Women's Groups in Zimbabwe

Naume M. Ziyambi, M. Phil.

Since the ruling party has failed in its project of trying to represent all social movements, the women's movement in Zimbabwe has come to be championed by Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Government and ruling party sponsored groups and institutions, such as the Ministry of omen s Affairs (now scaled down to a department in the President's Office) and the Women's League, have remained but are largely devoid of any real power (Saunders 1991). As a result, this study is mainly concerned with those NGOs that question the subordination of women and, from the categorisation outlined above, these would mostly be groups that are in the category of radical feminist. These groups are distinguished from those that are concerned with women's welfare but do not seek structural changes.

It would appear that groups such as WAG, WiLDAF and WLSA are located nearer to the strategic needs end of the continuum because of their involvement in research on legal issues that affect women and in lobbying for the introduction of gender sensitive laws that take women's positions and interests into account. However, when WAG engages in dissemination of legal and health information through the magazine Speak Out and when WiLDAF goes out to engage in legal literacy, they actually shift their location to a position that is mid-way between basic and strategic needs. On one level, FAMWZ acts as a trade union by seeking to improve basic working conditions of media women. However, its involvement in the Radio Listeners' project is strategic because it affords rural women possibilities, through the media, to take care of their own needs and to enjoy their rights to services offered by society.

The particular character of women's groups, which involves addressing both basic and strategic needs, came as a result of two related factors, namely, the circumscribed conditions for autonomous organisation by social groups as well as the perceived needs of women. Due to the difficulties involved in organising, the groups are small and cannot afford to be totally exclusive or concentrate on one activity. On the other hand, their character is also a response to the greater needs of women. Women suffer from lack of basic needs as much as from gender subordination. As Cheryl Odim-Johnson notes:

It is nor just a question of internal re-distribution of resources but a question of their generation and control; not just equal opportunity between men and women, but the creation of opportunity itself not only the position of women in society but the position of the societies in which Third World women find themselves (Odim-Johnson 1991: 320).

In relation to the media, this simultaneous need to create and re-distribute is tackled by facilitating women's access to the communication infrastructure and by making use of it to eradicate gender inequality. In other words, women's groups generally have a strong development aspect in their mandate.

Another prominent feature of women's groups in Zimbabwe is that they operate within a tight resource base. Due to their historical distance from government, women's groups have never been offered the option of state support. In general, they have also not been able to build up their own resources but have relied instead on international donor funding. This type of sponsorship has had some influence on their activities as well as their development. In a discussion of Zimbabwean NGOs in general, Sam Moyo notes that the locus of their activities has tended to be "more project and physical-output oriented rather than directed towards advocacy and broader institutional building". The situation can be explained by the fact that it is much easier to propose and receive funding for specific projects because they show tangible results after short periods of time so that the donor organisation is then free to commit itself to other projects. This situation has also meant that women's groups have not been able to commit as many resources to more public advocacy such as the media as other women's groups in the West might have done. It is also true to say that in the last few years virtually all women's groups have become more aware of these shortcomings and are making efforts to address them. This thesis is interested in assessing these efforts.


Chazan, Naomi, R. Mortimer, J. Ravenhill, and D. Rotchild. Policies and Society in Contemporary Africa. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1988.

Moyo, Sam. "NGO Advocacy in Zimbabwe: Systematizing an Old Function or Inventing a New One?" Zero Publications Working Paper No. 1 (undated).

Odim-Johnson, Cheryl.

Saunders, R. "Information in the Interregnum: The Press, State, and Civil Society Struggles for Hegemony in Zimbabwe, 1980-1990." Unpublished PhD thesis, Carleton University: 1991

[From Naume M. Ziyambi, The Battle of the Mind: International New Media Elements of the New Religious Political Right in Zimbabwe. Oslo:University of Oslo, 1997, page 34. Available from Department of Media and Communications [[email protected]].

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