I LANDED IN PARIS, FRANCE AND HEADED STRAIGHT TOWARDS THE ÉLYSÉE – NEAR TO THE EIFFEL TOWER I’D SEEN ONLY IN PHOTOS – TO TAKE ONE IMPORTANT MESSAGE STRAIGHT TO THE TOP: WE NEED ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE SO WE CAN WIPE OUT CRIES OF HUNGER, NOT CROPS.
I come from Gutu district in Zimbabwe. I married in 1984 and became an assistant teacher in the same school as my new husband which gave us both a great sense of pride and status in our community, as back then teachers were a symbol of leadership and very much respected in society. We started our married lives together tutoring students, motivating and supporting them to work hard – even if we knew they may not secure what we may call ‘as white collar’ jobs. Our lives felt full of promise.
This dream didn’t last long, as our culture and tradition in Zimbabwe expects women to focus more on household chores and duties. I had to leave teaching and focus more on providing food for my family – which meant farming, cattle herding, and looking after both my own son and also my husband’s family, his 3 younger brothers and 3 younger sisters.
My husband and I were only given a small piece of land as a young couple, which was not enough to feed the whole family – and on top of that we didn’t have enough money to buy the things we needed to increase our crop yield.
I spent my days and nights knitting jumpers, brewing beer to sell and crushing peanuts by hand to make peanut butter to sell. I worked for better-off families on their farms – and I earned just about enough to send my son to primary school. But there wasn’t much for anything else.
LEAVING MY SON
My husband passed away when my son was just 10 years old. As a young widow, more challenges piled on top of my already difficult existence. Widowhood brings a stigma in our country, especially at such a young age, and I was under pressure from traditional and cultural expectations to marry my husband’s brother, whom I raised when I married my husband. I didn’t – so I was sent back to my birth family, but was forced to leave my son behind. The stigma meant I could never marry again. I was welcomed with open arms back into my father’s home, who stood by me, and encouraging me to look at farming as a business of my own. He also motivated me to use my teaching skills to facilitate health care trainings, working with NGOs like Oxfam to educate my community on HIV and the prevention of other diseases.
A CHANGING CLIMATE
Now I’m campaigning for more irrigation systems in my region as the rain pattern over the past decade has been so erratic – to an extent that at times it may fall so hard and flood the crops, but at other times it may come and go earlier than expected, and everything dries out. Such unreliable rainfall pattern has driven us to adapt – but also to call for help. We need all heads of state to support us to adapt so we can wipe out cries of hunger, not crops. We need support so we can continue to make enough money to put our children in school, to care for our communities at health centres, to drink clean water and to protect ourselves from waterborne diseases like malaria and cholera.
I am an empowered and employed woman, and very passionate about sharing and exploring ways to support other women, young widows and young generations who are currently being suppressed by our cultural and traditional expectations we’re subject to. My message to my community, and all women and people across the world is to work hard to get through the many difficulties we face – and crucially to come together, and unite against the negative forces of climate change.
I HAD A DREAM OF MEETING PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE IN FRANCE AND TELLING HIM THIS DIRECTLY ABOUT THE SUPPORT THAT WOMEN FARMERS NEED- AND I DID. NOW I FEEL LIKE I HAVE A HUGE OPPORTUNITY – AND RESPONSIBILITY – TO RAISE MY VOICE FOR ME, FOR MY COUNTRY AND FOR THE WHOLE NATION OF AFRICA. IT IS A GREAT HONOUR – AND RESPONSIBILITY – AS A FARMER, AND A WOMAN FARMER IN PARTICULAR, TO RAISE MY VOICE FOR MYSELF, MY COUNTRY AND FOR ALL OF AFRICA.