Today we share with you an inspirational leadership experience of Ms.Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje. An African Feminist, Founder of Zimbabwe Young Women’s network for Peace Building, Youth Advisor for East Africa working with Action Aid Uganda, an alumni of the African Women leadership Institute (AWLI) and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) Feminist Training. In her story Grace narrates how she connected with amazing sisters, honed her feminist facilitation skills and shares thoughts on women’s empowerment and rights.
My name is Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje. I am a black African feminist without “ifs” nor “buts”. I do not state that to have racist intonations but to frame the consciousness of my politics as a woman. I am aged 34 years old and love the person I am becoming with each day. I juggle my roles of being employee at Action Aid Uganda where I am the Youth Advisor for East Africa, trailblazer with a growing organization I founded named Zimbabwe Young Women’s network for Peace building and now am exploring media with Lifezone with Grace – a talk show that is working towards amplifying African women’s voices to the world.
I have two children aged 8 and 5, Mandipa and Kunashe – boy and girl in that respect. My partner is Brian Nachipo –fantastic mate. I have academic qualifications in African Languages and Culture, an MA in Leadership and Management and soon will be completing my Doctoral studies on Gender, Feminism and Sexualities. I am a sporty person and I love nature, life, reading, personal leadership development and exploring new knowledge and cultures.
Today I share with you my experience as an alumnus of the OSISA feminist training who benefitted from the African Women’s Leadership Institute and my feminist journey up to date. Before joining I expected to mix and mingle with growing feminist leaders from all over Africa and that happened for me and more. I also connected with amazing sisters who were part of leading the training and gained many insights on personality development, self-mastery, feminist facilitation skills and how to lead myself and others in many respects. I got to understand what feminist leadership and facilitation means. The practicality of the training resonated deeply with whom I am and it made my soul tinge and dance in many respects too.
I learnt to lead myself better as a person, developed feminist facilitation skills and how to manage power so as to facilitate a process of empowering not just me but others as well. I have taken seriously the aspect of self-mastery and how that links with my daily struggles as a growing feminist leader. The faculty was amazing for me – I loved them all and each gave me a gift I will forever treasure in my life journey.
- Hope Chigudu was able to ground me on understanding feminist analysis of women’s lived realities and narratives. Her role in unpacking self-mastery was amazing and has stayed with me up to today
- Leah Chatta-Chipepa – I loved her link to feminism as a daily political practice and now I live each day holding onto feminism as an identity and truth for my life story
- Tsitsi and Shamillah Wilson– Helped me understand better on feminist facilitation and how to develop and hold safe space for women to participate
- Alice Kanengoni – she still has a way with linking the spiritual to feminism that I cannot get enough of; she has been a mentor, friend and sister until today. Phenomenal woman and feminist
Reflecting on my experience at the AWLI I am really drawn to speak about sisterhood and my journey as a resilient young African Feminist. Sisterhood is similar to Ubuntu for me. I am because we are and we are because I am. Although I do understand that sisterhood may be differing to different people, for me it has remained core to my being. I do what I can to support the sisters in my journey be it in person, on social media and however means possible. This helps me stay connected to them and this was made possible through the networks opened and created by my being part of the training program. Now I have sisters from all over Africa who I can call on at any moment for their solidarity, love, learning, care and support.
During the early stages of my feminist journey, one of my mentors told me to be true to myself. In order to manage my own contradictions and notions of feminist reality, I have sought to accept many feminisms that we each embrace and let others live with their choices even if I may not understand their narratives and lived realities. This has supported me to remain true to my authentic self and be able to live a life where I manage my own contradictions, struggles, conflicts and live a fulfilling life in a world where so much is decided on my behalf and other people want their story to be mine too. My wisdom to growing women is that they be true to who their essential self is and do exactly what their soul desires. They can become whoever they intend to be, yes the journey is frost with fear, confusion, pain, joys and whatever life hurls at you but in the end, it is about consciously choosing to become the best version of yourself. Do it!
I am who I am largely because of my mother Agatha Vera-Chirenje. She did not only give birth to me but she still is proud to call me her daughter in spite of all the radicalism and craziness about me. We have walked the journey of mother-child to true sister solidarity. Her story interweaves many women’s stories I have come across – she to me represents a lot of what I see, hear, am, work: she epitomizes a lot of impact at personal, community, national levels in her very own right. She is my heroine every day and as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2017 I chose to nominate her as the greatest impact society has ever seen.
Speaking about International Women’s Day, I am reminded of the Commission on the Status of Women 61. Let me speak to some of the critical issues that I think must be addressed to advance women’s empowerment in Africa. In order to facilitate for a process of empowerment for women in Africa, the first step for me would be to hear the women share in their voice what they are experiencing and they provide the answers of what they need. Supporting education that is women centered would be useful in “educating” women and also facilitating for women to be economically empowered according to their expressions and choices. Standing together in solidarity in regards to our many struggles and not working with women as a sexy and “in-thing” notion but actually facilitating for empowerment is meaningful in making these international commemorations and development processes transformative.
As African women mark international women’s day and prepare to engage in the CSW61 I would like to just point out that the work we do can be challenging and draining at the same time. And so I have chosen to share a few tips, I use that I think would be helpful energize and re-fuel ourselves for this kind of work. I do fitness training namely aerobics and weight lifting, I go for nature walks, I cry, smile, dance and sing, I journal, I meditate and pray, I read, I play board games like chess, draught and cards, I talk to friends and family. So my sister you can do whatever energizes or re-energizes to keep up with the pressure and remain relevant to the ever changing environment find ourselves trapped in.
Thank you for according me the opportunity to unwrap the beauty of my AWLI experience. I believe we each have a role to play in the struggle for gender equality and women’s rights in Africa. Whatever big or small contribution you can make certainly counts. I hope we can rely on each one of us to strengthen African women’s capacities to fully realize their potential beyond the “defined” parameters of womanhood.
Ms.Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje
Youth Advisor for East Africa working with Action Aid Uganda,
An alumni of the African Women leadership Institute