What started as a simple needs assessment inquiry has materialised into a full-fledged development programme on leadership and women’s economic empowerment in Zimbabwe, now taking Zimbabwean women to a training at MASHAV, Israel. The period was 2012, during the government of national unity. UN Women commissioned a needs assessment consultancy to audit the training needs of women parliamentarians and senior women form the political parties. This was done under the rubric of capacitating women for increased participation in governance, peacebuilding and conflict transformation, in line with the requirements of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, and also in line with Zimbabwe’s 4Ps principle. The numbers of women in parliament and in all transition bodies formed after the Global Political Agreement were below a third, and this was worrisome.
Building on findings – deigning a three stage training course
The consultant’s report recommended training for women in leadership, conflict analysis and peacebuilding. This was in line with the context of Zimbabwe during that time, and even now. Zimbabwe had just come out of the hate, hurt and pain of the 2008 post-election period, which had built on a decade long conflict between the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The consultant’s interview transcripts were fraught with evidence of serious divisions and hatred amongst the women along political party lines. Whatever the case, women cannot afford male-like leadership styles, and this had to be mitigated.
UN women hired an expert in adult training and on governance, peace and security, who designed a three stage training course for women politicians as recommended by the consultant. The expert recommended equal quotas of women from the three main political parties, and that the women should be brought together under one training programme despite the animosity. The country office was careful enough to involve the UN Women Regional Office Policy Advisor on Governance issues in this initiative, and benefited from their experience in women’s leadership training in the region and on the continent.
Navigating the difficult political landscape
It was not an easy job to bring warring women together. UN Women worked hand in hand with the women’s movement, and through a civil society organisation whose mandate is to train women politicians in the country, the Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU). WIPSU coordinated with the political parties and got consent and a list of 10 participants from each political parties. Of importance to this group of thirty women is the fact that there was a mix of senior politicians and young politicians, and this helped explore the issue of intergenerational relationships. UN Women then organised three training schools at Level I to III. Level I and II were held in Zimbabwe, and they built on each other cumulatively. Key at these two stages were the methodologies used to facilitate unity and acceptance amongst the women. Feminist popular education methodologies helped bring practical an inclusive participation to the women, as well as helped them de-role, throwing away their parliamentary hats to build a peace. Level III included a regional component on Transformative Leadership and was organised and held in partnership with UN Women East and Southern African Regional Office (ESARO) and the African Centre for Transformative Leadership (ACTIL). ACTIL is an initiative between Kenyatta University and UNW omen ESARO, and was established as an African initiative to promote local leadership training based on the principle of Ubuntu, and towards the goal of Agenda 2063. To balance available resources, 12 women, 4 from each political party were trained regionally. During the training at ACTIL, it emerged that true women’s leadership in Africa cannot be strengthened without empowering women economically. Poverty was the major obstacle for women in Africa to be confident enough to choose their destinies as well as to participate as men’s equals politically. At a more practical level running for an election always requires resources, and women lag behind because of this.
UN Women Esaro established a relationship with MASHAV in Israel, an institute for training on women’s economic empowerment. In February ESAR extended its hand to UNW omen Zimbabwe to participate in a women’s economic empowerment training workshop in MASHAV, Israel from 20 April to 7 May 2015, and UN Women will be able to field 3 women politicians, 1 from each political party. It is hoped that the three women, who have exhibited evidence and capability to transform their spaces through economic empowerment and leadership programmes since the training with ACTIL last year will bring back the MASHAV experience to Zimbabwe with an unspeakable multiplier effect.
Monitoring, evaluation and learning.
UN Women made monitoring and evaluation a key component of this training design. The monitoring and evaluation team was involved with the programme manager and the consultant from needs assessment period right through the end. Stories of significant change told by the women were used as one of the tools to record change results. At the end of the two year programme design UN Women held an internal review monitoring exercise and among the important issues that came out, the issue of souring the relationships between senior and young women politicians irrespective of political party affiliation to date are early warning signals to potential conflict, not along political lines anymore, but intergenerational conflict. Young women interviewed during the review process feel that senior women disregard them and treat them as political minors. This calls for more strategic programming initiatives that bridge this inter-generational dynamic while equipping Zimbabwean women with a spirit of peace and unity above all divisional lines, age and class included.
Last but not least, this initiative can be counted as one of the success stories in peace implementation in Zimbabwe after the GPA. The role of civil society, the women’s movement and development agencies in complementing the hand of governments in peace implementation cannot be over-emphasised. Well done UN Women, well done Zimbabwe.
Below I share 2 significant change stories from some of the trained women so far. Of significance are the nuances on how women’s organising contributes to effective conflict transformation while building potential for lasting peace.
Sibusisiwe Buddha Masara – MDC T
“I influenced the 50/50 structures from cell to national level in my country. Now in the national executive committee our Vice President has other 4 women after her who are within the standing committee. I got influence from my mentor to work with the women from grassroots level upwards, and we managed to get key positions for women like the position of treasurer and deputy spokesperson. These women can stand up and challenges men where they used to dominate. However, the men in my party did not want me to lead these processes and they mobilised confusion until I was voted out. I faced challenges within the party but I managed to mobilise the women to attend the drip irrigation programme in Bubi district. It is only us women who can make some of these declarations a reality. 50/50 can begin at the lowest structures of the party going up wards to the district and the national executive, and we have championed that.”
Cde Alice Mutindori – ZANU PF
“After Kenya I managed to work with churches to speak about peace committees. My communication skills have improved and I can now talk to people nicely, regardless of their political affiliations or their situation. I have taken a personal initiative to help people acquire places for their children in schools in the areas where I live. I have been invited to several schools to be guest of honour during price giving days and have also managed to donate some of the prizes. During the recent elections I managed to pull through all the conflicts that were happening. I helped solve conflict between a family that was warring over home ownership with their step mother and at the moment I lead a group of women doing projects. I managed to give one of the groups 25 chicks for a poultry project and bought them poultry feed.”