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want a Zimbabwe where you and I are proud to be Zimbabwean"
- Interview with Grace Chirenje
June 27, 2011
Inside / Out with Grace Chirenje
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Chirenje is the Director of the Zimbabwe Young Women's Network
for Peace Building. She is a passionate and outspoken advocate for
young people, especially young women. Recently she was selected
to participate in the Young African Women Leaders Forum in South
Africa, where she had the opportunity to meet Mrs Obama.
did you become an activist?
Growing up I didn't understand the dynamics in our home. Why
we (the women) used to be doing all the crappy work, and my dad
and my brother seemed to be enjoying life more. I'm a person
who questions why things are the way they are. By the time I got
to university, I didn't really know that this was called activism.
In university I realised that this was a career for some people,
and it was called feminism. That's when I took it seriously.
I haven't stopped since.
do you think are the biggest challenges facing young women, especially
with regard to empowerment?
I think its lack of access to information, and when it's there
its not packaged properly. Access to education for young women is
also poor. So they then become less literate than their male counterparts.
When men go to the bar, they discuss and create formal and informal
relationships. These channels exist for men, but not necessarily
for young women, which is a challenge. Another challenge is the
domestication of young women, where their place is the home, taking
care of the family and household. That gives them fewer opportunities
as compared to men.
are you working to help young women overcome these challenges?
We (Zimbabwe Young Women's Network for Peace Building) do
a capacity building and training on democracy, good governance and
conflict transformation. Our belief is centred on Paulo Freire's
work where he says 'transformation begins with the individual'.
Once you can have that happening at that level you're likely
to have it cascading to the family, the community and the nation.
think young people can make a useful contribution to Zimbabwe's
Yes, they can, but this whole 'the youth are the leaders of
tomorrow' doesn't work for me. They are the leaders
of today and tomorrow. Unless we realise that we're not going
to make much difference. We shouldn't let other people define
who we are as young people; we should define our own roles and responsibilities.
Like they say in the HIV adverts, it begins with you. Wherever you
are you can make a difference. Speak out against abuse, violence,
and whatever other social ills there are. Like Ghandi says, be the
change you want to see. We do have a place, but we need to begin
to act like leaders today.
a lot about young people during election periods, but no so much
after that. Why do you think they have allowed their space for expression
and leadership to shrink?
A story is told of a man from the Matebeleland region who went away
from his family for work. After seven years, he sent a message to
his wife saying that he was retuning. The wife made sure the children,
the dog and the house were clean, she even borrowed perfume from
next door to make sure, everything was it should be for her husband.
They went to wait for the husband at the bus stop. They waited and
waited, with no sign of the husband. Finally in the evening, when
it was getting dark, one of the children looked towards the house
and spotted a figure carrying bags. They all ran toward the house,
including the dog. Everyone was excited to see dad. Everyone went
into the house, then when the dog tried to enter, they all said
'no, no, no, you don't belong inside. Out! Out!'
That's the role of the youth during elections. When it's
strategic to engage them, it seems we are all partners. But when
it comes to the real issues, they are thrown out.
blame the politicians. Imagine if the youth said no, enough is enough
we will not allow ourselves to be used as to perpetrate violence,
we will not allow ourselves to be engaged only during elections.
No one has ever approached the youth and said, there's a crisis
in this country, and what do you think. Youth engagement is an afterthought,
just like partnerships with women are an afterthought. I think the
youth should begin to say no, we will not allow ourselves to be
used by politicians. After the violence they still remain as neighbours,
brothers and colleagues. I think we need to begin to define our
role as young people.
do you think young Zimbabweans are not particularly engaged or concerned?
I think it's unfair to say they are not concerned, they are
concerned but sometimes it's really difficult for them to
participate. I'll give you an example. Last week I had the
privilege of meeting Mrs Obama. When I came back, The Herald was
saying was that I am working for Mrs Obama towards regime change.
I was shocked. Zimbabwe was not even part of the agenda. It was
about developing young women leaders. My point is that it's
very scary to participate in such a space. But young people should
not be afraid to take up that task and run with it. We can make
a difference. But it's hard because of the environment, socially,
economically and politically; it's not conducive.
is your dream for Zimbabwe?
I want a Zimbabwe where I'm free to say what I want. A Zimbabwe
that guarantees safety before and after expressing yourself. A Zimbabwe
where we share resources equally and equitably. A Zimbabwe where
I can decide what I want to do with my life and do it with all the
passion, energy and strength that I possibly can. A Zimbabwe where
equality defines the environment and we respect each other. A Zimbabwe
that's free and fair, and where women are viewed as equal
strategic partners. A Zimbabwe where you and I are proud to be Zimbabwean.
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