Organising ourselves will build our power

The Chronicle

Bongiwe Nkomazana

It’s no surprise that I constantly have issues that women face going through my head. With that comes more taunting thoughts of possible solutions to them and sometimes, on bad days, the fear that they will never be resolved, takes over. But Aaliyah, the late musician, once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself and try again” and these words are what seem to keep me sane and pushing forward in every aspect of my life. 

Instead of being overwhelmed and frustrated I have decided to look into how women all over the world are handling their challenges and if their methods bare results. Then maybe, we as a community of women can learn from them and have our issues addressed.

I was at a leadership training last week. Serendipitously, I found myself sitting with three other smart women who brought up the conversation of women’s hardships. What really stuck with me from the conversation was how Connie (a vibrant, well travelled, mother of three and lawyer who speaks nothing but sense) brought up the issue of organising. 

When she referred to organising, I understood it as the act of coming together with a single goal and clear vision of how that goal will be reached and doing whatever it takes in terms of being knowledgeable on a subject and having the determination to make sure that the goal is reached successfully. 

It is at that moment that I realised that we were doing a lot as Zimbabwean women to address gender issues but because we are doing it individually, the efforts have no impact. Jason Mogus describes organising as building our power, finding our people and growing our momentum. For me momentum is the key word. 

In layman’s language, momentum is the “power” an object has when in motion, meaning the amount of force it can have on another object.

So, basically, if we identify ourselves by what we are passionate about and bring the resources we have together like our intellect and professional skills and direct them towards solving matters that matter to us, we will be a force to be reckoned with. We are more likely to shift mindsets and change policies.

Please note that I am not by any means encouraging any sort of violence. Violence yields no results. Violence destroys. Violence is barbaric. Organising is the opposite of violence because it requires us to look at alternative ways of creating awareness, taking a stance and demanding resolutions. It requires us to think critically and attack intellectually and that is the type of power we women are famous or infamous for, I don’t know, but I am all for it!

To paint a clearer picture, activities that fall under organising might include building a base with a petition, strengthening the validity of our argument by building an airtight case on what has been done about a particular issue or the lack thereof, fundraising and experimenting with messaging.

Also, finding allies and influencers and building relationships with them is organising. For example, if the efforts are to combat stigma against young women living with HIV/Aids we would team up with the National Aids Council or the Ministry of Health and Child Care and so on.

I encourage each and every one of us to look up the ways women all over the world have shown up for each other and stood up for themselves. This will definitely inspire us to dig deep within ourselves for that diligence, passion and love for the next woman and community that will drive us as individuals to be a part of a greater organisation. Out of the countless ways we could get organised, I picked out three that I feel embody the type of organising that I am trying to bring across.

I love shoes and most of us women wear heels because we want to look cute. Imagine being “forced” to wear heels to work because they are “occupationally necessary”. The women in Japan have recently filed a petition against gender based discrimination because they feel like they should be able to choose when and where to wear high heels and that they should not be deemed as bad-mannered when they wear comfortable flat shoes to the workplace. 

This is a good example of mobilisation and speaking as one for and/or against something. These ladies could have chosen the easy way out, which is to suffer in silence and limp all day at work because of heel induced pain but they have decided that it is their right to pick and choose the shoe they wear.

 It might seem a trivial issue to men and to us women who take for granted that we are given that right freely in our country. However, just try walking a mile in their shoe — pun intended — and you will understand why it is a significant issue for the Japanese women. 

In this day and age, not only are there countless flat shoe styles that are appropriate for the workplace but nobody should be micro-managing what women wear like that. The world has bigger issues like poverty, hunger and climate change to deal with.

Talking about climate change, in 2017, women from the indigenous communities of Honduras led restoration projects to protect their families from future climate events after they were hit by a devastating hurricane. They joined forces with a Garifuna federation, OFRANEH, which helped the women start a nursery that produced thousands of native shrubs and tree seedlings. 

The vegetation thrived and now serves as natural protectors from the increasing climate events. Women are more likely than men to feel the negative consequences of global warming and so there was no better group to lead this initiative and they are a good example of creating relationships and networks with the relevant bodies to achieve a certain outcome.

One of my favourite songs in the world is “Strong Girl”. It was done by nine women artistes (Victoria Kimani, Vanessa Mdee, Arielle T, Gabriela, Judith Sephuma, Waje, Selmor Mtukudzi, Yemi Alade, Blessing and Omotola) who used their talent to speak empowerment to girls and women in the poorest countries, so they can lift their own communities out of poverty. Sometimes all it takes is a song with a good beat to spread a message. These women are an example of using our professional skills and platforms to get the world’s attention and drive a message home.

If we, as Zimbabwean women, could get the attention of Captain Undefeated Problem-solver whoever s/he may be or look like and they were ready to fix all our problems, what would we say to them? Would we be able to articulate our real issues and explain why they are issues? Would we be able to state the facts and hold the right people accountable? Would we be able to illustrate the outcome we want? Would we be able to take them through why life would be better if we got the outcome we want? 

My point is that we cannot just blindly whine about matters whose impact we do not even fully understand ourselves and whose resolutions we cannot map out. We need to make a decision to get our act together if we are ever going to cover some ground on the issues that affect us.

-To discuss your views, opinions, experiences, and opinions on this issue, Bongiwe Nkomazana can be reached via Twitter handle @bongi_nkomazana