Rice spotlights Jennifer Williams, founder of WOZA
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Jim Fisher-Thompson, USINFO
March 07, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spotlighted the achievements
of Zimbabwean human rights activist Jennifer Williams with an International
Women of Courage Award presented at the State Department March 7.
Williams, founder of Women
of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) -- a civil society organization established
in 2003 to protest government abuses -- accepted the award in the
name of the group's more than 45,000 members.
"The award is a great honor, but the real award will be a free
and independent Zimbabwe," Williams told USINFO during an interview
at the State Department on the day of the ceremony.
The Zimbabwean was one of 10 recipients of the courage award chosen
from among a field of 82 women activists nominated by U.S. embassies
The ceremony was held on International Women's Day, during a month
that the United States celebrates as National Women's History Month.
Announcing the award for Williams, the department cited the "harassment
and physical abuse" she suffered under President Robert Mugabe's
regime and commended her for "providing an example of courage
and leadership by working for change through peaceful and nonviolent
In establishing the award in 2006, Rice said, "Women of courage
are standing up for freedom and human dignity and the United States
stands with them. We must not forget that the advance of women's
rights and the advance of human liberty go hand in hand."
Arrested more than 25 times for leading protests against Mugabe's
regime, Williams said, "Zimbabwe supposedly got independence
in 1980." But under "dictator" Mugabe's disastrous
land-seizure policies the economy is being destroyed and the country
is turning into a beggar of international food aid.
Because of resulting malnutrition and lack of proper health care,
she said, "Women are dying at age 34 [median age]; men, at
37. You can't earn a living. The authorities tear down houses that
are not squatter houses and stop you from making a living."
Hardships fall especially hard on women, Williams said, because
it is the children "who beg mama for more food or want to know
why they can no longer go to school" when there is no money
for school fees.
Williams, a Matabele from Bulawayo, has paid a high personal price
for her social and political protests. She received death threats
following her arrests. Her thriving public relations business is
defunct and her husband and children live in "economic exile"
in Britain. A Matabele is a member of the Bantu people native to
Despite the personal sacrifices, the activist said she feels empowered
because WOZA's strength lies in its community members "who
have ownership" in the organization. "It is because of
our united struggle, hand in hand, that we are going to get the
Zimbabwe we want," she said.
"Another very important aspect in saving our [protestor's]
lives is the solidarity we get from people around the world,"
Williams said. And in that regard "the American Embassy in
Harare has been very helpful."
"On the 12th of December I was arrested along with 300 others
at parliament," she related. "It was an incredible thing
to see a U.S. Embassy vehicle parked right there where we were seated
on the ground under arrest. One police official after another tried
to get the Americans to move but they just kept sitting there saying,
'we are just here to observe the process.'"
"That gave us a lot of courage," Williams said. "We
had been brutally beaten just two weeks before at a demonstration
and we just needed to know that someone was watching out for us
this time around. And at the demonstration at parliament, the police
allowed us walk away free, which had never happened before.
"So, we think it is important for the diplomatic community
to play a role in helping us achieve our struggle," she added.
"We can do it ourselves but it helps when the Mugabe authorities
know the world is watching."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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