THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Supporting women in prison - Interview with Rita Nyamupinga, Female Prisoners Support Trust
Upenyu Makoni Muchemwa,
March 20, 2012

Read Inside/Out with Rita Nyamupinga

View audio file details

Rita NyamupingaAmai Rita Nyamupinga is a veteran activist. She has worked in the areas of social and economic justice as well as women's rights with such organisations as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the Women's Coalition. During the height of political disturbances in 2008 Mai Nyamupinga was incarcerated in Remand Prison. There she gained firsthand experience of the challenges and conditions faced by women prisoners, subsequently she established the Female Prisoners Support Trust.

I understand that you've been an activist for a very long time now. Do you feel women in Zimbabwean society have advanced?
Yes they have. One thing I'm happy about is that space has been created and women have been able to fill in those spaces although there are some gaps here and there. From the time when I began as an activist it was taboo for a woman to stand up and say 'we are championing this cause' like sexual health and reproductive rights were something we were not allowed to talk about - it was taboo. Now we talk about it openly. Back then women were not supposed to own properties, or have bank accounts, we were treated as minors. Listen

How did you begin as an activist?
It started when I joined PTC in 1981, just after Independence. There were some issues that we thought as women were not being addressed properly. I only had one child, before independence. Then when I was working I fell pregnant, and I went on maternity leave but I wasn't paid anything. You know, you couldn't have babies (if you wanted to work), that alone would restrict you. The minute you went on maternity leave you had to come back and reapply for that job and you were not paid. That's how I became an activist. That really touched me. To me that was a prescription for family planning. You couldn't plan your family, you had to think first before you had a child, what are the benefits and what are the losses. You had to choose because the other children would be growing, there would be more demands on you financially with school, and if you went on maternity leave it meant you couldn't sustain them. That's how I became a women's rights activist. Listen

Why did you form the Female Prisoners Support Trust?
It was necessitated by me having been in remand prison as an activist during the height of the political situation in Zimbabwe. What I saw during the five days and seven days when I was in Remand made me want to work with female prisoners. I formed it after realising that there was a gap in the approach of civil society into the issues that concern female prisoners. Yes we have organisations that are working with prisoners in general, but they are not focussing on women's needs and on women's issues. There are some intricate issues that concern women, and which they cannot disclose to the males that work with them. I know they are doing wonderful work, but there is need for women to be in that space. Listen

Under what conditions are women living in prison?
The women really need support from us women who are outside. There are some women who are not able to meet their families. The way we were socialised is that women are not supposed to commit crimes that send them to prison. The social connotation of this is the biggest impediment to women who are in prison. Some get support from their families and some do not. When I was reading a book edited by Zimbabwe Women writers called a Tragedy Of Lives, this book gave me further insight into what happens to women in prisons. The way women are herded into cells, as a group of 60 prisoners we were kept in a cell meant for 10 people. When we wanted to visit the toilet we were given a dustbin to use throughout the night. This was intolerable to me for seven days, and I couldn't imagine what it would have been like to be convicted and have to stay there for several years.

What programmes or activities are you planning on implementing?
We want to start with a mapping exercise where we will disaggregate the prisoners according to location, age, needs and health. Out of that we want to form study circles. This model really works in trade unions. A group of people who are similar in age gets together then they identify their needs and how we can help them as FEMPRIST. I'm also taking inspiration from a programme I saw in the Philippines where female prisoners there make crafts; proceeds from the sale of these go to a fund which helps to support the prisoners' families. This works well, because it's then not a burden to their families when they are in prison and it doesn't trigger other emotions. When they come back from prison they will have a fallback position.

Visit the fact sheet

Audio File

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.