The personal is political! Heart-mind-body wellbeing circles in Zimbabwe
Women in Zimbabwe have faced major political and economic upheavals that have left not only their families fragmented but their bodily integrity and well-being as well. The struggle for women’s rights in Zimbabwe has been draining and traumatic, particularly the political violence characterizing the 2008 elections. Many women were raped, infected with disease, widowed, impregnated and deserted to care for unwanted children on their own. Violence, poverty, disease, care burdens and fear lead to fragmentation and exhaustion, which in turn contribute to failure all round. As women we also enact serious forms of violence on ourselves through expending much energy to strategies that benefit our children, husbands, homes, wider constituencies and organizations, yet we fail to expend the same energy to take care of our own well-being and to strengthen our spirits. Whilst it is important to put work at the centre of our lives, we must be mindful not to lose sight of ourselves, and of the essence of that which connects us as human beings. No matter how professional we strive to be, as long as there is fragmentation of the heart, mind and body we become isolated; lose our creativity, audacity and energy. The work itself loses meaning and we end up feeling perpetually angry, anxious, fatigued, lonely and useless. Much more can be said about our sisters living positively with HIV/AIDS in the face of all these stressors. Does anybody care? Do donors and governments care about providing budgets for women’s well-being?
I have been part of the heart-mind-body project initiated by JUST ASSOCIATES (JASS), an international none-governmental organization (NGO) that builds feminist movements. This project seeks to promote women’s well-being using holistic methods such as yoga, recki, meditation, body massages, beauty therapy, storytelling and counseling. Since JASS introduced this idea, I have been organizing safe spaces and well-being circles for grassroots market women to meet and re-claim their bodily integrity, in the process equipping them with skills to gain confidence, information, strategies and connections they need to organize democratic change and to navigate risky contexts. My major challenge has been financial resources to make this work possible to a wider constituency, and as a result the initiative has been limited to a few women. The other challenge is the potential to be misunderstood. Zimbabwe is a conservative society and any processes that emphasize on women alone may be misunderstood and trivialized. Political polarization also makes this work difficult, especially in the rural areas where gathering may be difficult given the forthcoming elections, thus it will be difficult to carry this work to the peripheries where it’s most needed. Doing work with only a small group of women creates further information gaps.
I can use PulseWire to connect and share ideas with other women globally on developing appropriate methodologies and creating resources for this work. I can also use the PulseWire blog to flag our workshop reports, and women from other countries draw from our experiences and introduce this work in their respective spaces.