NOTHING WILL STOP ME!
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.
Action Power Episode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fY_aPyr71I
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.