WOZA’s Jenni Williams honored

The USA’s State department held it’s inaugural International Women of Courage Awards as part of the month-long commemoration of Women’s History month. Jenni Williams, the national coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA) was among the ten recipients of the award.

In the first ceremony of its kind at the U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice March 7 paid tribute to 10 women from around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership. The honorees represented Afghanistan, Argentina, Indonesia, Iraq, Latvia, Maldives, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

At the awards presentations, Rice congratulated the women for their “dedication, commitment and passion.” She said their work is transforming societies and serving as an inspiration to the international community.

The awardees are Jennifer Louise Williams of Zimbabwe; Siti Musdah Mulia of Indonesia; Ilze Jaunalksne of Latvia; Samia al-Amoudi of Saudi Arabia; Mariya Ahmed Didi of Maldives; Susana Trimarco de Veron of Argentina; Mary Akrami of Afghanistan; Aziza Siddiqui of Afghanistan; Sundus Abbas of Iraq; and, Shatha Abdul Razzak Abbousi of Iraq.

They were selected from 82 women of courage who were nominated by U.S. embassies worldwide.

Acknowledging that the road to equal rights is a “long journey,” Rice thanked the awardees for combating attempts to dehumanize women. The secretary shared with the audience the wisdom on a T-shirt she was given by Kuwaiti women when they won the right to vote that said: “Half a democracy is no democracy at all.”

Ms. Williams is as deserving a recipient of the award as any other after what she continues to subject herself to in Zimbabwe for the sake democracy. Violet Gonda, our friend at SW Raidio Africa aptly surmises the important role Williams has played in keeping Zimbabwe’s civic activism going,

Many said she was on a road to nowhere with her street protests and various efforts to resist the most brutal government clamp down on free expression in our time, but Jenni Williams – with the other Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) – has soldiered on regardless. She has been imprisoned, beaten, battered and suffered head lice in detention so many times she had to shave her head.

For the last five years, however, Williams has been an inspiration for peaceful campaigners throughout the world.

She truly is a hero in her own right. She has taken a loose coalition of women and turned it into the mainstay and inspiration of Zimbabwe’s entire civil disobedience movement. WOZA kept growing when the MDC faltered and split into two factions. WOZA has been so effective that in this highly paternal culture, some men have started to come out in support of WOZA. Williams has played no small part in all of that.

However, without taking anything away from Williams, I can’t help but mention that Zimbabwe is being held together by millions of women like her. Unlike many of their errant male counterparts, Zimbabwe’s women have stepped up to the challenge of fending for their families despite the collapsing economy and the plethora of dilapidated social institutions. The sad thing about most of these other women is that they often go it with little or no recognition for the valor and resilience. It is these women, who rise early everyday to scrounge up food for their families before they leave for work and school. During the day, these women toil endlessly to gather firewood and other inputs so they have a meal for their families at dinner. And at the end of the day, it is these women who are beaten, verbally abused, and worst of all, exposed to deadly diseases like AIDS all because of their loyalty to their children and families.

We cannot forget the important role these women play too. We must not forget the other women of Zimbabwe too.

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