By Shamiso Phoebie Chigonde: Guest Blogger
As the world marks International Women’s Day, I pause to reflect at the daily life of an ordinary black woman in struggling Africa. A mother, sister, aunt, granny, niece, girlfriend, neighbour, church leader whose grind is a story of toil and sweat.
I see a mother of six. She delivered four of her offspring through caesarean birth. What an experience. Painful experience. All those scars – scars of love. She toils to raise her brood. She takes menial jobs so she can put food on the table. She works to complement her husband’s meagre earnings.
On some cold nights she groans in pain because of aching C-Section stitches. A reminder of her children. They’re scattered all over the country now. She sheds a tear for every one of them. She mumbles a prayer. She smiles and looks into the rain. She wishes it can rain on her but she has her grandson strapped on her back – little child will catch a cold.
I see another mother. This one much younger. She must be 17 years old. She has two children born in her puberty.
Still confused about changes in her body, while still discovering herself she was married off. Married off because culture demands so. Married off because tradition requires she marries her father’s friend.
Hers is a story of many a girl raised in rural Africa. The hashtag has been created. #ChildMarriage She doesn’t know what a hashtag is. Many wonder if a hashtag will end child marriages. In the meantime she continues her life as a wife to the village head. She is the youngest of the frail man’s eight wives. She is his darling of the moment. Her body still fresh, her breasts still firm. He enjoys.
Her life has ceased. She dropped out of school just a year before writing her Ordinary Level exams. She has no back up plan in her life. All her options in life have to include this man she married. She has no life. On this International Women’s Day she sits alone in the kitchen staring at a half empty glass of fruit juice. She ponders. She fantasizes about what could have been if she had finished school.
Here is Veronica. She is a 30 year old emancipated varsity graduate. She recently graduated with a Masters Degree on a scholarship from a varsity in Europe. She is back in Zimbabwe and every morning she enjoys the view from her corner office at the Think Tank she works for. She earns well. She is every mother’s dream daughter; intelligent and beautiful.
You see, she was born and raised in rural Zimbabwe. Went to the big city for college years. She understands the concept of International Women’s Day. Her village folk doesn’t know what this is all about. Talk of women rights issues and you get the scolding of your life. Here women should subservient to their husbands. A woman lives her life for the man. Veronica now has to be married. Society demands she gets married.
Now look at Aunt Agnes. She does not have a 9 to 5 job. She sells her hand clothes in central Harare. She buys them in Mozambique and smuggles them into the country. Last year Zimbabwe banned the selling of second hand clothes. Government argued it was shameful for people to buying second underwear, socks and shoes.
But majority of Zimbabweans have no jobs. They cannot afford buying from conventional shops. Informal employment is the source of livelihood many families here.
Aunt Agnes is one of the vendors whose wares were confiscated by the state when police chased vendors off the streets. She has a family to take care of. An extended family to take care of. She could not sit and watch her nieces and nephews starve. She has to send children to school. What could she do? What would you have done?
Aunt Agnes took a loan from a city loan shark. She crossed into Mozambique and brought back with her second hand clothes for resale. She sells clothes from as little as US$1. Prices improve as quality improves.
Agnes risks arrest but she has to put food on the table.
Hendriatta met a strapping young man who dovetailed into her perfect picture of “Mr Right”. He was a beautiful man. A humorous, intelligent guy with a good job. The future looked bright. As they say, the rest is history.
He left her at the alter. Never heard of run-away groom? Hendriatta bore the shame and pain. She became the talk of town. Plumtree is a small town. Everyone stared at her wherever she was. She was pregnant with no man – that’s taboo here. Mr Right was married but Hendriatta didn’t know. He didn’t tell her. Had she known, she wasn’t going to invest her time and her all in him. He used her. Her deflowered and devalued her.
Single mothers are regarded as home wreckers.
Hendriatta carries the tag of homewrecker. Wives dare their husbands to associate with Hendriatta. She is a victim of her foolishness they say. But she is a victim of a system that vilifies women.
Being a single mother is difficult. Hendriatta’s daughter is called names. She suffers for sins she didn’t commit. An innocent child brought up in an indifferent society. But Hendriatta has a thick skin. Her totem is crocodile which maybe explains her thick skin attitude. The insults have died down as years overtake each other. Those that gloated at her misfortune have egg on their faces.
There are women who were raised in poverty, some in the rural areas. Some failed school because they did not have the resources to use, they went to the city to look for low income jobs and then studied during the night, now they are managers, nurses, accountants, you name it. All because they did not give up and they decided who they wanted to be a long time ago, when they were still carrying buckets of water from the stream.There are some who have worked as maids, cooks, and did not for once think of taking their madam’s husbands. Some raised money and now they have their own businesses. They take care of their families and though they did not go to school they still succeeded.This International Women’s Day we celebrate this woman who came from nowhere to succeed in life. Today we celebrate that woman who against all odds toils and keeps her head above the water.