Historical Overview of Women's Groups in Zimbabwe

Naume M. Ziyambi

Naomi Chazan and her associates have proposed five general categories by which to analyse and understand women's groups in Africa:

  1. Official Women's Associations
  2. Employment-based Groups
  3. Voluntary Groups
  4. Grassroots Groups
  5. Radical Feminist Groups

1. Official Women's Associations

Official Women's Associations are usually an umbrella association such as the All Women's Association of Ghana or the Organisation of Mozambican Women. These groups usually have a national character, with branches and affiliate groups nation-wide (Chazan et al. 1988). In some countries the women's branch of the ruling party occupies this position or exists alongside the former. The activities of Official Women's Associations are usually a reliable indicator of the official position on gender issues as they are in most cases administered and led by government officials, or wives of government officials, who tend to adhere closely to government policy. It is also common for such groups to receive some kind of subsidy from the government or ruling political party. In Zimbabwe, the ZANU (PF) Women's League would most approximate this type of organisation, particularly because of its links with the Ministry of National Affairs, | Employment Creation and Co-operatives.

2. Employment-based Groups

The employment-based groups are usually the women's sections of trade unions or professions with large numbers of women such as teaching and nursing. These groups aim to advance the interests of women members within specific professional sectors (Chazan et al. 1988). In Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA), the Indigenous Business Women's Organisation (IBWO) would fall into this category and more relevant to this study, the Federation of African MediaWomen-Zimbabwe. (FAMWZ also falls in other categories as will be shown later). Another example would be the Women's Section of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). Employment- based groups like Official Associations can be large with a national constituency, although they are likely to be based and more active in the urban areas where formal employment is concentrated. These groups can be more autonomous than Official Associations, operating along clear, self- perpetuating guidelines or constitutions and are often financed by member subscriptions as well as donor funds.

3. Voluntary Associations

Voluntary Associations provide services and engage in welfare activities such as offering training in basic skills, support networks and operating child care facilities. These associations often have close ties with international women's associations or religious institutions where they may receive funding or other assistance (Chazan et al. 1988). The majority of women's groups in Zimbabwe fall broadly into this category. Many welfare and community development groups associated with Christian and other religious groups, such as the Catholic Women's Clubs and the Hellenic Ladies Association, Dorcas Ladies and The Ruwadzano Movement, all aim to provide welfare services. More institutionalised groups include the Young Women Christian Association and the National Council of Negro Women. Although they act locally, it is common to find other like groups in many countries operating along similar principles.

4. Grassroots Groups

Grassroots groups are located in both rural and urban areas and are predominantly self-help groups that have grown out of local conditions to meet the specific needs of women (Chazan et al. 1988: 89). Two of the most prominent examples in Zimbabwe would be the various community AIDS support groups and Savings Clubs. These are usually very small groups with local interests and limited organisational capacity, partly because of limited finances. Grassroots groups often receive aid from other women's groups such as the Voluntary Associations.

5. Radical Feminist Groups

Radical feminist groups are made up of educated women "who have banded together to militate for basic changes in social attitudes towards their sex" (Chazan et al. 1988: 89). They also tackle specific issues such as legal education of women and campaign against abuses of women's rights. In Zimbabwe groups such as the Women's Action Group (WAG), Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) as well as the Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe (FAMWZ) would fall into this category. Relying mainly on international donor funds these groups are the most active towards decision-makers, utilising institutions such as parliament and the media to advance their interests. This means that they are mostly urban based. These groups are also very small partly because compared to men, there are very few educated women and not all of them engage in radical feminist politics.

[Ziyambi points out that, although these categories effectively describe the majority of women's groups in Zimbabwe, they have major weaknesses when applied to that country.]

References

Chazan, Naomi, R. Mortimer, J. Ravenhill, and D. Rotchild. Policies and Society in Contemporary Africa. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1988.


[From Naume M. Ziyambi, The Battle of the Mind: International New Media Elements of the New Religious Political Right in Zimbabwe. Oslo:University of Oslo, 1997, pages 32-34. Available from Department of Media and Communications [info@media.uio.no].


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Last Modified: 14 March, 2002