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U.S. backs Zim women to take Michelle Obama vision forward
US Embassy
June 24, 2011

The United States has backed five Zimbabwean women who met First Lady Michelle Obama at the Young African Women's Leaders Forum in South Africa June 21-22. The Americans have charged the Zimbabweans with taking Obama's vision for robust leadership by young African women forward and promised long term relationships with them as it broadens its engagement with African countries, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Thursday.

"There were five young women participants from Zimbabwe . . . I know that they are bringing back the determination to help women gain a foothold on business, and to start mentoring programs that will give women some additional skills and a head start on fully realizing their dreams," said Bruce Wharton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during a tele-press conference with African journalists hosted by the Embassy's Public Affairs Section in Harare.

Five young Zimbabwean women participated in the Forum. They are Grace Chirenje, coordinator of the Zimbabwe Young Women's Network for Peace Building; Sipho Moyo, director of the non-governmental organization ONE; Brendah Nyakudya, columnist with the online news website Daily Maverick; Precious Simba, Group Operations Manager for Spar Supermarket's southern region in Zimbabwe; and Robyn Kriel, journalist with the South African television channel eTV.

"We want to give this group of young women leaders a way to push their ideas forward to carry this into the future," said Wharton. "It is important for them to understand that this is a long term commitment by the United States to the people of Africa . . . and by offering small grants to them, it makes that real. We trust the young women who are here to take these grants to use them for the development of the larger community."

The five were part of 75 young women leaders who attended the Young African Women Leaders Forum June 21-22 in Johannesburg organized by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the White House. The forum explored themes of leadership and community service to promote the role of women in all spheres of life. Participants were African women ranging in age from 17 to 30 and drawn from diverse professions including education, health, civil society, business and the media.

In her key note address, the First Lady urged young African leaders to combat hunger, fight to end HIV/AIDS, and take a stand for women's rights.

"You can be the generation that brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from this continent forever. You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time- the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease, the generation that teaches the world that HIV is fully preventable and treatable, and should never be a source of shame," Obama said June 22 during her keynote address to the U.S.-sponsored Young African Women Leaders Forum, held in Soweto's famous Regina Mundi church.

In her speech, Obama cited South Africa-based Zimbabwean journalist, Robyn Kriel, for her dedication to her profession despite harassment by authorities in Zimbabwe.

"She's a young reporter from Zimbabwe who has written about corruption and human rights abuses in her country. She was beaten by police; her home raided; her mother imprisoned. But she still hasn't lost her passion for reporting, because, as she put it, the people of Zimbabwe 'want their stories to be told,'" said Obama.

Obama is scheduled to travel June 24 to Gaborone, Botswana, where she will meet with President Ian Khama, visit a children's clinic and take a private safari with her family before returning to Washington June 26.

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