Jessie Majome: No shrinking in the shadows

“I was made to feel like a bad girl,” says Jessie Majome, deputy minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development.

Jessie Majome
Jessie Majome

Majome is describing how she became a gender activist in her teen years at Goromonzi High School. The authorities were not impressed when she used the headmaster’s question time to ask why girl pupils were locked in their dormitories while boys could “roam freely”.

Much to her surprise, Majome was reprimanded for speaking out. But it didn’t stop her. “The chauvinistic culture at the school started me on the path to feminist activism,” she recalls.

Undaunted, she transferred to Gokomere High to do her A-levels: only to encounter the same situation. Girls were treated like “secondary citizens”, and forced to “shrink into the shadows”.

It was no better at the University of Zimbabwe, where Majome studied law in the early 1990s. Women students were not only sexually harassed by male students, but also faced discrimination in the allocation of campus accommodation. Majome launched a petition and collected enough signatures to convince the authorities that the system needed to be overhauled.

No wonder she gravitated towards politics, becoming the first female lawyer to be elected to the Zimbabwean Parliament.

“Majome is an inspiration to young women in Zimbabwe because she has succeeded in a predominantly male political field, and is a champion for gender equality and women’s rights,” saysPatricia Kuzomba, spokesperson for theWomen in Politics Support Unit. She believes that Majome’s “drive and passion” will encourage many more women to follow in her footsteps.

“I love having the opportunity to influence the way things are run in this country – in government, parliament and in my own immediate community,” says Majome. “It’s quite an honour to contribute towards making a difference in my own humble way.”

But Majome’s situation in the ministry of Women’s Affairs and Gender is far from simple. She is a member of MDC-T. The minister, Olivia Muchena, is Zanu(PF). To what extent do their political differences over-ride their common desire for gender justice? Majome’s initial response is upbeat. “It’s very easy to find common ground because women’s issues know no political party. They cut across all distinctions: political affiliation, class, race, and social categories,” she says.

Asked to comment, Muchena sounds equally positive: “We have worked together on the constitution-making process on gender issues. It will be evident when the constitution is out.”

But Majome admits that Zimbabwe’s “very difficult and polarised politics” sometimes “gets in the way” of effective action.

“One of the biggest problems that women experience is politically motivated, gender-based violence. I have met women who were systematically raped by Zanu (PF) supporters. Such issues are very sensitive,” she adds. As a member of MDC-T, Majome says she has “no access to the ministry’s machinery,” and is forced to be just “a women’s rights activist” at times.

“The coalition is clumsy, awkward, bizarre. It gets in the way of effective public administration. But look, it has its role. It brought a modicum of peace and economic stabilisation. But in terms of providing opportunities for national government, definitely not.”

When political life becomes too stressful, Majome finds comfort in her first love: music. She somehow finds time to sing in her church choir, and is an avid fan of female musicians like Chiwoniso.

South Africa’s current singing sensation, Zahara, is another favourite. “She radiates the persona of a young African woman who is proud of her Africaness,” says Majome. “Look at her great big Afro. That’s a powerful statement!”

Majome looks forward to a time when Zimbabweans can “vote for the government of their choice.” Meanwhile, she focuses on making positive changes at constituency level – especially in the lives of women. She has improved education and health facilities in her Harare West wards, and has introduced an alternative water supply.

“When there are shortages, it is women who suffer the labour of having to look for water, and the trauma of not having water in the house,” she says.

So what is her vision for the country’s future? “I want Zimbabwe to be a place where each man, woman, boy and girl can be the best that they can be. Where they can be free to live the life they want.”

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