Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Women, Don't Undermine your Potential"

My name is Zenebech Ezezew. I was born in 1958 E.C in Debre Tabor town, Gondar. My parents were in good economic situation. However, they got divorced while I was a child and that was bad for my upbringing. I stayed with my father and joined church education but couldn't continue further due to a problem I had with my step-mother. Later, I escaped  an arranged marriage and ran away to Gondar city where I started working as a domestic worker with a salary of six birr ( around $3 at the time) per month.

In the meantime, a woman who knew my strengths and the meager payment brought me to Addis Ababa. I was hired as a domestic worker and continued my education in the evening until I reached tenth grade. Grade eleven was difficult for me, hence I dropped out from school, got married and gave birth to three children.

To support my husband, I brought cheese, butter and egg from Sebeta and Sululta (small semi-urban villages on the outskirt of Addis) and started selling injera too. But life was very difficult. While I was in such a difficult situation, my friend who is a member of Women in Self Employment (WISE) saving and credit association (SACCO) advised me about the benefits of becoming a member of WISE and the various services of the organization. Thus, I joined 'Tinsae' Saving and Credit Cooperative in 1999 E.C. By that time, I was struggling to work in a small shop. I took the Basic Business Skills training and the first round loan of 500 birr (around $40) that helped me expand my business.

The training brought me tremendous attitudinal change within a very short period of time. Before I tool the training, even if I was working hardly day and night, I was unable to fulfill the minimum subsistence needs. The training helped me understand the meaning of profit and loss, efficient time and money utilization and income and profit calculation. The Health training helped me improve my personal and environmental hygiene. By taking different rounds of loans, my business expanded and I was able to buy the necessary household utilities like refrigerator for my house.

Currently, I have taken Birr 15,000 ($750) loan and my saving has reached Birr 12,000 ($600). I have two savings, for me and my children and for condominium being constructed by the government. I am helping relatives besides myself.  Two of my children have graduated from colleges. The first one is to soon start working in Ethiopian Airlines as a mechanic soon and the second one will get his driving license within a short time. My last child is a girl. She withdrew from a public school and joined a private one for which I am paying 500 birr ($25) per month. I used to spend my time and money to fulfill other people’s expectations; serve meal followed by coffee ceremony, etc. I and my family are no more wasting time in serving coffee.

My life has changed tremendously. I now have all the necessary household equipment for my house and I am able to visit my relatives in rural areas.

I have a plan to expand my business in the near future. Thus, I am planning to buy a car for transporting the goods. Since I have a driver and mechanic at home, the car will be easily manageable at my household level.

I want to send a message, to all Women - you shouldn't depend on the income your husbands bring home.  You have to be strong enough and shouldn't undermine your potential since every household needs a woman.           

Zenebech Ezezew

Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)-The African Agenda   

   by Esther Kimani (Executive Director -Young Women's Leadership Institute)

“When we allow Sexual and Reproductive Health to include Rights, as Africans we are accepting to be influenced by western culture that of accepting persons with different sexual orientations which is not in line with our African culture”. African Leader

These were the sentiments of an African leader negotiating on behalf of Africans at the global level at the Commission on Status of Women 58th Session 2014. It has been one year ever since the Agreed Conclusions were adopted and these sentiments are stuck in my head and I wonder when was SRHR narrowed down to promotion of persons with different sexual orientation (LGBTI). At the CSW59 session the sentiments from the African Group were still the same. That SRHR is a western influenced ideology and not an African Agenda. It was bad as even the Government delegation got a memo from one of the African Countries to not even mention the words SRHR anywhere. Are some of our African leaders that narrow minded? Do they really understand the issues of Africans and are they burying their head in the sand by not recognizing the existence of persons of different sexual orientations in Africa? Are they fit to negotiate on our behalf if some of them do not understand the issues well? These are some of the many questions that have been lingering in my mind for some time now. I believe that universal access to SRHR for all encompasses the rights of women with regards to their sexuality. The right of women in regards to sexuality as in accordance to Beijing PFA (1994), para 96 includes, their right to have and to control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to the sexuality. These rights have numerously been recognized a number of times by the African governments in different declarations and commitments at the Global level such as the Rio +20 (para 146) which states that “We commit to reduce maternal and child mortality, and to improve the health of women, men, youth and children. We reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and to protect the rights of women, men and youth to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination and violence. We will work actively to ensure that health systems provide the necessary information and health services addressing the sexual and reproductive health of women, including working towards universal access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable modern methods of family planning, as this is essential for women's health and advancing gender equality” This is not new to Africans and the #TheAfricaWeWant is where all women have full control over their bodies and sexuality.

In 1995, 189 states committed to Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and its 12 critical areas of concern for women which includes universal access to quality health care for all women at all ages. Over the years the review process of BPFA has been cognizant of the language of SRHR and African states have committed to this language in all the Global policy making processes. I fail to understand their sentiments about this foreign language (SRHR) that is not part of African Agenda according to them.

Statistics show that every year at least 36,000 African women and girls die from unsafe abortion, accounting for 14 percent of all maternal deaths in the region. 287,000 women, most of them in Africa and Southeast Asia, died from preventable complications of pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe abortion (13% of maternal deaths). In other words we can say that in Africa, women’s death results from complications related to giving life. African leaders are aware of these phenomena, they cannot afford to say that access to SRHR services and needs for women is not an African agenda. African women need leaders who understand the issues and can negotiate on a language that will ensure every woman, throughout her life, have access to; a comprehensive, accessible, and integrated package of sexual and reproductive health services of high quality that fully respect and protect her sexual and reproductive rights.

Are we going to sit back and relax as our sisters, daughters, cousins, nieces, friends and neighbors die every year due preventable deaths as they bring forth life? It is My, Yours, Our responsibility and that of our leaders to protect women and girls of Africa. We need to hold our leaders to account as they make decisions about women’s bodies at the global level, we must ensure they are aware of the issues and are passionate about emancipation of women and full realizations of women’s rights. Take action today by joining in the women agenda in your country. It is our collective action that will bring forth change in Africa.

“You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And Reproductive Health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal and safe abortion” Hillary Clinton

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Olive Uwamariya: Extending the reach

Olive Uwamariya is an empowered woman of the feminist mold. She was amongst the first women to be trained under the Rwanda Women Leadership Institute (RWLI) as a facilitator to empower women leaders with relevant leadership skills. RWLI is a project of the Rwanda Women’s Network in collaboration with the African Centers of Excellence for Women’s Leadership (ACE).

Describing herself as an unapologetic feminist, Uwamariya was recently featured in a talk show on Contact FM, one of the popular radio stations in Rwanda, where she discussed feminism and its positive place in society. Uwamariya embodies the RWLI aim to empower and reach women and girls as widely as possible with leadership ideals, especially through women like. She knowledgeably speaks out, as well as describes how she amiably asserts her rights at home with her spouse and in the society at large. While Rwanda has made some strides with gender friendly policies, Uwamariya observes that there are those who would like to think that “women have reached,” for instance, by being a majority at 64 percent in the Rwandan parliament. She asserts that it is not true the women “have reached.” There’s still some way to go.   

Follow the discussion here:

Established in September 2012, the RWLI aims to expand and improve delivery of new skills and tools for women’s effective leadership; provide a space for sharing experiences and for networking to mobilize women for change; and offer state-of-the-art leadership training for the empowerment of young Rwandan women.

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Voice for the Voiceless 

Describing herself

I am Christine Adokorach, 33 years old; I am also a mother of one son and two daughters. I am a Lawyer by profession and I define myself as a feminist.

Qualities that define me as an African woman of strength

There are many qualities that define me as an African woman of strength including but not limited to courage, braveness, calmness, intelligence, friendliness, honesty, empathy, quick to action, a self starter, persuasive and charismatic.

My AWLI Experience 

My experience involved learning, unlearning and relearning. For example under the personal empowerment, organization development, transfer of skills and knowledge, I learnt that women are judged in respect of their private/personal issues because of the patriarchal mind set to limit women participation in the public sphere. During this time we interrogated the institutions of marriage, family and religion and discovered that our attitudes had been shaped by them. It was from here that I committed to undo all the aspects geared at limiting/blocking me and fellow women’s participation in the private and public sphere.
In my work after the AWLI, I was able to reach out to women groups in West Nile and in Kampala among refugees; sensitized them around self-care and care for each other as a therapeutic aspect of leadership. This is because I further learned that you cannot give what you do not have.

Unique aspects of the AWLI training that stood out for me and lessons learned

One of the key aspects of the training was the topic on taking care of ourselves and each other. I have shared it extensively with several individual women, women groups during talks and in counseling, who have reported increased self-esteem and confidence including ability to share their story.
I got a new experience of knowing my person, body and taking care of myself; it was very empowering.

Reasons for every young woman to undertake the AWLI training

The training stimulates and prepares any woman to stand out of her private and public life with confidence and self-esteem. She becomes hungrier for knowledge and hence sharpens her articulacy and consistence. The training acts as a catalyst /stimulant for women of all ages to begin thinking. By the time one is out, they only want to do something to advance justice for women where ever they are.

Message to AMwA at 30 years

I first would like to congratulate AMwA for marking 30 years of advancing African women’s voices. I trust that you will continue to strengthen women’s voices on the continent and beyond. My message to AMwA is that although the feminist movement has focused on the regional and international spaces, there is need to consolidate the women movement at the grassroots for both the illiterate and literate, generate resources from within the movement for ownership, continue to identify, develop, empower mentor and facilitate young feminists to take up public offices as an activity towards achieving transformed societies.

Transforming the women’s movement from “NGOlisation” to Activism.

I believe the women’s movement continues to be challenged because it lacks its own resources ( funds, we the women should fund the movement to advance our interests and be accountable to us) and is always run on donor terms and deadlines hence change of goal posts depending on the interests of the donors, the women’s constituency is very large and needs to be reached and liberated, we have not yet attained solidarity and ownership of the movement as a women’s body with women from all walks of life. Many women have fallen out of the movement for various reasons hence need for constant refreshers and renewal of solidarity.
The women’s movement needs to have consensus, solidarity and unity; bringing together women from all walks of life. Facilitate members to participate in political leadership. Engage with religious and cultural institutions. Women have been relied on throughout time immemorial to sensitize and train children and fellow women (young women/girls) hence have played a paramount role of ensuring the continuity of patriarchy. Women are responsible for bringing up children, hospitality; teaching fellow women being married in the family/clan/tribe hence are responsible for training and sensitization on matters of custom/ tradition. Women of all walks of life should be targeted to facilitate attitude change and establish acceptable traditions and customs through the young generation

Views on the Post 2015 development framework and what I would like to see African governments commit

End armed conflict, safeguard borders against arms and human trafficking as these continue to jeopardize/thwart all efforts towards ending all forms of violence against women.

Advise to young women interested in political leadership

Have a clear understanding of women’s political, social, economic and cultural environment. You ought to be a feminist and identify with the women’s movement this will keep you on track have a personal agenda and align it with in the right political group where your interests have the possibility of being achieved. Assertiveness and confidence will be sharpened with continued interaction within the women’s movement; always consult your constituency and the women movement.

Remembering Christine

When I am long gone, I would like this world to remember me for having been a friend of women and bringing out the best out of every women and girl I got in contact with.

Learning more about Christine;

My life’s philosophy is that I do not need to have a title to be a leader, but simply identify a need and avail myself as a change agent. I was born into a polygamous family, an elder of eight siblings; leadership came in naturally for me at a tender age providing and protecting my siblings.
After my Law degree in 2006 I headed north to Adjumani district and began interning at the districts natural resources department. My stay exposed me to gross human rights abuse through courts and local government structures against the weak and ignorant communities including high prevalence of GBV hence I founded the first legal aid clinic in African Development and Peace Initiatives a local CBO. I further networked with the Legal Aid Project of Uganda Law society in Gulu to represent Clients in court at no cost which had never been in place before. It was a common occurrence for court clerks to draft both plaints and statements of defense hence for parties to a suit at a cost thwarting justice for those in the favor of the clerks and magistrate, no written judgments etc. I am grateful that I laid a foundation for increased information on rights and procedures for claiming. I also worked extensively at the early stages of the transitional justice discourse in northern Uganda where my organization was branded a rebel collaborator in a bid to shut up our voice concerning victims’ rights by the local government and district intelligence officers. Am happy I gracefully took on the conflict and with the support of OHCHR the president’s office concluded the matter clarified and apologized for the acts of their errant officer.
In 2007 I met two wonderful women in the Hague while attending a working seminar on SGBV before the ICC for countries being investigated by the court. When we returned we founded an organization in Gulu called Centre for Reparation and Rehabilitation to provide legal Aid services, advocacy for reparation and rehabilitation for victims/survivors of the LRA conflict, provision of psycho-social support. Our target beneficiaries were women and children who are the most affected. We were very active transitional justice activists, raising the voice of women survivors of the conflict.
I am currently the chairperson of a grassroots women’s organization called Rural Women’s Action to participate and decide. I founded it immediately after the AWLI in 2012; its purpose is to mobilize grassroots and rural women and women groups into a movement, provide a secretariat and training facility for the movement. I have not yet achieved this due lack of funding but I have determined to persuade the women to fund the activities through donations, subscription and membership and they are interested. My biggest challenge is time due to pursuit for personal development being a young woman; I have not yet attained financial independence. I find myself torn between working for a salary which keeps me out of action against doing what I love the most - Women Activism.

AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Sub Saharan Africa- Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Defeating Poverty

My name is Zeyneba Yinga; I was born in 1974 and grew up in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa around a place called ‘Kirkos’. The area used to be populated by very poor families but there was a very strong social bond between families. My mother passed away while giving birth to my sixth sibling; I was then 12 years old and my youngest sister was just one. Between the two of us, there were four boys.  Following the death of my mother, all responsibility of taking care of my siblings fell on my shoulders as I was the first born and a girl.

I remember a day where I came from school and there was nothing to eat at home that I found my siblings crying for food. I just couldn’t watch them cry so I run to a neighbor’s house where I found the family sitting for a meal. They invited me to join them and I very much wanted to eat but couldn’t do so thinking about my hungry siblings crying for food at home. Hence, I lied saying that I just had lunch however the lady gave me a ‘gursha’ (gursha is a traditional way of sharing meal with someone else by putting a chunk of food –usually big, into their mouth). I pretended to have eaten the food but took it out and covered it with my scarf. They gave me more ‘gurshas’ , I did the same and run home to feed my siblings. I have so many stories that I witnessed to at a young age, and all of them are very sad. I always wonder if the burden would have been that heavy on me had I not been a female. If I were a boy, would I be expected to be as much responsible?

Let me now tell you how I got to Women in Self Employment (WISE). I joined WISE while I was in the worst of situations. It was a woman in my neighborhood who advised me to join WISE. As I met the criteria of being very poor, I was immediately accepted and started saving 1-2 birr ($.05 -.1 cents) per week. After few weeks, I took the Basic Business Skills training which was so lively that it made me forget my problems at home. Trainees were given birr 5 ($.2) for transportation and were offered some bread and tea during breaks. For someone like me, who didn’t have a proper breakfast or lunch, that meant a lot! I used to save the money I was given for transportation and walk home. Since all trainees were in similar situations, we understood each other very well. The training enabled us ask ourselves critical questions like “Who am I? What do I have? Why am I poor? How can I change my situation? What should I do?”

After completing the training, I took a loan of birr 500($25) from my saving and credit association and used it for a business plan. I was tempted to buy a pair of sandals with the money but I decided not to and continued wearing the torn shoe. My first business was preparing and selling spices. I was doing everything by myself and I can’t tell you the exhaustion. I paid back the loan in a year and continued taking more loans. With the third cycle loan, I started a ladies beauty salon and I was already attending hairdressing training. Life started to look good. I created job opportunities for two more people. In addition, I started a trash collecting business partnering with two women I came to know at WISE. AS the practice was new then, I needed to knock on 1000 doors and was able to register only 50 houses that requested the service. I used to carry the trash on my back to discard it and some people used to tease me calling me “Koshe”- trash and my reply to them was ‘the cash is clean!’I gradually employed 12 men and women for the job. When the government changed its regulation on ownership of trash collecting businesses after five years, I handed the business with the entire asset over to my employees and fully moved to a café and restaurant business. I also gave my beauty salon to my brothers and sisters. Through it all, I continued getting advices and encouragement from the staffs at WISE; and the director has been like a mother to me.

Let me cut my story short and tell you where I am now. The self employment that started with 500 birr ($25) loan has now grown to a capital of millions and aspires to go up to billions. My house is estimated at birr 2 million ($100,000) , my car birr 300,000 ($15,000), a loader rental business I ran in partnership with a friend , also a member at WISE, estimated at birr 3 million ($150,000), my café and restaurant worth birr 300,000 ($15,000). Recently, the government gave me a 2000m2 piece of land to establish a flour mill factory and I am currently processing the license. I have created jobs for 22 employees excluding the trash collecting and beauty salon businesses. I received awards from the former Ethiopian Prime Minister, the former President of Ethiopia, my sub- city administration and WISE.

I now have three kinds and a supportive husband. Regarding my education, I dropped out of school when I was a 5th grader, tried to continue with it later but dropped out again reaching 11th grade.

I continue to share my experience with new members of WISE and mediate people in conflict in my neighborhood. I help people in need as much as I can and have served in my cooperative as a chairperson for six years. I do all these with grateful heart remembering where I came from.

Zeyneba Yinga 

  Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.                                      

Monday, December 8, 2014

The personal mastery of Virginie

 Virginie at first appeared too quiet and a bit un-involved for a person picked to represent her organization in the Rwandan version of feminist leadership training under the ACE Program.

But her quietness could be attributed to the fact that she only had a smattering knowledge of English to fully feel involved. However, this was no deterrence to her participation. She requested to express herself in Kinyarwanda as the training began, while eager colleagues were on hand to translate the proceedings which were conducted in English.
One of the hall marks of the leadership training involves personal mastery, which has to begin with self discovery. It is anchored on the notion that understanding oneself can lead to personal growth by being able to face yourself for who you are and aspire to become. This is by building on your strengths and improving on your weaknesses for personal transformation.

It was during the sessions in personal mastery that, in facing herself by narrating the situation that characterized her life, Virginie defined one of the most poignant moments of the workshop.

Every woman has her story. Yet, hers was many women’s story; the story of abuse and dis-empowerment across Africa and the world that makes it a universal women’s issue. Virginie encapsulated this when she broke down in tears recounting the emotional violence she has experienced in her own home.

By virtue of only being able to express herself in Kinyarwanda, she was in many ways symbolic of the situation of the Rwandan woman and the oppressive patriarchal structures she has had to endure in her socio-cultural milieu. She demonstrated not only her frustrations in personal empowerment, but the frustrations most Rwanda women must face in the existing barriers to effective leadership and personal advancement that continue to be entrenched in cultural norms and are perpetuated patriarchal hierarchies. Traditional social and gender norms continue to perceive women as inferior, while there is limited awareness on human rights.

Yet, Virginie is an accomplished leader, despite the abuse and humiliation she suffered in her domestic situation.

“I am the leader of the ruling political party in my community, as well as the leader of my women’s group and, among others, of the parents’ forum at my children’s school,” she had explained without seeming to quite appreciate the personal achievement.
The irony was that this was yet another exemplification of Rwandan women and their leadership potential despite having to contend with patriarchal structures that tend to keep them down, paradoxically in a policy climate and political will that champions women.
But the moral of Virginie’s story was that, like most of the participants at the workshop, she was not aware of herself as a leader, as if it was a favor, and appeared to have resigned herself to her fate in her colleagues’ vote and realization of her potential to thrust her on the pedestal to lead them.

The feminist leadership training was about unlocking the leadership potential by making it obvious that it is inherent in women to be effective leaders and claim their right as such in defiance of the patriarchal hierarchies.

By the end of the workshop Virginie was a changed and empowered woman. For one who could only express herself in Kinyarwanda, she vowed to express herself in English henceforth. Speaking in English symbolized her empowerment to overcome any of her life’s hurdles; she demonstrated how “the personal is political” in learning to assert one’s rights through self awareness and understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to build on our strengths in our various socio-cultural and political contexts towards our individual and collective empowerment.

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Who am I?

I am Agness Chindimba, a young feminist and a disability rights activist from Zimbabwe. I am also a mother and a wife. I have been deaf since the age of 14.Many people think that I am outspoken, but I believe in speaking my mind. If someone is wrong I believe I should tell them so. I have my opinions on many issues and I believe that my voice should be heard as well. I also believe that it is my duty to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, for whatever reason. I have values and principles, I do not believe I should compromise on these just to please someone;my values define who I am; a strong African woman.

My Passion for advocacy for people with disabilities

My first interaction with deaf people was in 2000 when I was transferred to a special school for the deaf. When I became deaf in 1995, I continued to learn in a mainstream setting; my mind was opened to the trials and tribulations that the young deaf girls went through on a day to day basis as they struggled to be understood by a system that was ignorant of their needs.

After I finished my studies I began working with deaf children. I would be called on several occasions to help the police with communication with deaf girls who had been sexually abused. From that point the challenges that these deaf girls faced became my own. It was then that I decided to take up the cause of the deaf girls and other women with disabilities. I could speak and write but most of the deaf girls struggled to be understood because those who were supposed to help them could not understand their language. However what inspired me most was to make a difference in someone else`s life

Living with a disability myself has inspired me to be an activist so that the future generation of women with disabilities will not face the same challenges that we are facing today; especially challenges of exclusion.Being Deaf motivated me a lot as I feel that I understand people with disabilities better especially women and children because I experience the same things they go through; it is different from someone who can only imagine what or how it feels.My love for people is the one thing that keeps me going.

Reflecting on the feminist facilitation course I attended in June 2013

It really started in 2010 when I applied and I was accepted into the Young Feminist Leadership Course that was organized by Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) and Africa University. The intensive course gave us a thorough grounding in concepts of Feminism; I was able to speak from a position of knowledge when I spoke out about issues that affected women with disabilities. As a follow up to the 2010 course, the feminist facilitation workshop organized by OSISA and Akina Mama waAfrika (AMwA) in 2013 further enhanced my skills especially on facilitating feminism learning to other young women with disabilities.

The workshop has greatly influenced my work in so many ways, especially through raising my confidenceand enhanced my facilitation skills. It has also encouraged me to think outside the box and be innovative in order to find solutions to the problems I face or those that face the disabled community in my country and beyond. Being with the other young feminists during the facilitation workshop also helped me “recharge my batteries” and made me see things in perspective. I learnt a lot from the facilitators and the other young feminists.

Following the workshop I organized a training for 10 deaf women from across the country on feminism concepts that was sponsored by AMwA in partnership with OSISA as part of the post training activities. This created an opportunity to not only practice my skills and knowledge in feminist facilitation but also enabled me transfer feminism learning to other young deaf women in my community.  And we are now working at building a movement of young deaf women in the country.

Further I, with others, founded an organisation, Deaf Women Included, which advocates for the inclusion of deaf women in issues that affect them. We hosted forums and workshops, initially at the major urban centres on participation of deaf women in formulation of policies that affect them. I must say I am putting the facilitation skills I learnt to good use.

Some of the success stories of my activism since I started working with this constituency

It were concerted efforts of the  disability rights movement in Zimbabwe  that led to the signing and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by His Excellency, President Robert Mugabe on 23rd September 2013, and I am proud to have been part of this movement. For the deaf people in Zimbabwe, the adoption of the new Constitution for the country in March 2013 also saw the Sign Language being accorded official language status. These are achievements that we have been celebrating as both instruments offer us more opportunities for advocacy.

Our organisation, Deaf Women Included, has experienced notable growth in less than a year of operations. Through our projects on participation we have mobilized young deaf women from across the country so that their voices can be heard. This project is ongoing. We are also ensuring that young women with disabilities have information on Gender Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health. Personally I have been using every available opportunity to fight for the inclusion of women with disabilities into the mainstream feminist movement. And I have written an article about the same in the past.

My call to African governments in the wake of the Post 2015 Agenda

It is encouraging that disability mainstreaming has been recognized in the post 2015 development agenda. The governments realized that by leaving disability out of the development framework the chances of meeting the development targets were limited. Persons with disabilities constitute 15% of the global population so by leaving out this key population component, the chances of reaching the development goals were slim. I think African governments should commit in ensuring that the rights of its disabled citizens are respected,more so for women and children. We hope that such commitments will be operationalized and not left on paper only. I feel that the women and children with disabilities are the most affected and the most vulnerable first because they are women and second because they are disabled and children because they are defenseless hence they need more protection from the governments.

New challenges and new opportunities facing African Women’s organizing

While we have achieved major strides as African women, there are still challenges ahead. I think that our society still looks at strong African women with suspicion. However we must still forge ahead with the struggle for social justice. It is also not enough when governments pay lip service to issues affecting women.
African women still need to be economically empowered and we need to make sure that we keep in touch with the grassroots and not to have a situation whereby those fighting for women’s rights become divorced from the women at the grassroots. I still would like to see the women’s rights movement embracing women with disabilities. Poverty remains a reality among women with disabilities. Ourwomen are also lacking when it comes to the issue of participating in key issues such as economic, social and political as a result this is a hindrance to development.

For women with disabilities in particular, I think the signing and ratification of the United Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by a number of African governments is a major opportunity. We need to hold those in authority to their commitments. I also think that issues of gender are getting to be understood in the corridors of power so African women need to take advantage of such developments. The rise of the feminist movement is also giving women an opportunity to liberate themselves from the patriarchal system.

Advise for any young women interested in leadership

To the young women who are interested in leadership; I say do not let anyone discourage you for you are a very strong woman who can make a difference so you should go for it. I also believe that no one should be discouraged from taking up a cause that they believe in. Leadership requires commitment to a cause. Leadership is also about sacrifice. It is important to find mentors within our networks who can guide you on the leadership journey.

Celebrating my works

I would like to be remembered as a woman of strength who had passion for rights of women with disabilities and persons with disabilities in general.

AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.