Interviewed and edited by Edinah Masanga
Ekenia Chifamba-Chidodo is one of the leading champions for girls emancipation to come out of Zimbabwe. She founded an organisation which fights for girls rights and moves for their total emancipation and has made phenomenal strides in a short space of time. In April 2017, she received an award for Teen Development Activist by Miss Teen Zimbabwe. In the same month, she was appointed into the Anti-Domestic Violence Council of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, she was nominated for a Giraffe Hero award for her work in October 2016. Prior to that, she was recognized by the World’s Children’s Prize Foundation in Sweden as one of the “ Outstanding Men and Women Fighting for Children’s Rights” in 2014 – getting recognition for placing the rights of the child at the centre.
She has also been invited as a speaker for many international events including the 3rd World Conference of Women’s Shelters in The Hague, Netherlands on “Community Based Approach to Sexual Violence”. In 2012, she was a guest speaker at the 2nd Women’s Conference on Shelters in the United States of America. She was also nominated as a Change maker by Girls Not Brides International. She is a qualified and experienced administrator and banker who worked for several years at ZB Bank in Zimbabwe. She holds a B Com in Human Resources, a diploma in Monitoring and Evaluation, a Diploma in ICT and several certificates in leadership, advocacy and governance.
Ekenia your work is being recognised globally, how does that feel?
The achievements that I have made within a short space of time are remarkable and even surprise me. I thank God, the girls themselves, the entire staff and board at SYS because my success is a result of their combined efforts. This recognition not only humbles me but also keeps me inspired to do the work we are doing for the girls and women. Nonetheless, with such recognition, my organization faces regular challenges mainly of having inadequate resources to keep supporting the girls and women as we keep receiving more reports of issues faced by community women and girls but cannot be able to attend to all of the needy cases.
I understand that most emerging organisations grapple with funding issues. Tell me how this vision came about?
I grew up with a passion for addressing the concerns of the girl child and protecting her from all issues that have the potential to destroy her dreams, hopes and full development. In the high-density suburb of Chitungwiza where I grew up, gross violence including sexual abuse of girls and women is what I came across daily. That gave me the courage to become the game changer I am today.
As a person who was raised in a benevolent family, that also gave me the impetus to be selfless and put other girls and women before my own needs.
The leadership journey which I am walking today began early in life through various leadership positions that I assumed during my early years as a school Head girl at Nyadire Mission, Youth Secretary at church among other influential positions. I also worked for a well-renowned girls empowerment organization for more than six years.
Tell me more about you as an individual.
Professionally, as the Founding Director of Shamwari Yemwanasikana (SYS), I have vast experience in developing innovative programmes; am deeply committed to improving the lives of girls and women with proven ability to provide team leadership, driving performance, programme improvement and quality initiatives. For several years, I worked as a girl child advocate steering girl child empowerment programmes at a well renowned Girls Rights organization called Girl Child Network.
Because of my relentless efforts fighting for girls rights, I was recently appointed by the Government of Zimbabwe to be a member of the Anti-Domestic Violence Council; where we are there to ensure that Zimbabwe is free from domestic violence in all its forms particularly in the lives of girls and women. To date, through the work we do at SYS, I have helped thousands of girls in need in Zimbabwe—girls who are victims of rape and other abuse, girls who are poor, girls who need counseling or education or access to the justice system or have escaped from childhood marriages.
So how does ShamwariYemwanasikana respond to these issues affecting girls that you mention here in detail?
The organization is a refuge for disadvantaged girls and a champion of their rights. SYS sponsors clubs for more than 350,000 girls. In the clubs, the girls get leadership skills, career guidance, and confidence building. They can take part in income-generating projects such as market gardening, basket weaving, and soap making.
Our programs offer victims of rape and abuse the help they need–psychological and legal support, referrals to shelters, and transportation to police stations, courts, and hospitals.
We also constantly lobby communities and schools for the eradication of practices that impede the girl child’s full physical, emotional, spiritual growth and development. SYS has implemented the World Children’s Programme in over 300 Zimbabwe schools and has partnered with Zimbabwe police for a campaign against sexual violence. The organization has led training that creates community champions for ending child marriages in Mbare since 2016. We also launched a campaign to provide sanitary pads to disadvantaged girls in the country.
Our work doesn’t ignore the importance of engaging boys and men in order to transform their attitudes and actions; SYS has established “men and boys’ forums” to educate males of all ages about protecting girls and ending child marriages.
Where does your inspiration come from? Do you have a mantra that you live by or people whose philosophies inspire you in your life?
My first inspiration is my mother. With no formal education, she taught me sensitivity and loyalty – how to love and to give. Am also inspired by a lot of my sisters who are ever fighting for women’s and girls rights. They are ever reminding me that it’s not yet over until it’s over.
The people surrounding me mostly inspire me and in that case the girls themselves inspire me to be the best ‘‘big girl’’ I can be!
I also get inspiration from my elder sister, she has touched the lives of many in her own local community such that I look up her to be a responsible woman who the girls can also look up to. I can also mention that my two daughters also inspire me to be a mother to any other girl who is in need. My husband is also very influential in my life as he has always been my pillar of support and often exhorts me to keep going. On the other hand, I also get inspiration from the good work that we do as an organization.
In this phenomenal work you do, what challenges do you face?
Not everyone in Zimbabwe is happy with my work. I face constant hostility from traditionalists and some church elders who view our work as a threat to their traditional norms, which include shunning modern medicines and discouraging girls from going to to school. Girls from traditional communities have been disciplined or threatened for attending our community meetings.
As a mentor for girls and fighter for women’s rights as well, what advice would you give to women and girls?
The advice that I would love to give girls and women is to never give up and to remain focused on their dreams and aspirations. Challenges will always be a part of life and the road will never be smooth or easy, thus one needs to be able to take on any challenge that they may face head on. We have to be able to stand on our own but being able to stand with others in wanting a common goal is also good. It’s never too late to pursue that goal that you have always desired, rise up and take a stand. You’re special and wonderful in your own way!