In Zimbabwe, traditional and cultural values shape the country’s social development. From as early as 12 years old, I began to see that my indigenous ‘Karanga’ culture, which generally is in nature patriarchal, contributed and perpetuated gender inequalities, with men retaining a disproportionate share of economic and social resources including access to education. My passion for gender equality in education and development was born then; and it is what has brought me to this new academic chapter at the CIE.
This interest continued to develop when I was in high school, where we had peer discussions on various gender issues as a member of the Debate Club. To date, I cringe when I recall that even some of the girls in the club believed that only boys could get good grades in Science and Technical subjects, which explained the majority of doctors and engineers being men. These conversations made me begin to question the cultural and societal factors that influence the differential spaces and opportunities for educational advancement awarded to men and women, boys and girls. My fascination with this topic led me to pursue a social science undergraduate degree at the University of Zimbabwe. I majored in psychology and I took courses that had a direct contribution to the social discourse on family and gender relations and helped me to further explore how society works in a political, cultural and economic framework.
After graduation, I volunteered at Mashambanzou Care Trust, a not-for-profit organization in Harare, where I contributed to community education programs that empowered youths with practical life skills and promoted positive behavioral change. Specifically, we encouraged girls, who were the majority of high school drop-outs, to take greater control and interest in their health and welfare. During this time, I also volunteered for a United States (US) based non-profit organization, The Brick Project Foundation, where together with private high school girls, I assisted women at an informal settlement on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s capital, to export handmade paper products outside Zimbabwe to support HIV/AIDS orphans. Some of the profits were channeled towards children’s education.
These experiences were so fulfilling that I missed doing community and development related work when I joined the management-training program of a big retail store chain in Zimbabwe. After three years of retail experience, I decided to go back to university and enrolled in a Master of Science program in population sciences. There, I learned the importance of access to non-formal and community education in determining health outcomes for women. During the same period I travelled to South Africa and Swaziland as part of a research team on the social integration of immigrants in these two countries. I learned about the challenges of accessing education when parents and children are undocumented and unemployed migrants.
Following that period, I worked with women in both rural and urban Zimbabwe advocating for women’s empowerment issues. My last job was at the Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN), an information based women’s organization committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Over the past 5 years I trained women in rural communities on various issues including sexual and reproductive health and water and sanitation. Women may for example, have little understanding of childbearing risks, including how to navigate the health system or negotiate timely lifesaving care within the family.