Exceptional Zimbabwean Women
All around the world, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.
Make It Happen is the 2015 theme for our internationalwomensday.com global hub, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognising women.
Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911. Thousands of events occur to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Organisations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women’s groups, corporations and the media celebrate the day.
We honour specific women who we think have been particularly influential in different sections of Zimbabwe’s society. These women have led the way in showing that a Zimbabwean can be great. To reduce them to being just women and not recognise that their successes have been human successes more than they are simply those of the fairer sex would be a great disservice to them.
In no particular order, here is a list of exceptional women.
Beatrice Mtetwa grew up on a farm in Swaziland without electricity or running water. Her father had six wives; she is the eldest daughter of 50 children. After graduating from university in Scotland, Beatrice attended law school at the University of Botswana. She moved to Zimbabwe shortly after it gained independence in the mid-1980’s.
Beatrice’s first job was prosecuting cases for the new government of Robert Mugabe. Within a matter of years, however, she left her job disillusioned with the “selective justice” involving many of the cases. Beatrice opened her own law firm representing defendants victimized by the repressive government. Mtetwa is a has been jailed countless times for doing her work in a repressive political system.
Beatrice Mtetwa is the recipient of several international awards including: the Inamori Prize for Ethics, the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Human Rights Award from the American Bar Association Section of Litigation; Beatrice Mtetwa is the only African besides Nelson Mandela to receive the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize from France.
“I knew I did not want to be carrying babies on my back and working in the fields. That wasn’t going to be for me and it wasn’t going to be for my sisters, either.” – Beatrice Mtetwa
Source: rule of law
First on our list is the most powerful woman in Zimbabwe, listed by Forbes as one of the most influential on the continent, former Vice President Joice Mujuru. She is a skilled politician who has risen through the ranks. From being the youngest cabinet minister at independence to where she is now, there has to be dedication and being able to recognise the right people to help you along the way. She has also been admirable in the way she has remained strong following the death of her husband General Solomon Mujuru.
Tsitsi Masiyiwa is the executive chairperson of Higher Life Foundation (HLF), four Trusts running in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi, Rwanda and Lesotho. Founded with her husband Strive Masiyiwa, HLF offers holistic and innovative solutions to poverty. For example, free Learning Hubs provide computer technology to students without prior access, supplying solar lanterns in remote areas to students with lighting challenges affecting academics and partner-sponsored mobile clinics initiative widens access to health care.
Linking education and technology, Masiyiwa championed the creation of a low-cost, high-quality blended learning model with tailored content in Zimbabwe scalable across Africa giving quality education to children. Capernaum Trust, the largest privately-funded scholarship program in Southern Africa, has students in establishments like Waterford Kamhlaba Swaziland, Monash College South Africa, Morehouse College and Spelman College USA.
She serves on the HLF Trusts’ boards and is a founder of the African Philanthropy Forum.
Tsiti Dangarembga was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in 1959 but spent part of her childhood in England. She began her education there, but concluded her A-levels at Hartzell High school, a missionary school in the Rhodesian town of Umtali (now Mutare). She later studied medicine at Cambridge University but returned home soon after Zimbabwe was internationally recognised in 1980.
She took up psychology at the University of Zimbabwe while holding down a two-year job as a copywriter at a marketing agency. This early writing experience gave her an avenue for expression: she wrote numerous plays, including The Lost of the Soil, and then joined the theatre group Zambuko. She participated in the production of two plays, Katshaa and Mavambo.
In 1985, Dangarembga published a short story in Sweden called “The Letter”. In 1987, she published the play She Does Not Weep in Harare. At the age of twenty-five, she had her first taste of success with her novel Nervous Conditions, which won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989 and is considered one of the twelve best African novels ever written
As a novelist Dangarembga made her debut with Nervous Conditions, a partially autobiographical work which appeared in Great Britain in 1988 and the next year in the United States. A sequel, The Book of Not, was published in 2006.
Dangarembga wrote the story for the film Neria (1993), which became the highest-grossing film in Zimbabwean history. In 1996, she directed the film Everyone’s Child. It was the first feature film directed by a black Zimbabwean woman.
In 2011, she orated a TEDX talk at Harare called “the question posed by my cat”
She founded the International Images Film Festival in 2002 in response to the proliferation of beauty contests at that time, in order to provide diverse narratives by and about women.
Next, we salute, another politician, Thokozani Khupe. Skilled in her profession as well, she has been an advocate of issues to do with children. We recognise how she has led breast cancer awareness by letting the public in on her battle with the disease. She received the African Achievers award for her passion in developing her community for her work in democracy and women empowerment.
Ms Divine Ndhlukula is an entrepreneur extraordinaire. It is the only Zimbabwean manpower-based company to receive ISO certification, also winning the inaugural National Quality Award last year. Ndhlukula has done remarkably well. In less than 15 years of doing business, SECURICO has achieved a number of significant feats: The $13 million (revenues) company now has more than 3,400 employees – 900 of whom are women. The company was also the first security outfit in Zimbabwe to achieve an ISO (International Organization for Standardisation) certification. The company was the winner of the prestigious Legatum Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship.
Danai Jekesai Gurira
Danai Jekesai Gurira (born February 14, 1978) is a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright. She is best known for her role as Michonne on the AMC drama series The Walking Dead.
Betty Makoni, the founder of the Girl Child Network is a fearless gender activist. Through her organisation, which cares for Zimbabwe’s young sex abuse victims, she has helped rescue more than 35,000 girls. A holder of two University of Zimbabwe degrees she has won numerous awards.
Kirsty Leigh Coventry
Kirsty Leigh Coventry (born 16 September 1983 in Harare, Zimbabwe) is a Zimbabwean swimmer and former world record holder. She attended and swam competitively for Auburn University in Alabama, in the United States. At the 2004 Summer Olympics, in Athens, Greece, Coventry won three Olympic medals: a gold, a silver, and a bronze, while in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing she won four medals: a gold and three silver. She was subsequently described by Paul Chingoka, head of the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee, as “our national treasure”. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has called her “a golden girl,” and awarded her US$100,000 in cash for her 2008 Olympic performance.
Jenni Williams (born 1962) is a Zimbabwean human rights activist and founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza). A prominent critic of President Robert Mugabe’s government, The Guardian described her in 2009 as “one of the most troublesome thorns in Mugabe’s side”.
Williams was given the US government’s International Women of Courage Award in 2007 for “providing an example of courage and leadership by working for change through peaceful and nonviolent means”. The award was presented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Two years later, Williams and Woza co-leader Magodonga Mahlangu were awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, which was presented by US President Barack Obama. At the ceremony, Obama said that the pair had “shown the women of Woza and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors’ power with their own power – that they can sap a dictator’s strength with their own”, and in presenting the award, gave each woman a kiss.
On International Women’s Day 2012, Williams was awarded Amnesty International’s Ginetta Sagan Fund prize, which recognizes women “who are working to protect the liberty and lives of women and children in areas where human rights violations are widespread”. The award was given in recognition of her work “to inspire and educate women to embrace and demand their human and civil rights in Zimbabwe”. Under the umbrella of the German parliaments’ godparenthood program for human rights activists, Marina Schuster has been raising awareness for Williams’ work.
Dr Tererai Trent
Oprah Winfrey’s favourite guest Dr Tererai Trent makes the list. Prevented from going to school as child because she was a girl she has scaled the heights of the academic world. Married off at the age of 11, she had three children by the time she was 18. She moved to the US in 1998 with her husband and five children. She has since turned her life around and has been featured on Oprah Winfrey show.
Jestina Mukoko is a Zimbabwean human rights activist and the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project. She is a journalist by training and a former newsreader with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
In March 2010 Jestina Mukoko was one of ten human rights defenders honoured in the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards to women who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advancing women’s rights.
Maud Chifamba was born in 1997 in Zimbabwe and was admitted to Harare University at the age of 14, becoming the youngest university student on the African continent. She is currently in the third year of her Accounting degree. In December 2012 Chifamba was nominated by Forbes as one of the five most influential women in Africa and since 2013 she has been testimonial for the “Indifesa” campaign by Terre des Hommes, the same organisation that follows her inspirational ModifierTour around schools of Zimbabwe. To ensure that education for young girls becomes a priority for the international community, Maud Chifamba has launched a petition (www.change.org/maud) to bring her voice to the United Nations meeting planned for September in 2015, when the post 2015 development agenda will be introduced.
These are but a few Zimbabwean women inspiring me today. There are many women, whom I have not mentioned, no Violet Bulawayo, Tinashe Kachingwe, Sindi van Zyl, Hope Masike, Prudence Katomeni, the list goes on. every mother, sister, daughter is phenomenal. We salute them and the army of women of Zimbabwe on this International Women’s Day. comment and let us know who else should be on the list.