Open Letter to Zimbabwean Feminists
Written in the aftermath of brutal attacks on opposition
This letter to Zimbabwean feminists from Shereen Essof is a challenge to activists to engage with the specific realities if crisis here and now rather than to take easy refuse in the empty (non-specific) generalities of international women's day.
Sekai Holland (above) and Grace Kwinjeh (below)
Open Letter to Zimbabwean Feminists
Dear Women of Zimbabwe however it is that you may positioned right now,
As the commemorations for International Women's Day draw nearer, I am inspired to write to you all about the legacy Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh have made to our movement in ZImbabwe. I realise that in their immediate roles they are largely seen as representatives of opposition politics, but that is not where they have always been located, and it is certainly not what I wish to focus on through this email.
Last night I spent a long time in a telephone conversation with Isabella Matambanadzo. She told me of her visit to both of them on Tuesday when they were admitted in the late afternoon to Avenues clinic. Her intention was to offer any kind of help, be it with making calls to family and friends, just chatting or in the spirit of sisterhood that the women's rights movement of Zimbabwe has taught us, just being there.
Sekai Holland is over 60. Her mother founded the Association of Women's Clubs in 1938, one of the oldest women's organizations in Zimbabwe. Sekai built on that tradition. She fought the battle at the high court for the rights of non-Zimbabwean men who married Zimbabwean women to have citizenship. at the time the law was discriminatory in favour of zimbabwean men whose non zimbabwean spouses received citizenship quite automatically. Her battle against the Citizenship Act was an important win for women's rights to equal treatment before the law and opened up the way for many more women's equality cases to come before our domestic courts.
Details are available from an IPS publication that is fortunately on line:
Sekai was influential in supporting demands for the creation as early as 1981 of the Ministry for Community Development and Women's Affairs. It was envisaged as a national mechanism for women's advancement. The Ministry provided an invaluable platform for debate on women in development issues. It was also a critical force in the reealistion that the women's movement, operating from outside of the ministry and government space, could advocate for political demands for women's emancipation.
We all know the Grace Kwinjeh, the journalist and the opener of spaces in the media for the women's movement, even at a time when those spaces were monitored and shut off for other civis formations. We know the Grace Kwinjeh who strategised with us in pushing the NCA male leadership and caucusing for a women from the movement to head the Assembly.
We all know and have worked alongside Grace and Sekai and the other comrades who are now in hospital brutalized.
I am told that last night ztv aired an advert for the Ministry and Unifem inviting Zimbabweans to commemorate international women's day on March 17. The "end impunity for violence against women" slogan, with its the take off point as the domestic violence bill could not have been more poignant.
Grace and Sekai were brutalised while in police custody, hearing about their trauma and their bodies in hospital once again shows us how much the patriarchal state machinary, in this instance the police, has mirrored the battering husband.
So I sit here, far away from you all, with a sinking heart as I hear about the invitation to a ceremony to mark international women's day to end violence. Because in the face of this we are living state perpetrated violence. So I sit here and have to question … How do you go and and spend money on buying the official regalia and being collected from the usual pick up points ...while sekai, grace and other comrades of our movement have been battered. And the formal systems of women's protection, the women's movement, has kept so alarmingly quiet.
The report of the Doctors say: the injuries documented were consistent with beatings with blunt objects heavy enough to cause:
• Multiple fractures to hands, arms and legs
• Severe, extensive and multiple soft tissue injuries to
backs, shoulders, arms, buttocks and thighs.
• Head injuries and laceration
• Ruptured bowel and trauma to the abdomen.
• A split right ear lobe sustained by Grace.
I have since heard that prolonged detention without accessing medical treatment resulted in severe haemorrhage in Morgan Tsvangirai leading to severe anaemia which warranted a blood transfusion. Injuries sustained by Sekai Holland were also worsened by denial of timely access to medical treatment which led to an infection of deep soft tissue in her left leg. Denial of access to treatment in another individual suffering from hypertension has lead to angina.
Whatever our personal views and emotions, especially about their present political location, there is no denying Sekai's and Graces contribution to feminism and its development in Zimbabwe.
An appropriate response this year with the themes of women's day would be for political peace and the machines of violence, be they public or private, to stop brutalising women. the WOZA women have reaptedly given testimony of their dire treratment in jail cells, as have the women in the union formations.
Let's get beyond the rhetoric of celebrating an international day with pomp and costume, and demand our rights to peaceful societies, as so boldly outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action.
If our movement is really not partisan and does not make choice based on political location, but rather on the true principles of feminism, can we show it? This violent machine that beat up Grace, Sekai and other sisters, called them "whores of Tsvangirai" and "Prostitutes of Bush and Blair". What does our individual and collective silence mean in the face of such an assault on womanhood by patriarchal forces?