A Woman’s Journey to Parliament in Zimbabwe

Education in Zimbabwe for women is not an easy thing to achieve. But one woman showed that with perseverance, anything can be achieved.

Zimbabwe is a beautiful country whose legacy has been messed up by a bad politics whose “democracy” is deeply embedded in one man holding onto power for over three decades. Besides this, we seem to be a friendly, resilient and happy lot.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Ministry of higher and Tertiary Education, Science and technology both regulate education in Zimbabwe. The education system in Zimbabwe encompasses 13 years of primary and secondary school. The school terms run from January to December each year.

In 1980 President Mugabe declared education as a basic human right and changed the constitution to recognize primary and secondary public education as free and compulsory. However over the three decades that president and ZANU PF have been in power, this dream has eroded. Currently the country is working toward the Sustainable Development Goal of providing universal and free education to all by 2030.

According to the 2012 Population Census, more than six million people were aged 3 to 24, the years one goes to school. Of this population, males constituted 49% and females 51%. However, females in Zimbabwe have a high drop out rate as they proceed with education.

The same report explained that generally, across the age groups, the proportions of females who never attended school were higher compared to males. Despite the many inroads made towards development, females continue to be marginalized when it comes to education. The patriarchal system has seen the females marginalized and renegaded to domestic roles; hence education is not very much prioritized. It is an oxymoron since Zimbabwe is also reported as the second most literate nation on the African continent after Eritrea.

Mavis’ Journey to parliament:

Mavis was a very smart girl; she topped her class and was the envy of most of her peers. She came form a very strict home and her father was a no-nonsense man who thrived on ensuring that his family was run well. However, he, like most fathers in the 1970’s, did not fully believe in the education of a girl. Although he sent Mavis to school, he always made it a point to remind her how fortunate she was to be attending school with her brothers. Mavis was bent on ensuring that she excelled, and she surely did.

It was during the second liberation struggle between 1966 to 1979 that most people took it upon themselves to join the freedom fighters as they sought to liberate the country from it’s British colonizers. The war lasted thirteen years

School was not really a priority in those days and the environment in itself was a tough one as the children spent a good number of days feeling from the combatant’s bullets than they spent time learning. The school was not a safe space for Mavis, but she braved it all so as to achieve her long desired freedom through attaining a good education. This would empower Mavis to read and write which was something most of her peers could not do.

The Population Census of 2012 revealed that the country has an overall literacy rate of 96%, with males and females constituting 97%and 95%, respectively. Generally, literacy decreases with age.

Moreover, the reality that most girls in their teens had long since become mothers and wives, motivated Mavis to want to make a difference.

One fine day Mavis woke up and went to school as usual. Little did she know that the day had prepared wonders for her. She met John, a young man and that she would forever live to remember as this day marked the beginning of a very long and painful twist to her life. A journey that she would one day reflect on and be inspired by her strength and determination.

She enjoyed the attention and sweet words that John shared. She found herself dressing up for him and wanting to go to school for more than just her books – she had fallen for John, her heart had grown very fond of him and before long they became inseparable and the talk of the school. They had become the “love-birds”. In that very same month, Mavis experienced her very first sexual encounter, which she described as rushed and ending-before-it-even-started.

Exactly three weeks later her period did not come, and she discovered that she was pregnant. That began one of her most painful journeys of her life. The school authorities expelled her with the hint of a courtship relationship with John as they explained that Mavis would become a bad influence to other female students. She was devastated. Zimbabwe did not yet have the progressive policies on female education it currently has – a pregnant girl can now return to school, with much stigma and discrimination of course.

Mavis’ father soon discovered of his daughter’s explorations form the school authorities and he chased Mavis away from home. She eloped with John who initially denied having any sexual relations with Mavis but eventually gave in. They started living together and moved into the city centre as John looked for a job. Life was tough and sometimes they barely had enough to eat.

After Mavis gave birth, she sought to return to school to pursue her passion of education. John would not allow it, and instead became abusive towards her. He called her names, beat her up and even locked her and her daughter up. After five years of pain, sorrow, heartbreak and tragedy, Mavis gathered enough courage to run away form her partner. He had crushed her enough.

Perseverance:

Mavis is a very determined woman. She holds her dreams with reverence and passion.

She took herself back to school. She juggled work, baby-sitting and school until she was able to sit and write her first stage of exams. She proceeded until she was able to get herself into tertiary education. Mavis told herself that she could do it. At some point she almost gave up as her daughter fell ill but she continued. She married twice after that but both husbands died.

Today, Mavis is a member of parliament and dedicates most of her time in her constituency encouraging young girls to go to school and earn an education. She also is a strong advocate of the school environment as a safe space for learning for the girls.

She does not tell the girls to stay away form boys, as is the usual mantra. She facilitates a process of empowerment for the girls to own their power, amplify their voice and become survivors of the patriarchal system that still defines the school system in Zimbabwe.

With women like Mavis, many girls have lessons to learn of strength, resilience and power. Despite the realities of the patriarchal system that subjugates girls to the periphery of education, it is possible to make it in this life.

Zimbabwe has a dropout rate of about 50% in secondary school of female children failing to proceed with their education. It is women like Mavis who continue to cheer the girls on and give them hope and something to look forward to despite the odds. She remains a pillar of strength and beacon of hope.

It is her ability to live life through that pain and still be able to take care of herself that is inspiring to most of us. It is about girls defying the stereotypical notions of early pregnancy and lived realities of becoming a mother sooner than anticipated. It has to do with moving forward despite the many steps taken back.

Grace. Zimbabwe

I am a feminist – it is a way of life. One act at a time, with each lived moment, I do my part to bring an end to inequalities just because I believe in equality of the sexes as a minimum standard!

Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje

 

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16 Days CampaignGender
Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje

Born on 15 December 1982, Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje is a young feminist leader from Harare, Zimbabwe. Her background is humanities and she holds an Honors degree in African Languages and Culture from Midlands State University. She is currently a holder of a Masters in Leadership and Management (Africa Leadership and Management Academy) and also pursuing a Diploma in Theology (Africa Christian and Theological School). Grace’s passion is community development and facilitation with a special emphasis on youth and women in relation to democracy, good governance and conflict transformation. Grace Chirenje is the founder and currently Director of Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building (ZYWNP). She is a former Board Member of Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe. Grace sits on the board of Centre for Community Development in her efforts to contribute to the democratization process of Zimbabwe. She is also part of a Southern African young women's steering committee that mobilizes young women from SADC around youth and women's development. She is also active in the regional parliament for youth. Her extra activities of centering body, mind and soul include reading, running, swimming, tennis and social networking which she works hard to jungle with her many other roles as a growing African feminist leader.
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