Don’t be intimidated, Majome urges women

One of the major milestones of this decade is the increasing recognition the world over of gender equality as a development goal. Women everywhere are rising up to claim their stake in formerly male-dominated spheres such as politics, science and business. There still remain huge gender gaps, but it is important to flag up some of the achievements made so far as part of monitoring and motivating progress. With that in mind we profile Jessie Majome as an inspiring role model:

Role model Jessie Majome: The chance to make a real difference.
Role model Jessie Majome: The chance to make a real difference.

Jessie Majome’s list of achievements is formidable. The MDC-T MP for Harare West and Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development holds the accolade of being the first woman lawyer to be elected to parliament, and with her drive and energy it is easy to see why.

The 41-year-old mother of two was born in Harare and studied law at the University of Zimbabwe before going on to open her own law firm Jessie Majome, Gonese & Co. She devoted much of her time to fighting for the rights of hundreds of MDC activists being persecuted by Zanu (PF) from the 2000 Presidential elections in Matabeleland North, before being asked to stand for office in local government in 2003.

Her campaigning spirit was evident from a young age.

She said: “Since childhood, I have been outspoken on matters of fairness and justice. I challenged racial oppression at primary school in the early eighties, gender oppression at high school in the late eighties and early nineties, and at UZ, where I also served on the Student Representative Council (SRC)’s legal committee and founded The Gender Forum a pressure group for ending sexual harassment on campus.”

She went on to become the youngest female commissioner in the Constitutional Commission in 1999 for her work in women’s and human rights organisations.

But the Deputy Minister, who sings in the church choir, plays chess and studies Karate in what little spare time she has, said she has had to fight every step of the way for her impressive achievements. “As a woman politician I have encountered negative stereotyping, sometimes not being taken seriously. I resolved these issues by not being deterred, and instead strategically and relentlessly pursuing my goals.

“I am the first ever woman lawyer to be elected to Parliament. I was elected Councillor and ‘Mayor’ at 31. I successfully influenced my party to adopt a quota system for women candidates for the 2008 elections,” she told The Zimbabwean.

If that was not impressive enough, this formidable woman also saw to it that the Ministry of Justice adopt measures that caused the prisoner mortality rate, driven mainly by malnutrition, to fall by 90 per cent. She set up an internal Anti-Corruption Committee to combat corruption at courts and other ministry facilities, and chaired a committee on the setting up of a family court system to increase access to justice for women and children.

And she is passionate about seeing other young women have the same opportunities she has had by improving education and health facilities in her ward in Harare West. She has ensured that boreholes have been sunk at Marlborough Clinic because “the brunt of water shortages is borne by women” as well as ensuring local schools, including a school for the deaf, have electricity and night courses are available for women who have had to drop out or stop their education.

Majome urges more women to become involved in politics, advising them not be intimidated by what may seem to be a male-dominated arena. She admits “the removal of violence and intimidation from our politics will be the biggest boost for women’s participation in politics,” but urges women: “Firmly decide what you want to do and achieve in politics. Map out your route, seek strategic alliances. Dock in with the political party of your choice. There are plenty of opportunities for women.

“Be true to yourself – there is no need to ‘sell your soul to the devil’ or forfeit your femininity. It’s simply not true that politics itself is a dirty game- instead it is the serious and necessary business of influencing the course of our society, hopefully for the better. Study your terrain, and go for it.”

The rewards are immense and Majome is inspired by her achievements. For her, the future of Zimbabwean politics is bright and there is a chance to make a real difference. She said: “I am inspired by the ever-present opportunities to influence change for the better in how our country is run – the chance to make a difference in lives. I’m also inspired by the values of integrity, hard work, professionalism and pursuit of excellence that my parents instilled in me.”

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