Miriam Tafara, a middle aged woman with greying hair, slowly slid onto her lavish leather couch before reaching out for the large photo album beside it. Her graduating girls, the house they bought her, the luxury. Yet, sadness dampened her eyes as she paged through the remnants of her past, frozen in time and colour. She took no pleasure from all of it now, just harboured pain and resentment towards the decision degrees had shoved on her children: marriage or education. Their evident thirst and quest for empowerment had come back to haunt them-learned women, who came back home each night to empty homes. No husbands, no children and no time for it all. She sighed, weary.
It made her rewind, to the liberation struggle where mothers sacrificed their children and their dreams for the struggle. Theirs was a dream at independence, dreams forfeited would be realised in the next generation of women. Yet, 36 years after independence, the Zimbabwean woman still fights. She is the forgotten veteran not afforded the same opportunities or patience as her male counterparts.
A female aspirant to higher education is faced with the choice between pursuing her studies or building a family. You see, in traditional African society a woman has a ‘sell-by date’, an abridged time frame in which she can be married. Unfortunately, education dictates it shares the same time frame, leading to an unfair stand-off. Choosing education would mean spending her golden years toiling behind desks and by the time she has a degree in her hand, no one will be seeking her hand. Can a woman not be allowed to be both a mother and president, attractive and learned too? Why is the default nomination for ambitious women by their male peers the vice presidency, or support? Are we branded as not worthy of higher? Why does society cling to the proverbial position of a woman’s success being in the shadows? Behind the great man that is her husband, man or brother?
Even such small privileges like expression in dressing are scrutinized, leaving women at the mercy of uncouth civilians whose chauvinistic ideologies propel them to even abuse women in the streets. The law fails to protect its prime citizens, leaving them in bondage through ignorance and punishing stereotypes.
Oh, the sacrifice!
Our country might have been liberated from colonial rule but its citizens are still very much in bondage, captives in a country where the prisoner has been chased away, but where certain basic aspects of human rights are reserved for a smaller, more privileged fraction of the population. And so women are faced with a dilemma. What is independence when freedom of expression is still very much an elusive dream? What is the meaning of freedom when one doesn’t have rights over their bodies? What is freedom when one cannot be allowed to decide what manner of dressing is to their preference, simply because another doesn’t have similar taste?
And like it has done for the past 36 years, Independence Day will come and go each year, but its significance to women in Zimbabwe is lost in the struggle that they fight each day but have not yet won.