Interview with an activist: Thandiwe Chidavarume in Zimbabwe

Thandiwe Chidavarume | Oct 13, 2017
Thandiwe Chidavarume speaks as the national coordinator of Women and Land in Zimbabwe

Celebrating the vision, strength and resilience of rural women

On 15th October, International Day of Rural Women, we honour the strength, resilience and achievements of rural women, including indigenous women. Globally, women represent around 43% of the labour force in agriculture and are overwhelmingly tasked with making sure there’s food on the table. Despite providing this critical labour, women have less access to and control over land, choice of crops and income from agriculture. The struggle to realise women’s economic rights is fundamentally linked to access and control over land and other productive resources.

Today, we celebrate the work of our new partner, Women and Land in Zimbabwe (WLiZ), who is organising women in rural assemblies to know their rights and lobby decision makers to demand improved access to land. We sat down with Thandiwe Chidavarume, the national coordinator of WLiZ, to get to know her and her work.

Thandiwe, why and when did you get involved with women’s struggle for land rights in Zimbabwe?

Growing up in a rural area, I witnessed the challenges my mother was facing with regards to access, control and ownership of land. My mother would toil on the land but my father would take credit for the crops thriving and would make decisions on selling and on how to spend the income. It would be my father’s decision that would always prevail at the home, even on what to grow and when to grow.

My mother would have to beg for a piece of land to grow small grains, which she needed to put food on the table for the family. Instead, my father would want to grow cash crops like soya bean and tobacco. These dynamics were not only taking place in my family - I noted that all women in the community were facing the same predicament and similar challenges with their husbands. 

Growing up, I developed a passion for working with rural women and this influenced my career path. I started working on women’s land rights issues in 1998 as a land lobby group officer.

What does Women and Land in Zimbabwe do? Why is it needed and why do you feel it is important?

Women and Land in Zimbabwe is a women-led organisation formed by a group of women activists in 1998 to lobby for women’s land rights. The organisation came together as activists, realising that women overwhelmingly labour on the land without controlling it and that the land reform process in Zimbabwe, which was supposed to create an opportunity for women to access land, ignored them. As such, the first goal of WLiZ was to lobby for 20% of total land available to be assigned to women. This was achieved but actual implementation has been very slow because the structures for decision making on land are dominated by men and patriarchal norms.
WLiZ fights for women’s right to land and natural resources and women’s participation in decision making at all levels.

Rural women come together at the Women and Land in Zimbabwe national assembly

What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism to me is simply fighting for women’s human rights. Anyone who has women at heart is a feminist.

What has been your proudest moment at work?

This year’s national meeting where women courageously demanded their rights from duty bearers. I was thrilled with the level at which women were tackling policy issues. What I was also so proud of was that women were speaking with one voice and that Women and Land in Zimbabwe managed to mobilise more than 3000 rural women from across Zimbabwe in one place.

What are the major issues WLiZ is working on at the moment?

We are currently working on a campaign to mobilise women in rural assemblies under the banner of ‘one woman one hectare’. Only through finding each other in safe spaces and through collective actions can women overcome fear and build their capacity to influence for change. We continue lobbying for policy and legal reform. Lack of resources and a relatively closed space for civil society, as well as the economic crisis affecting the country, continue to be challenges but we are heartened by rural women’s strengths. 

Thandiwe visits communities to listen to rural women

Next year, governments from around the world will sit down at the Commission on the Status of Women, at the United Nations in New York, to discuss issues affecting rural women. What is your message to the government of Zimbabwe and other governments?

We would like to tell the government to recognise women as workers on the land and to make sure support programmes for farmers cater to women’s needs. We also want full implementation of the 2013 constitution to ensure women and men have equal access to land and other resources, including equal representation in decision-making structures.

Another important issue for us is around extractive activities: women’s right to land needs to be protected from land grabbing by mining companies. It is also critical for the government to support home grown strategies to adapt to climate change, which presents huge challenges for women farmers. 

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

The first thing I do as I get to work is to read the news highlights in the press, TV and radio. If I work in the office, my day is about correspondence with donors, writing reports and working on programme activities and training materials. I also attend meetings and plan for field visits. In the field, I organise community meetings to listen to rural women and share information with them, I also conduct trainings.
You can find out more about Womankind’s work to support women’s rights to land in our Rights and Realities briefing

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