My name is Cleopatra. I am a black, Zimbabwean feminist. I am passionate about promoting and defending the rights of women. As many of you would know, this kind of identity and association with feminism, more often than not comes with a lot of backlash. Like other feminists, I have been labeled.Stereotyped. Called names.  Accused of all sorts of things. I have been blamed for keeping quiet when some people thought I should have spoken out and I have been blamed for speaking in instances where some people have felt I should have been silent. Even given this, I still believe in the cause of women. No doubt.

Like in all other countries, the fight for women’s rights has not been easy in my home country, Zimbabwe. Whilst a number of gains have been made over the years, they  have been eroded by many factors chief of which have been the political and economic crisis that has been obtaining in the country for over ten years now. It is sad to note that thirty three years after independence women are still under represented in decision making, violence against women is still rife and the media still hardly covers women’s issues. These are just but a few of the challenges women face in Zimbabwe.Given the different experiences of the women who have been active in the struggle in one way or another, some women have emerged stronger and more determined to go on with the struggle. However, it has also left many scarred and discouraged. A lot of effort continues to be directed towards changing the reality of women in Zimbabwe. Many of us are discontented about the situation of women and girls.

For just a moment today, I deliberately choose to ignore all the losses and disappointments regarding the struggle for women’s rights in my country. I am writing to celebrate the women who make up the movement of individuals committed to changing women’s lives in my country. I celebrate the women of Zimbabwe and those who for one reason or another might not be regarded as Zimbabwean but have been a part of the struggle for women’s rights in the country.

I salute the women who have worked tirelessly to push the women’s agenda but whose names may never be acknowledged in any speech nor written in any book. I celebrate the work done by unpaid care workers who walked countless miles to care for the terminally ill only to get back to their empty kitchens at the end of the day. I am also proud of those whose efforts to empower women have been publicly acknowledged.

I am grateful for the women who have made a choice to be active in politics. I celebrate their choice to run for political office and every contribution they have been able to make in pushing the women’s agenda in political spaces and processes. I am also proud of those sisters who up to today may not have yet gathered enough courage say a word in spaces where decisions, policies and laws are made. I salute those who have risen and spoken on the issues that society still chooses to turn a blind eye to and keep tight lipped about.

To those who have been accused of destroying homes and relationships at times when they have stood up or spoken in defense of women’s rights, I salute you. I respect the women who have shared their very personal and sometimes very sensitive stories of their life in an effort to inspire other sisters or to give life and face to the realities of women. I pay tribute to all those who have taken to the streets to demonstrate when they have felt the need to. I am proud of those that have represented women in different local, regional and international foras. I am proud of those that sit behind the desk in their private spaces or in the newsroom, those that stand behind the mic and on stages to give voice to the struggles of women.

I honor women who in the face of appalling political violence have refused to be silenced. Women who have not lost hope but continue to live even after being incarcerated, tortured, raped, infected with HIV and those that have birthed children whose fathers they will never know.

I salute the women who have tirelessly pushed the women’s agenda by putting a good word to open doors for another sister. I value the sisters who have and continue to make efforts to ensure there is funding for women’s rights work.

I pay tribute to every organization that has been established to make a contribution to improve the lives of women. I celebrate the diversity not only of the organizations  but also of the women that make up the movement.I am proud of the ones that identify themselves as feminists, the same way i am proud of those that want to contribute to the emancipation of women anonymously and those that would rather not be called anything. I celebrate all of you! I celebrate your commitment to the struggle for women’s rights.

I salute those that have mentored young women just to ensure the struggle is kept alive. I am proud of the women who continue to organize and build alliances. I salute the women who have been angered by the struggle itself, by the powers that be in how they have often let us down. I am proud of the women who at times have walked away or threatened to dissociate themselves with the struggle because of the disappointments and hurts that come with this part of this movement.  I salute you!

I salute every woman who has made a difference, no matter how small. I salute every woman who believes in the emancipation of women. I salute every sister who has made it possible, even in the simplest of ways to reach out to women.

Like Maya Angelou says “You make me proud to spell my name: W-O-M-A-N”.

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