My battery-powered legacy

school_children_tablesThe photograph I love best of my mother and I is one in which she is holding my left hand and looking up at me, with smiling pride, from her office swivel chair. (Pictured: School children from Hatcliffe Primary School carry desks and
chairs donated to them by the co-Minister of Home Affairs Theres

That photograph was taken on a Sunday morning, almost 20 years ago. I was just eight. And though I have since misplaced the actual photograph, its composition remains vividly drawn in my mind.

As the committed news editor of one of Zimbabwes then most popular daily newspapers, my mother worked long hard hours even over weekends to ensure the news section of each edition was ready for the evening print deadline. I was often in her office keeping her company as she meticulously read through and edited the mounds of articles piled on her desk. I would either sit at her typewriter tapping my fingers through make-believe stories, or I would read the many dictionaries and encyclopaedias. I know this is how where my passion for writing came from.

My mother, Edna Machirori, is a phenomenal woman. Born in rural Manicaland and the second of seven girls, she grew up at a time when most young women faced limited education and career options, often becoming nurses, teachers or housewives. However, she defied all such expectations and instead pursued a career in the male arena of journalism.

Her passion was obvious, even at a young age when, after everyone else in her family went to sleep, she stayed up late to listen to the BBC newsfeeds from the wireless shortwave radio in my grandparents sitting room. Her father, my grandfather, would never reprimand her and in his own way encouraged her behaviour by religiously replacing the radios batteries whenever they wore out. Perhaps this is why, throughout my adolescence, my mother never commanded me to go to bed when she found me awake late at night cosying up with a book.

It was also during her youth that a teacher at my mothers primary school encouraged her to contribute articles to the students bulletin board. Her pieces were a hit and by the end of her secondary school education she had been referred to a newspaper group in Harare where she began work as a cadet reporter.

She eventually won a scholarship to study at the New York Institute of Technology, from where she graduated summa cum laude (the highest honour) in the late 1970s. Upon her return to the newly independent Zimbabwe, she took on that job as news editor, which later led to her appointment, in 1996, as the first female black editor of a public national newspaper.

This walk through my mothers life story might seem irrelevant, superfluous even. But I cannot celebrate a century of International Womens Day without first celebrating my own mother.

Why?

It is quite simple. If my mother had not been enabled and allowed to follow her lifes passion, there is a great likelihood you would not be reading these words.

While I appreciate that my passion for writing may have manifested anyhow, I cant overlook the fact that having a role model such as my mother helped me find this passions full articulation and celebration at a very early age. Having already fought against many of the gender stereotypes that come with being a female journalist, my mother made it much easier for us kids to forge our way through this thorny field.

This years International Womens Day commemorates 100 years of womens efforts towards gender equality and equity. It also coincides with the launch of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN Women for short, an agency launched earlier this year.

It is my hope that this agency will help to propel more women into positions of power and authority while placing pressure on national governments to effect gender-transformative social, political and economic change. In a speech at the recent Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), UN Womens Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, noted that even within the UN system itself, gender parity is still an unreached ideal. At policy formulation level, women only constitute 28% of the UN systems workforce.

But today I want to sing of the heroines of this struggle so far; women who had no international agencies or policies to support their efforts, women who grew up before the ubiquity of the new social media platforms which have consolidated transnational advocacy, before even the spread of traditional media channels. Facing patriarchy at its most brutal, these women still chose, as the famous Chinese proverb states, to hold up half the sky.

My mother is one of those women, the epitome of what access to education and support systems can yield, not only for that one woman, but for the many who follow behind her. This momentous years theme reminds us that equal access to education, training, science and technology is a pathway to decent work for women. I am a living example of this, as are many other women.

And so on this day, I thank my mother for her courageous example. But I also thank my grandfather, who replaced that radios batteries and fed the fire of a legacy that burns even today. – Fungai Machirori is a Zimbabwean writer currently based in the UK. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Series special series for the centenary of International Womens Day

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