Cover Image
close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderSession four - lessons of experience
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentLessons of experience
View the documentDiscussant remarks
View the documentFloor discussion
View the documentSpecial address - ending hunger: a global concern

Discussant remarks

Sekai Holland

The Association of Women's Clubs (AWC) is forty three years old this year Founded by a school teacher, Helen Vera Mangwende, the AWC has 40,000 membres, 80 percent of whom live in rural Zimbabwe, organized around 1,789 projects and clubs The AWC's focus is on skills training for disadvantaged women to equip them to improve themselves and the performance of their duties in the household and in community development Since 1986 the AWC has operated programs in the five Mozambique refugee camps to teach women refugees the same courses available to local AWC members Returning refugees and groups in other Southern African Development Community countries have requested that the AWC come to their countries to assist them to set up similar development structures. The AWC and women in Manica Province, Mozambique, have one project they are now implementing jointly.

Although Zimbabwean women were fully involved in the sixteen-year War of Liberation for independence, thirteen years later, while Zimbabwean women have made significant legal gains they have lost on many fronts in the household, in the community, and nationally. For example, there were women who were full cabinet ministers in 1980, but now there are none Women have lost their ministry, which is now a department in the President's Office. Women are no longer a pressure group in Zimbabwe These losses have intensified the need for strengthening women's NGOs.

Since 1980 the Zimbabwean government has made every effort to ensure the adoption of sound food security strategies to end hunger in every household However, persistent droughts, the AIDS pandemic, the prolonged global recession, the collapse of the communist bloc in Europe coupled with the flight of aid from Africa to Eastern Europe, the rise of racism and sexism despite the current popular positive rhetoric on the African woman's burden on the work front, and the intro auction of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) are some of many factors that have hindered progress Organizations such as the AWC have therefore been forced to restructure to meet their members' needs in this new situation The AWC has also incorporated a Drought Preparedness, Food, Nutrition, and Health Project as an integral part of its new Five-Year Programme (1992-97) to ensure that when the next drought strikes, its members do not suffer as they did the last time.

The AWC's Drought Preparedness, Food, Nutrition, and Health Project is a direct result of members' experiences during the recent drought, the ESAP, and the present steady spread of the AIDS pandemic through Zimbabwe The AWC has 1,440 small agricultural projects that include gardening, piggeries, rabbit and goat rearing, cattle fattening, and poultry production In the new program these are divided into two categories along with water and sanitation projects. In the first category members are trained to grow crops and raise animals and poultry for daily domestic consumption, and in the second they develop their activities into business ventures.

For example, with a US$100 donation, members of the Zvishavane Agricultural Women's Training Centre bought 150 day-old chicks, feed, and medication. The chickens were sold at eight weeks and some profit made. The proceeds were reinvested into purchasing 200 more chicks, and the cycle continues. In this small way the centre modestly embarked on the Food, Nutrition, and Health Project The Training Centre is in the dry belt, where such projects are part of the district's food security. The members are now developing this small project into a business venture and plan to set up a modern chicken factory to slaughter and dress chickens supplied daily by each member.

The AWC also had a successful Mother and Child Care, Family Planning Project with the Marie Stoppes Foundation, a British-based organization, and other partners that trained 200 locally based AWC area trainers in reproductive health and child care. The new AWC AIDS Awareness Project relies on this resource. Zvishavane members have long requested the setting up of a clinic focusing on AIDS, hence the "Health" in their Food, Nutrition, and Health Project at the Training Centre One hundred and eighty AWC AIDS shelters are planned to provide members with information and education.

As a model for ambitious business ventures members are inspired by an AWC club in Masvingo region that has built its own candle making factory This club decided to diversify its business interests from handicrafts, agriculture, and other activities associated with women's work, and has so far succeeded in realizing its dream It has created jobs for its community in Masvingo.

The AWC story is one of grassroots women's struggle, courage, and the resilience to open up space for women's participation in development at ale levels of society for more than four decades by strengthening the operations of their organization. In reviewing the past we realized the value of reinforcing the gains already made.

The AWC taught the women self-reliance mechanisms such as electing a committee and selecting one trainable person among them with leadership and literacy skills, that would be designated as an area trainer and would be trained each year. Its new structure is decentralized so as to provide an organization for rural women run by themselves m their own villages and for their own benefit to provide an environment for women to socialize with one another, and to provide them with skills training to equip them to carry out their diverse activities.

The experience of working through donor financed projects and having accounting systems that were different for each donor led to the AWC becoming accountable to the donors and not to its members. The AWC has now developed internal systems to make it accountable to both members and donors The donors must also accept that there is a policy change by the AWC from the welfare type of project previously favored by donors to the new AWC, which has a development program where by projects are being developed for specific regional, district, and club situations and needs over the next five years.

There is a saying in rural Zimbabwe that you can tell AWC members' families because they are the healthiest and best looking, best dressed, and best fed in the village The homes of members are the cleanest in every village. Their crops and animals are the healthiest and best looked after. Songs and drama by village youths, male and female, and by members all revolve around the importance and successes of clubs' work in rural Zimbabwe.

African women have always been partners in development, although they have not been regarded as such since colonialism For example, when the country was occupied in 1890 by the Pioneer Column, the leader of the tough resistance they faced was an African woman, Nyakasikana Nehanda. When NGOs were first started in the 1920s, women took this opportunity to found their own NGOs to improve society. African women refused to dissolve their organizations and chose to restructure and adjust them to changing environments as illustrated by the AWC's restructuring exercise. Yet these brave efforts have not significantly improved women's status in Zimbabwean society.

Despite the Zimbabwean government's brave efforts to explain the benefits of the ESAP, AWC members continue to be increasingly hard hit by it The average per capita income of AWC members is Z$33 per year Retrenchment of workers has devastated members as many are affected by the loss of remittances from relatives working in towns The removal of subsidies without alternative measures to support those least equipped to help themselves has brought hunger back into the streets and homes of Zimbabweans and has introduced the new element of street kids everywhere. Girls have been removed from school and many pushed into prostitution in this AIDS pandemic to earn income to help meet their families' needs. The list of negative drastic changes caused by the ESAP grows daily with the reintroduction of medical and school fees. The number of Zimbabwean women dying in childbirth has doubled since the introduction of the ESAP. AWC members believe that the ESAP has prevented their new program from full implementation to date.

The North says that major funding should be directed to NGOs and African women at the grassroots level. The AWC, a community-based organization, has relied on members' participation to produce a comprehensive, people-centered program based on the needs of 40,000 African women who are among the poorest of Zimbabwe’s poor. The AWC needs seed money now for the new program to take off The World Bank will hopefully Listen, study, and learn from the experiences of the AWC and other NGOs and introduce policies and programs that will have people-centered adjustment programs based on participation of the world's poorest to approve them and their societies.