mardi 7 février 2012

The BBC News website asked some of the continent's influential female personalities for their views on the role of women in contemporary Africa.

Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)

African writer and director Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Mutoko in colonial Rhodesia, but at the age of two she moved with her parents to England. She returned to her homeland in 1980 just before it became Zimbabwe under black-majority rule.

Tsitsi's writing debut Nervous Conditions was the first novel to be published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman and won her the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989.

Some of her film credits include Neria, Zimbabwe's most successful movie of 1993 which received the International Black Cinema Award in Berlin, and Everyone's Child which was shown worldwide at various festivals and more recently Elephant People.

What is the role of women in Africa today?

The role of African women has not changed much. We bear children, make and manage homes, earn our living, contribute to the running of society.

What has changed is the context. In today's post modern information age, we are coping with new problems of isolation, disintegration of traditional networks and support systems and the increasing pace of life.

What challenges do they face?

I think one problem is a lack of unity amongst women

Challenges are economic and social. The latter being in terms of the roles women are assigned in society.

The economic situation is worsening by the day as a result of the market economy that determines access to and distribution of commodities.

Traditionally women have been excluded from economically viable positions in society, and women are having to challenge this exclusion constantly.

Great gains have been made, but the challenge is still with us.

Are enough women in positions of power throughout Africa?

Absolutely not.

Scene from Elephant People directed by Tsitsi Dangarembga

In Zimbabwe we are pleased to have a woman vice-president.

Even though the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region has agreed on quotas for representation of women in parliament, none of the countries has fulfilled these quotas.

I think one problem is a lack of unity amongst women. Vying for scarce resources, women tend to see the other woman as a threat.

The fact that the Zanu-PF Women's League had agreed on and united to back a candidate for the vice-presidency, shows that unity between women can achieve significant results for women.

Do you think African women are empowered to bring about change?

I think we have the potential but we have to organise ourselves.

Women are not often given recognition for outstanding work they do in their fields

Organisation is lacking.

There are a lot of reasons. One is the perennial woman's problem of time.

This is particularly true as women are carrying out multiple roles as bread winners, wives and mothers.

The other problem is lack of resources. It is very difficult for groups formed by African women to obtain the funds they need whether from their own countries or abroad.

Finally women are not often given recognition for outstanding work they do in their fields.

This is frequently due to male domination in the fields, but also due to jealousy and lack of unity on the part of women.

In what way do you think women can bring about change most successfully?

I think the most accessible path to change is to be a role model in everything one does. I can't say I live up to this, but I try.

Book cover for Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Tsitsi's debut novel book cover (Seal Press)

This doesn't cost anything and it inspires young people to behave in more positive ways.

If women uphold the values of honesty, fairness and diligence in all our activities this would definitely have impact.

Apart from being a role model, women have to learn to speak out about their lives, their experiences and their visions.

Women are still very afraid to raise their voices for fear of victimisation, or when they speak, they do not speak from their personal woman's truth but say what they think possessors of needed resources would want them to say.

Finally, again women have to organise in whatever area they are active in.

I personally got fed up with the way women were being portrayed in the motion picture images that we see in Zimbabwe (both of local and international origin), so I got involved in Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ) which works to create a space for women's cinema narrative.

This year we are going regional.

Are women's voices being heard?

I personally do not think women's voices are being heard at adequate volume nationally, or internationally.

Women still want to get married, and always will

It is very difficult for a woman to rise to a position where she has national and international recognition. Often, on the way, the women's struggle takes a back seat as she struggles for survival.

Once a woman has secured a position, she is also aware of the national problems which need to be tackled. It is therefore often difficult to emphasise women's issues when there are many pressing national issues.

I think the bottom line is that as Africa gets poorer, women are going to suffer.

This is certainly the case in Zimbabwe, and there is great widespread resentment at those who control the world's resources for putting the country in this position.

What stigmas or taboos prevent women having a stronger voice and if so, what could change this?

Women still want to get married, and always will.

Thus women often tend to present themselves as good potential or actual wives by adopting meek and submissive ways of behaving.

I think upbringing can change this.

Women are often afraid to excel because they believe this will cast them in a threatening image. Women need to be told from an early age that they can excel.

What should the role of women be in future generations?

I think women have to think about defining a new femininity or womanliness.

Women as well as men should start wanting to stand for what is positive and life affirming, even in times of hardship

There has been lots of talk about the new man in the past couple of decades. But I think women need to redefine themselves too.

Adopting 'masculine' behaviours has often been seen as being necessary for women to progress.

This, I think, combined with the extreme stress of living in Zimbabwe at the moment make women very prone to committing all sorts of anti social behaviours and crimes.

I do not believe women should be the only custodians of a nation's values. The whole nation has to participate in creating, practising and protecting its values.

Women as well as men should start wanting to stand for what is positive and life affirming, even in times of hardship.

What inspires you?

Zimbabwe's Vice-President Joyce Mujuru (AFP/Getty Images)
Vice-President Joyce Mujuru is an inspiration to Tsitsi

Currently, one thing that inspires me is the solidarity within SADC as Zimbabwe goes through a difficult period.

Without this support from SADC, Zimbabwe would be in an even worse position.

I am also inspired by Vice-President Mujuru. Her ministries have always been known to run smoothly and she has been able to consolidate her position without posturing and rhetoric.

Margaret Dongo, also a politician, who had sufficient courage of her convictions to leave Zanu-PF and stand as an independent is also an inspiration.

Our political situation is so highly charged at the moment, that inspirations tend to be political.

I look forward to getting back to normal so as to draw inspiration from other areas of life.

We have to unite and support each other

I was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso recently for the African film festival. The president of Burkina Faso came to the opening and closing ceremonies and presented the main trophy.

That was inspirational, to see a government involved in matters of peace that broaden the human spirit, and to see the importance that culture, in the form of cinema, is accorded in that country.

What would your message be?

Unity. We have to unite and support each other.

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