The Historically Absent Sheroes
An atmosphere of excitement, enthusiasm and large doses of nostalgia filled the room as women greeted each other animatedly. I had the good fortune to be present at the “They Went To Beijing” conversation hosted by Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre Network (ZWRCN). Those of us, the young generation, finally had the opportunity of basking in the greatness of the great feminists who went before us, and paved the way for women’s rights as human rights and vice versa.
The conversation was basically an acknowledgment of the people who had been to Beijing as they recounted their experiences. It was a very insightful dialogue with women who were fighting against a system designed to crush them, and went to Beijing with nothing and brought back everything: an ambitious Twelve Critical Areas of Concern in the Platform for Action:
1. Women And Poverty: The Feminization Of Poverty
2. Education And Training Of Women: A Stop To Discrimination Everywhere
3. Women And Health: A Threat To An Increasing Number Of Women
4. Violence Against Women: Innate Physical Superiority Does Not Imply Rights
5. Women And Armed Conflict: War And Civil War A Waste Of Peace Resources
6. Women And The Economy: As Women Were Practically Excluded From Decision-Making Powers
7. Women In Power And Decision-Making: Without Empowerment Hopes Turn Into Illusions
8. Institutional Mechanisms For The Advancement Of Women: No Lasting Impact In Any Country
9. Human Rights Of Women: Codified In Binding Form, But Disregarded Every Day
10. Women And The Media: To Use The Media For The Advancement Of Women
11. Women And The Environment: The Right To A Healthy And Productive Life Threatened World-Wide
12. The Girl-Child: Existentially Disadvantaged
This year – 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of that very historic event which one delegate said would never be repeated again. It is also the year that a new set of global development goals have been adopted. A lot of progress has been made since 1995. Advances have been made in legal rights through international agreements, groundbreaking UN resolutions, and constitutional and legislative change in many countries. Health and education for women and girls have improved significantly. The rate of maternal mortality has nearly halved, but sadly is worsening in Zimbabwe. The global gender gap in primary school enrolment has virtually closed. This is cause for celebration and it shows that when women work together they can conquer the world! However, sadly, I did not know a single one of those Sheroes who went to Beijing to pave the way for these things to be possible before the day of that conversation.
Those women triumphed over centuries of segregation and discrimination having fought a war more insidious than any that was ever fought on the battlefield but their individual work is not acknowledged in history text books and in school curricula. The young generation are not taught and will therefore never appreciate or learn from the work done by these women who went to Beijing. I even asked myself why there is no Sheroes’ shrine for these champions on Women’s rights so that nobody ever has a chance of forgetting them.
We should come to a point of acknowledgment that to simply substitute women’s history or mainstream history leaves women prisoners of precisely that pernicious status as ‘other’ to which mainstream history has assigned them and where this is unacceptable.
“History is written by the victor,” Winston Churchill said. Women won the rights war and therefore women should take up the initiative to write their own history about Beijing and other triumphs and ensure that that history is taught in institutions of learning, pass it along in order that our triumphs should never be forgotten.
Lindani Chirambadare 14.05.15