Zimbabwe / women's empowerment: Rural Women Speak Out for Education, Economic Empowerment

03 Mar, 2012
By: Hilda Chitsanzara, Rozaria Memorial Trust

It’s a pleasure for Rozaria Memorial Trust to be present here at the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, in New York. Its an honour to be one of the rural women to speak out during this NGO Consultation Day, which is attended by over a thousand people including Nobel Laureate Lemma Gbowee and UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet.

My name is Hilda Chitsanzara. I am 46 years old, married with 3 children and 2 grand children. I am a business woman who is into crafts, cross-border trading and run a small gold mine. I have only primary education. I am a founder member of Rozaria Memorial Trust, a community organisation that support children living with HIV. Currently Rozaria Memorial Trust is reaching 5 000 people in Zimbabwe, with HIV programmes in Murewa district. The Trust was formed in 2006 in honour of our late mother and rural woman leader, Rozaria Marumisa Dizha.

Zimbabwe got its independence in 1980 and by then I was 16 years old. I experienced war related hardships, since the war was fought mostly in rural areas. War and poverty, affected my education. I was unable to go to secondary education, despite being an intelligent student in primary school. This forced me to get married at a very tender age. I was married at age 15.

We faced many problems during the war as women. Many women and girls experienced sexual abuse. Some were treated as mistresses and others were tortured or arrested. We had poor access to reproductive health and education services. Life was hard and dangerous. With Zimbabwe’s independence, the situation improved, but still women and girls remain second-class citizens.

Cross border trading is not an easy venture for women. The following are some of the challenges that we face in the business.

  • Each country we visit has its own immigration laws that make our movement very difficult.
  • Import and export duty for some of our commodities are too high, and make our goods expensive and unsellable at the local market.
  • It is often very difficult for us to recover our debts from customers in these foreign countries. At times we are harassed and shouted at.
  • We spend many days, at times weeks or months away from our families. This creates problems and some families break down.
  • Cross border traders are often victims of sexual violence; trafficking and xenophobia attacks.

Despite the above problems, I managed to support my family and send my children to school with the money from cross border trade. One of my sons has a degree in law!

As rural women, we are the centre of our families and our communities. My fellow women, my friends, lets raise our voices for economic empowerment for rural women -  young and old. To be empowered we demand education, both primary and secondary education. Vocational training is important. We need skills that can help us get jobs, and help us work with our own hands. Rural women need access to health services, especially for women and children living with HIV. Create laws that protect the rights of rural women. Give women right to land, access to land and control over that land. Increase funding support directly to grassroots organisations. Lastly, we are leaders, and demand to be in decision making in our own right.

Do you know the word WOMAN is an abbreviation?

W – women are Workers

O – women are Organisers

M – women are Managers

A – women are Accountants

N – women are Narrators

Now we must narrate to the world, so that our voices will be heard. Yes, I want to thank you for inviting us rural women to share our experiences. Listen to us, be with us and share with us.  We are here and we are also leaders.

I am grateful to all friends and people of good will who support us rural women, and special thanks to AJWS who made my participation in this conference possible.

* Mrs Hilda Chitsanzara is the co-founder of Rozaria Memorial Trust, founder of the Wedza Women’s Village Banking. She was the 2012 RMT delegate to the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.