Today, Jenni Williams spoke to a captivated FSI audience about how a small grass-roots endeavor to empower Zimbabwean Women was able to become a nation wide movement.
Williams is the co-founder of the Zimbabwean organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), which mobilizes Zimbabweans through civic education and strategic nonviolent action to demand social justice on a non-partisan basis, educates them about their civic rights, and aims to persuade them to participate in all civic processes.
“We wanted to form a movement that would talk about bread and butter issues” she explained. But how does one build, sustain and grow a movement against consistent and brutal repression?
In nearly a decade of nonviolent struggle and hundreds of protests and actions, more than 3,000 WOZA supporters have spent time in police custody and frequently are subjected to harassment and intimidation. Williams herself has been arrested 52 times. Recently, members of the movement have experienced a heightening of repression in Zimbabwe as events unfolded in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.
But in spite of the regime’s effort to quell the organization’s work, WOZA, also meaning ‘come forward’ in Ndebele, has grown into a network of over 75,000 women and has inspired tens of thousands of women and men to stand up for their rights under Robert Mugabe’s regime.
Committed to nonviolent action and the universality of human rights, the members of WOZA also engage in low risk activities at a regular basis in order allow greater participation and to keep up the pressure on the regime.
“We are not fighting a revolution but for an evolution – we must change the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans. Changing heart and minds, from the bottom up.” And the next big challenge is already on the calendars: the Presidential elections are currently set to take place on July 31. WOZA’s goal will be to get out the vote, and to make it count. “Cast your vote, then mother and nurture it, and make it fulfill it’s purpose”, Williams said in closing. Femininity and creativity make up the tough love of a mother, which is at the heart of WOZA.
The woman who took Mugabe, The Guardian, May 9, 2009
**In 2009, Williams was honored by President Obama at the White House when she and WOZA Programs Coordinator Magodonga Mahlangu were awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Award. She is also the 2012 recipient of Amnesty International U.S.A.’s 2012 Ginetta Sagan Award for Women’s and Children’s Rights.