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Creating space for women - Interview with Talent Jumo, Young Women's Leadership Initiative (YOWLI)
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
October 06, 2010

Read Inside / Out with Talent Jumo

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Talent JumoWhat inspired the formation of the Young Women's Leadership Initiative?

In 2007 a group of young women came together to discuss issues, things that were happening around us. We realised that spaces were getting smaller and most young women weren't able to participate because of the environment - it was getting volatile. It had also been unfriendly out there for young women to come out and speak. So we thought we should create our own space.

Our focus is young women and leadership, but we have also decided to look at sexual and reproductive health and rights. We felt that it was important for young women to be able to relate to themselves, to know their bodies so that they can gain some form of control over their bodies and their sexuality. It's only when we are comfortable that we can then manoeuvre into the public space and assert ourselves in those spaces. Listen

Given all the things that young women are ordinarily concerned about; school, getting a husband, a job, etc; how does YOWLI get young women to think about and actively participate?

The fact that we are talking about our bodies and sexuality is what makes it possible for us to maintain that interest. We are talking about things that are happening to us everyday. In really addressing issues that are affecting us now, and also trying to see how we can live a more meaningful life and be able to participate more fully in other spaces.

So sexuality is an interesting topic for people?

It is. You know people get excited, and when you start talking you never finish. For us we thought we would start talking about issues, which have been deemed 'sacred cows'. We have players who have been looking at this thematic area for a long time, but not talking about abortion for example. We know that women are aborting. And we know that if a woman wants an abortion they will go ahead and have one. These are the real issues that young women are facing. Issues of lesbianism, bisexuality and being gay, those are issues that we thought we have to talk about it. Issues of sex work: we have a programme where we are helping sex workers to organise through the sisterhood agenda. Listen

How does the subject of Feminism relate to YOWLI's work amongst young women?

YOWLI is a feminist organisation. We share the same principles [as feminism], we believe that women have rights; women's rights are human rights. Human rights are indivisible and they are universal. These are all issues we are pushing through. But because we are at different levels we felt that it would be important to continuously build our own capacities, to strengthen our understanding of feminism, and also to reflect on our lives.

The feminist circle that YOWLI is currently hosting is called the Chimurenga Sisterhood. It's unique in that it's not just an academic space. We look at feminism from our lived realities. We want to bring it into our homes and our lives.

Is there a brand of Feminism that may be considered uniquely African?

As a feminist circle we have just started exploring what feminism should be for Africans. I think this feminism for me would be a feminism that [understands] that there is need for us to look at our background and traditions and see the good therein, and be able to build on that, rather than labelling all traditional practices as negative. Take for example the practice of roora, personally I feel that if we do away with roora, we may have trouble. Women may find themselves in huge trouble, where men may feel that women today are worthless. Creating a balance would be for people to be able to exchange gifts. The imbalance comes in because a woman is being equated to a herd of cattle and some cash. Listen

Would you say this is the beginning of a Zimbabwean Feminist movement?

I believe that feminism is a title that has been stigmatised for a very long time. The arrival of the gender-mainstreaming ideology swept out feminist ideologies. Most women's groups wanted to be identified with being gender activists and not really feminists. Some people believe that feminist has something to do with being radical extremist pro-abortionists who don't take time to think. We have had a women's movement, we have had a gender sector, but I also believe that women's groups have tended to mainstream gender. Most organisations have taken that approach and used it as an excuse for not really committing resources and time to look at women's' empowerment issues. It has watered down the struggle in a way. Listen

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