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What self-care means for me as a form of feminist activism!

Povompovo Chamningwa Povompovo
Povompovo Chamningwa Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo

Taneta maihwee kungokurungwa
Kungokurungwa maihwee kunge svibota
Kunge svibota maihwee sviri mupoto

Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo

Just Associates, also known as JASS , an organization working on feminist movement building has recently launched a heart-mind-body e-discussion portal for its Southern African membership under the ambit of their Wellness and Self Care project. In April 2011, JASS Southern Africa and Musasa Project launched the Heart-Mind-Body initiative in Zimbabwe, gathering 26 women activists, each with diverse experiences and perspectives, united by a common anxiety: how to sustain themselves and their work in challenging and often violent environments. The circle was a space for reflection, relaxation and dialogue, where women shared experiences of insecurity, trauma and violence, and exchanged survival strategies as a way of putting self-care at the center of sustained women’s organizing.

I agree with the tenets of modern feminist scholarship that the violence that women carry out against their bodies originates in acts of violence committed against them by others; spouses, children, friends, employers or lovers. Many women have died, and others continue to suffer from physical ailments that they cannot even name or describe – the ailments or pains are language codes that tell of a problem whilst hiding it at the same time. In the words of Hansa Mora, a spiritual therapist, what the body will be trying to expose, yet hiding at the same time is no pain at all but the inner conflicts that are shameful and dangerous to talk about.

Rigorous physical exercise for me has been a coping strategy that allows me to experience joy and keep going even in the face of life crises or psychological disturbance. As a woman, lover, worker and mother myself, I have gone through countless psychological disturbances and life crises that have paralyzed my self esteem and left me at the verge of dying, but thanks to the art of fused jogging, dance and expressive therapies which has helped take away this sense of paralysis whilst resurrecting new feelings and levels of being in my heart, mind and body. After this activity each morning I feel ready to face the challenges of the day with more energy and enthusiasm, and in a liberating and unique way too. For me the realization that it is still possible to experience joy even when faced with mountains of crises is a major investment without which I would have sunk six feet down way way back.

But what is it I call fused jogging, dance and expressive therapies? My day starts at exactly 5am each morning, change straight into my jogging gear, a Nike tracksuit a cross-border friend brought me from China and hit the road for a solid hour. It had to be Nike, something really nice to give the whole process a sense of goodness and value. I starch my music recorder into my hip pocket and put the ear phones on. My ‘jogging musician’ is Angelique Kidjo –the powerful Benin woman whose expressive voice and infectious energies I find hard to resist. I love her album ‘Spirit Rising’ most, and for obvious reasons as the title already suggests. It leaves your spirits heightened to the best levels. I listen to 2 of her tracks continuously as I jog and dance for 1 solid hour without stopping. The first song I listen to is her Afirika, a song that celebrates the beauties of Africa and its women – yes, and I affirm as I sing along with her and sometimes stop to dance – Africa is indeed beautiful and there is no other like it. Doing this gives me a sense of belonging and acceptance of my history and identity. It helps me identify the ‘real’ sources of my misery and gives me hope that one day the shackles of oppression shall be undone. The second track is Redemption song, adapted from Bob Marley’s popular one. But what thrills me with this sister’s lyrics is the way she fuses African and Western influences in a manner that gives even new and more meaning to the original song. In this complex world, only change is a constant, and as women we must learn to change the way we do things every day, examining and embracing new possibilities, fusing the old and new, and creating happiness for ourselves even where there seems to be none. The climax for me is when the rhumba bit comes. I stop at the junction of Glamis and Kilwinning road to stage a real integrated jogging and dance therapy session. And this is the spot where I meet them every day, the soldiers from Cranborne Barracks, also doing their mandatory morning exercises. And every single day they pause to watch me – not only watch but shout obscenities and vulgar words related to my body. All they can see in me is the flesh, the body, and nothing else. They cannot see a mother who is battling to cope with the ever increasing bills, school fees, hospital fees, you name it, against ever dwindling resources, no! They cannot see that. They cannot see the political statement that I am making, that merely waking up to jog alone as a woman in a society that prescribes suitable spaces for women at suitable times is a bold political statement that says womenarefreetobewheretheywanttobedoingwhattheywanttodoatanytimeofthe daywithoutbeingjeeredat! They cannot hear the political statement I am making that my body needs wellness, no they choose not to see that, but my body.

My abhorrence of policemen and soldiers dates back to the times I started seriously engaging with African Literature studies at university. In Ngugi waThiongo’s Petals of Blood, all the police could see in Wanja the commercial sex worker was an object for sex, but never cared to flip below the surface and find out how day in and day out she labored to put food on the table for her siblings after her parents were killed in the struggle, and how also as part of the vanguard she mobilized other women and youths to support the struggle for Kenya’s liberation. They failed completely to see her relationship to the land, her strength as a mother and her ability to forge her own destiny. They missed the nuances, and did not see her as a figure rife with agency and power, able to rise up and continue with the struggle even after she is raped by the lousypolicemen. This is the same with this police force in my own country, which has slowly turned itself back into nothing but a replica of the former British South African Police. The force has mastered very well the art of making women feel unsafe and insecure in their own country, a country whose independence they also fought for as soldiers, burden bearers and mothers of the revolution, hoping that the same principles of social justice that the nationalists promised during the struggle would translate into reality for people of all sexes afterwards. But this was never to be for women. For women the journey to freedom and emancipation since Independence Day continues to be thorny and potholed, marred by violence and intimidation, and in some cases with loss of life at the hands of our fellow men.

Three weeks ago the media was awash with news of women activities getting falsely arrested, detained and charged with loitering whilst coming from work and from various other organizing spaces. In same manner commercial sex workers have been arrested, detained and raped in detention, and sadly most of these experiences have gone unreported. Women in Zimbabwe cannot walk freely in the streets without being jeered at for putting on unacceptable attire or for other reasons as men see fit, and neither can they be on a public bus or taxi without being unwillingly touched or squeezed by a man in the wrong places. The behavior of the police speaks so much to the approach of the Zimbabwean state in addressing commercial sex work which however does nothing in reality to suppress the exploitation of women’s sex work. And the discriminatory aspect of it lies in that women engaged in sex work are more likely than men who are clients in the same profession to be rounded up and detained. More seriously however, this police abuse of power has serious implications on women’s health rights. Detaining women with no formal charges, denying them access to their medication, even women living with HIV and cancer, and subjecting them to torture, abuse and harassment as well as asking them to transact sex for their release from the cells is tantamount to sentencing thousands of women to death. Criteria for detention has also been that after being rounded up, the women s handbags are searched and those found with condoms are the worst culprits who deserve to be detained and get raped in the cells whilst those found without condoms in their handbags are better culprits deserving an early release from the cells. What this is saying is that commercial sex workers must not use condoms, and also that any woman who uses a condom in Zimbabwe is a criminal deserving detention and punishment through forced sex. This, with all the condemnation it deserves, is indeed a monumental tragedy for the individuals involved and a stain on our collective conscience.
The GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa held a summit in Harare recently, and came up with a Harare Call to Action on getting to Zero on HIV infection, among other issues. Whilst this effort is highly commendable for seeking to hold political leaders accountable for the commitments to the eradication of diseases in line with the millennium development goals, reality however remains that it will be very difficult to medicate away HIV without equally seeking to interrogate the systems that fuel violence against women and girls. Security sector transformation is a major prerequisite for the creation of safe and secure spaces for women and girls in Zimbabwe. Violence against women, and a police force that is repressive of women’s rights are synonymous, hence the need to eradicate them as major drivers of HIV-AIDS in our country. Training programmes designed to help reinforce positive masculinities and bring a better understanding of issues of women’s rights and HIV can be a suitable SST package for Zimbabwe. Political leaders like our own Honourable Thokozani Khupe, who is president of GlobalPOWER can also rise up above approaching issues in the mainstream, and join hands with activists and UN Agencies to strategize against VAW and girls. Mainstreaming HIV in other country programmes, and working with all ministries, especially the ministries of Home Affairs and the ministry of Defence will be a worthy cause.

The Zimbabwe 2012 state report to the CEDAW Committee confirms that there is a problem of women’s unlawful arrests in Zimbabwe, and notes that the police are influenced by societal beliefs that women ‘should not be found in certain spaces at certain times’. In short what the state report is conceding to is the fact that police are influenced by patriarchal beliefs that prescribe behavior and spaces for women. Our police force is thus founded on a set of gender norms that are stereotypically polarizing and can do nothing other than harm the women they are supposed to protect. This state report was written by the same leaders who ratified the UN Convention and AU protocol on women’s rights, all of which clearly state that cultural and religious beliefs cannot override the rights to equality, dignity and non-discrimination. It is indeed a fact that the balance between tradition and culture, on one hand, and universal human rights, on the other, must be struck in favor of rights.

All these issues increase my anger, but I channel the rage towards jogging, dancing and singing along with Angelique Kidjo, never looking at or seeming to care about the lousyjoggingsoldiersfromcranbornebarracks:

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Don’t be afraid of their atomic energy (baton sticks)
For none of them can stop the tide?

Yes, none of them, not even the button sticks or threats of rape can stop the tide of women’s emancipation. Women and girls need the right to walk in the streets of Harare at night, to and from bars, schools, hospitals, work and other places of choice without being arrested for loitering. If men can loiter until sunrise, why not women?
This jogging fused with dance and expressive therapies goes on for a whole hour, and by the time I get back to the gate of my residence its 6am on the spot. I feel really tired, sweating and panting, but strong and angry enough to face the challenges of the new day, both at home and at work.

What am I really struggling to say? Harare activists have for the past three weeks been convening and reconvening meetings to strategize against the unlawful arrests of women. Proposals and strategy papers have been written, gatherings to address women in the presence of the police held and many other acts of activism undertaken. The struggle for the recognition of women’s rights started way back in the 80s, soon after independence when women protested against being arrested for putting on miniskirts. 32 years after independence, the same debates are raging with no solutions in view. Whilst it is good to convene and write proposals and address women, it is also good for the same activists to think of other strategies of activism that will not only bring liberation in terms of attainment of the desired rights but will also help create safe spaces for women’s activism as well as ensure the well being of their bodies. Activism can be really traumatizing and draining, and without properly caring for our bodies we end up fragmenting, and will stop at nothing but bickering, bitching, shouting and despising each other. Recent debates on whether there is a women’s movement or not in Zimbabwe, and of how fragmented the movement is have for me been disempowering and further fragmenting. I personally believe that where two or three can gather in the name of women’s right, a women’s movement is possible. If three vapositoris meeting under a tree can believe that there is a church and there is Jesus where they are, why can’t we be better disciples of our gender activism and start believing in the power that we hold in our hands as women. Given the situation in our country, time for debating on who is better than who in terms of activism are not sustaining and may only help protract our struggle. I believe in the efforts of all the women’s organizations and individuals in the country who are working to confront patriarchy, and also believe that connecting those various dots in a positive way can bring our efforts together for good.

I am visualizing a dancing space for women. Women coming together every day after work to play Veronique Kidjo, Chiwoniso Maraire, Hope Masike or even Rumbidzai Tapfuma’s drums, and dance and dance and dance and let be. So much has been said about seeking to change the mindsets of men, but in my view change begins with whoever wants to see change. As women, we can only change men’s mindsets by firstly changing the way we relate with each other as sisters, activists and feminists and also by changing our modes of activism for better partnerships, for creating safe spaces where we can meet and brainstorm and strategize on how to influence court process, laws and policies that work, then we can begin to talk about changing mindsets. We can invite young women and girls to this space and give them an avenue to speak and voice out what they do not normally talk about, and we will be shocked to discover that a lot of girls have been bottling up cases of abuse for not knowing what to do and who to tell. This space can also be strategic for simply checking in on each other as women, sharing problems, discussing them and giving each other hope, whilst renewing our bodies for the next day. The fusion of western and African rhythms, old and new ones in Angelique’s music also calls for the need to change our activism strategies. Approaching donors and heads of UN Agencies with ‘strange’ but effective proposals to fund a women’s well-being centre for dance against women’s arrest and other abuses! And remaining consistent and letting the music boom throughout the night until the Commissioner of Police at Police General Head Quarters realises that women are demanding spaces for activism at any hour or minute of their night without getting arrested is also another way of changing mindsets. Women’s safe spaces for me provide the opportunity for participation in a ‘less’ threatening activity and for interacting with other women in new and obviously liberating ways.

Povompovo Chamningwa Povompovo
Povompovo Chamningwa Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo

Taneta maiwee kungokurungwa
Kungokurungwa maihwe kunge svibota
Kunge svibota maihwe sviri mupoto
Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo
Povompovo

Comments

Cali gal Michelle's picture

A few thoughts....

You have many good things to say, and I love that you are taking action by first taking care of yourself. It is our tendency to perceive giving and giving, doing and doing to the point of exhaustion as a positive thing. These people are the once who get all the accolades - the ones who are raised up high and used as examples: "see? she is so amazing, she is doing all of these wonderful things.". Women who stop to care for self can be seen as selfish, uncaring, lazy, or ineffective.

I love that you have come to this place of recognition, that caring for yourself is paramount to changing your world. How can we effective implementers of change if we have nothing left to give?

I, personally, would love to see you separate out your writing a bit: to go into more detail of what your physical exercise entails, how you get your body to move even though you struggle with health issues, what steps are needed to practice it faithfully, etc. You could write an entirely separate paper regarding the horrific treatment women are made to endure, because we need to see and hear and know!

In short, I think you have so much to say that you could write many papers/journal entries from just this one. I am far from an expert, but I recall advice a fellow songwriter once gave me: "Don't try to write about the whole world in one song. There are many songs you could write from just that one song". I hope that makes sense. I've never done this before: that is to say, never really critiqued an entry... but I see so much here, that you have so much to say, and I want people to read it!

I, too, have been struggling with health issues, and have had many days where I wondered how I would make it through physically. I would like to know more about 'expressive therapies' for my own benefit, so please share more about it!

We will continue to care for ourselves in order to care for others.

Many blessings to you, dear sister.

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

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