Being an activist in 21st century
By Betty Makoni
One thing that comes to mind when I think about opportunities we have as a generation of women and girls fighting hard for gender equality in the 21st century is that now, we activists have technology and the global village to make our activism easier. We are in an era of technology and this has modernized the way we mobilise and organise for gender equality. As a girl child rights activist catching girls whilst young is the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and violence women later experience in life. No matter how many billions donors give for the betterment of women’s lives , if they do not invest in girls right now and build a strong foundation for them to be women leaders we might as well take everything as cosmetic development work .
I have done my activism for the past 32 years since I was 6 years old and told my mother to report my father who was beating her .Her silence over her own abuse angered me and so I told myself that this would never happen to any woman or girl anywhere in the world as long as I lived. That is exactly what I am doing and I have used all my abilities to do this. I am a passionate speaker and so wherever I am asked to speak I go to speak and to date I have spoken to millions of women and girls as well as men and boys round the world .I have seen tears flowing down their cheeks as each walks down memory lane. I have come to realise that I am not the only rape victim. When I formed Girl Child Network Zimbabwe I chose to break the silence on how I was raped when I was only 6years old. I am a poet, a radio presenter on Zimonline Radio and I have over 10 000 people who follow my work daily through twitter and face book .I am a freelancer trainer, mentor, coach and advisor to thousands of women and girl organisations. I chose to be all these roles because the role I have, to fight for gender equality requires that i wear the applicable hat at the right time and place .Depending where I am I choose what appropriate role to be .I have also chosen to be a wife and a mother to three boys and my activism starts in my home where daily I tell my three boys that they are equal to girls and they must treat them right.
Being an activist is not an easy job. It has no job description like a doctor, accountant, lawyer or any other professional. This is a job you define for yourself and you make it work .It is a job that can make people think you are insane and unreal. Just being a girl-child rights activist made a lot of people question my marital status, my sanity and many other things .It made people think that everything I said should be taken with a pinch of salt hence all nicknames, defamatory statements and this is the price one pays for being an activist.
Being an activist is living and working through passion, self belief and conviction that whatever I do is with good will and good intent.
There are no known rewards for doing this work and no one wants to pay for it being done. Being an activist is a personal choice with a big risk and whether one survives or not depends on how they constantly change tactics and develop coping mechanisms. One thing for certain, many donors and other people have tried to structure an activist and her vision but this is not work that can be easily boxed in a nice business plan as issues may change anytime .All the same activists are the people who walk the talk and that is why it is very hard to thrive in a world where everything is talk and no action. In most situations l have been labelled a misfit and so the daily struggles I go through is for people to embrace my vision and mission as quickly as I have myself .But who is ready to make the world equal for boys and girls ,men and women ??I must be crazy to have done this since I was 6 and walked away with physical and emotional scars.
I recall in 2000 when I had a 17 day March against Child Sexual Abuse in Zimbabwe and everything was manual. l had to print fliers and hop from bus to bus to deliver to 500 girls .But still l could see from the way hundreds of girls followed that we spoke the same language -we wanted to be free from patriarchy just like slaves were freed from slave masters and Africa got free from colonialists. Gender inequality is the last struggle women and girls have embarked on and this fight for equality in the home, school, community, church, and work is till raging on. I am one woman who made a deliberate choice to be at the battle front and like those who fought in the liberation struggle when the going gets tough one resorts to new tactics or moves to a new base.
Despite the trials and tribulations I have gone through I don’t regret choosing to be an activist as I have actually managed to move mountains. I am an optimist and I believe that what I have done so far and what I am doing and what I will do to free girls from rapists, level the playing field for females and males as well as build the first Girl Empowerment Villages in Zimbabwe (a Model taken from my tribe of Makoni in Rusape, Zimbabwe where girls are accorded royalty and given powers to preside over traditional matters as well as respected) is something that has been passed on to our generation of female leaders. When people call me Muzvare it means Princess and when every girl feels that they are protected by Royalty they feel confident and that is how over 35 000 girls I helped over the past ten years got healed from rape trauma and managed to move on. Recently I have been invited for graduations, weddings, baby showers, and award ceremonies and now the results of my activism are blossoming. I can see tangle results -a girl who thought they would stay in a forced marriage, walking tall as an accountant, lawyer or doctor. I am proud to report that many girls have made a break through in many professional areas. Just recently I had Muchaneta Pawandiwa on my radio show, a trainee Engineer and a member of Girl Child Network Zimbabwe. She told me at the University of Zimbabwe there were two girls in a class of 53.All other students were male and they were perplexed as to why that girl would come and squeeze herself with men when other girls take feminine subjects like the Arts .However thanks to the empowerment instilled in Muchaneta, she excelled. Now she is a successful and influential woman! The reason for my activism was to show that girls have potential which if unleashed spurs them to reach for the stars. I always wanted to make a statement that girls are not victims but society makes them weak and discourages them from reaching their potential. I feel that in terms of inspiring thousands of girls to make a break through into male dominated fields there is a lot that we achieved .Recently I set up a facebook group page where each of my old girls are coming and registering to be members and soon we will have everyone aboard
One great achievement I must share is that we are making strides in implementing the Girl Child Empowerment Model in Africa, Europe and America so that girls everywhere are empowered. I am proud to announce that we have GCN Uganda, GCN Sierra Leone, GCN Swaziland, GCN South Africa and about six US colleges have formed girls clubs .I am at a stage where a whole network of girls have been formed and in solidarity especially with girls in Africa we have launched Million Dollar Girl to Girl Campaign where the first ever Girls Empowerment and Education Fund will be set up .Just coming from a small high density suburb to the global level is no mean achievement. Just standing in front of high profile people like Nicole Kidman and getting highest honour is something that will certainly inspire girls from my poor village.
Today I stand proud to see many communities supporting education of girls. I see traditional chiefs and church leaders condemning marriage of young girls and are instead encouraging girls to attend school. I see every donor community and every government giving priority to girls’ issues. I can testify that beliefs, attitudes and practices that were perpetuated through harmful cultural practices are on their way out.
So here I am now at the Global Village and with so many girls in my wake. When one is an activist there are no financial benefits but the feeling of triumph when I meet a successful female who would have come to me earlier in life crying and dejected and she says ‘Betty Makoni lifted me from a quagmire and made me who I am.’ I feel proud and to me rebuilding a human being who has been broken is something I will cherish forever. To build a Girls Empowerment Movement has always been done by high profile organisations with huge sums of money but here is mine from a poor high density suburb built with all my passion. And here where I champion the rights of girls globally is where I will stay forever .When then I die let girls write on my grave that here lies Betty Makoni who liberated us from patriarchy. And I will surely rest in peace.
H-METRO IN ZIMBABWE PUBLISHED PERSONAL REFLECTIONS BY WOMEN ON WHAT CHALLENGES THEY FACE IN THEIR RESPECTIVE DUTIES AS WOMEN AND PROFESSIONALS IN THE 21’ST CENTURY.