabwe (WoDAZ) and they have achieved remarkable success stories despite struggles of acceptance of women into leadership positions.
“I was contesting as a member of parliament for Gwanda in the 2008 election and the runoff resulted in a lot of violence and acrimony but I managed to bring people together and we managed to heal the community, people forgave each other despite heinous acts committed.
“From those efforts, I was encouraged to continue the work and we decided to form WoDAZ,” said Nkiwane.
“Women faced the brunt of the violence as they lost sons and husbands who ran away to South Africa to escape while perpetrators arrested were also males. Women were left to fix the burnt homes and to fend for families hence the decision to create an organisation that assists women.”
WoDAZ has managed to achieve some success after being able to influence the addition of a maternity section at Sitezi clinic.
Nkiwane said they campaigned and canvassed the relevant authorities and now women do not face much difficulty in giving birth and are also getting pre and post natal care.
She said they also managed to play a role in the election of three female councillors as they canvassed for them in the Gwanda North area.
“We were campaigning for women regardless of political affiliation and I am glad we managed to have three women getting into those positions,” added Nkiwane.
She revealed her organisation is also concerned about rape cases in the area and they are making efforts to conscientise communities on what rape is and why men should stop it.
Women are also encouraged to report abuse but there are challenges with regards to a police station.
Nkiwane said in a recent case a woman was raped and went to report at Mtshabezi police post only to be told to come back tomorrow as the two police officers were going for another assignment but she met the assailant on her way back who beat her up again.
“We seriously need a nearby police post to make it easier for women to report these cases and the assailants to be apprehended early. The nearest police post in 15km away which is bad for us. We need one at Sitezi where treatment will be rendered too,” she said.
WoDAZ has also provided livestock banks whereby goats and cattle are distributed to women in groups of 10, who then keep them, expand their herds and pass-on to other women, providing much needed food and when there are extra are sold for cash.
Nkiwane said while most men have accepted that women can be placed in leadership positions, they do not want their wives to take part hence limiting the pool of women available to lead.
She said talking about rights, equality and democracy has also seen her organisation struggle to operate freely.
“We sometimes call for meetings but you hear the headman has also called for a meeting at the same time with us leaving us with no attendees. We then have to resort to kitchen meetings which are impromptu and with fewer people though more effective,” she said.
The organisation has received funding from National Endowment for Democracy, ZimRights and USAID but they also have membership fees which they tap into although they are still struggling to finance all their programmes.
Last year they managed to lure Zimbabwe Cricket to their area through ZimCricket’s rural programme and one girl was identified to be nurtured in the game.