The Power of Women, Mothers and Community


The Power of Women, Mothers and Community

March 6, 2009

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda spoke at the AJWS offices in New York a few days before International Women's Day on March 3, 2009. She is the Chairperson of the Rozaria Memorial Trust, an AJWS grantee in Zimbabwe.

When I received the invitation to come and speak to you, I had just gone through a very painful experience with one of the families affected by HIV/AIDS in the program that we run. The mother is 35-years-old and she is HIV positive. She lost her husband last year, and she was left with four children. She can't access medicine. She has no transportation to go to the clinic for her ARV drug regime. And for over a week now, her family has just been eating pumpkin leaves, because there's a food crisis in Zimbabwe.

So I wanted to start by telling you about Netzi – that's her name – and to bring her voice to you. At Rozaria Memorial Trust, we believe in providing dignity to all women. Our goal is to give them a voice, to help them be part of the crucial conversations in their households, in their localities, their nation and the world. We are working with households like Netzi's to respond to women's needs. We are supporting women and children to reclaim a little bit of their dignity and to generate a voice for transformation.

My mother passed away three years ago. She raised the 11 of us. She had buried four of her children to HIV/AIDS. She had cared for us for 27 years as a widow. She sent us to school during wartime. Here we were burying her, but we were also reclaiming the spirit of a powerful woman who dared to be innovative and give life to a generation against all odds. So we agreed that the best way for us to give back what she has given to us as a family, as a community, was to set up a memorial trust in her honor. Therefore, Rozaria Memorial Trust was founded to meet the needs of the "ordinary people" of Zimbabwe.

What is the situation now in my country?  We've broken all the records of inflation – everyone's a trillionaire!  Bread now costs a billion Zimbabwe dollars. Access to social services, transportation, health care and education has all collapsed.  There's a food crisis. There's a cholera crisis; over 4,000 people have died of cholera.  Last year, we went through the worst experience: there was an election, and massive political violence was unleashed on the people. So many people died and were displaced. It's very painful to see where the country is now, 29 years after independence.

Ordinary people need a voice within the structures that make decisions about their lives. At Rozaria Memorial Trust, we offer a platform for their voices. We believe in affirming the innovations of ordinary people who give all they have, from the little they have, to transform households and communities. So we try to build their capacity for leadership, especially among women and young people. We help ordinary people in our communities collectively engage with public policy. We support opportunities for dignity in small but powerful spaces.

For example, right now we have a massive mobilization around cholera prevention. We are working at the district level to support volunteers that are raising awareness about cholera. Because these volunteers are from the communities themselves, they can quickly identify which households need medical attention. In addition, the trust now sits on the district health committee, and we're part of the discussions about how to make a national response to the cholera epidemic. It's an opportunity for women to be part of the national response, not just locally.

Today I sit here, as a human rights lawyer, as an international woman leader, sitting on boards such as the World Bank advisory council on women's economic empowerment and an international trustee of ActionAid. But it's because my mother, so many years ago, dared to be innovative and not to give up on life. And she dared to send us to school, give us values, teach us about taking care of other people. I sit here today because someone, a woman, took a chance.