In a bid to promote the full and effective participation and leadership of women and girls in political and societal decision-making in Zimbabwe, Hivos Southern Africa in partnership with the Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria, launched the She Leads project on 19 August 2020 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The She Leads project, which will run until December 2021, aims to increase women’s representation and leadership positions in civic and political institutions, to strengthen the inclusion of diverse voices in public debates that challenge discriminatory narratives, norms and practices which undermine women’s participation and leadership.
Hivos is an international NGO and the Embassy’s implementing partner for the project. Speaking at a launch event for the project, Hivos Regional Director for Southern Africa Tanja Lubbers, emphasized the importance of women empowerment programs.
“It is important that we focus on giving women a voice, empowering them to fight their way up. In most crises it is the marginalized that suffer the most, especially women and girls. At Hivos, we strive to make sure women and girls in their diversity claim their rights to full and effective participation in political and societal decision-making processes. Women have equal opportunity to participate as leaders and agents of change,” said Lubbers.
The Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria, South Africa provided a grant of €350,000 earlier this year for the project. Addressing GBV and promoting gender equality is one of the main pillars of the Embassy’s five-year strategy for South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Her Excellency Ambassador Fionnuala Gilsenan, Embassy of Ireland, Pretoria attended the event virtually and spoke about the reasons Ireland has chosen to support the project.
“It is important to support these kinds of projects because they prioritize women’s leadership. It pleases me that this project prioritizes leadership at every level and not just at national level. We have noticed, even at an international level including in Ireland, the increase in cases of gender-based violence. It is important for the broader community to come together and come up with strategies that protect women and encourage leadership,” the Ambassador said in her address.
Stakeholders in Zimbabwe’s women’s movement who also attended the launch included keynote speaker Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Rozaria Memorial Trust and African Union Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriages and guest speaker Emelda Vhiriri, Chairperson of the Youth Caucus Women at the Coalition of Zimbabwe.
Dr Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda noted that leadership is a journey and the She Leads project is not just about the number of beneficiaries, but is about a joint effort towards women finding space, in a male dominated environment.
“When She Leads, she is not leading as an event, she’s leading as a journey. It is a journey which has no end. Positional leadership is transient, but women’s leadership in decision making in society is perpetual. The experiences you learn in positional leadership affects and influences your leadership in life forever, whether in a positive or negative way,” she said.
Emelda Vhiriri spoke on the myth that women cannot lead saying for decades women have been left out of the conversations that matter. “Society has made us believe that we cannot do certain things as women, but ‘female’ is just about biology”. Ms Vhiriri urged women to overcome exclusion and the tendency to not be invited to the decision-making table to “bring your own folding chair to the table”.
Hivos has been working on women’s empowerment for over four decades focusing on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, political participation and women’s leadership, and labour and economic rights. Gender-based violence is a cross cutting theme that we address in all our work in women’s empowerment.
Zimbabwe has progressive gender equality laws in place to support women’s representation and participation in public administration, politics and decision making yet, they are not fully implemented. These laws provide entry points for advocacy and collaboration with government agencies such as the Gender Commission, and Women’s Caucus in Parliament, as well as the Political Parties themselves.
In the past two decades important progress has been made, in women’s representation in national politics but the results still fall short of international commitments and progress towards equality is far too slow. As the 2019 Global Gender Gap report notes, the largest disparity is in the field of women’s political empowerment. In Sub-Saharan Africa it will take at least 135 years to close the gender gap based on current trends.
The Embassy, representing Ireland’s voice in Zimbabwe, and Hivos believe in the strength of partnerships. Together the Embassy and Hivos, welcome Zimbabwe’s women’s movement to come forward and present a united response towards issues affecting women and girls.