On June 6th I had the privilege of meeting Jenni Williams who is a strong and courageous woman who has selflessly devoted her life to fighting for the rights of her brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. During our meeting Jenni spoke to me about her successes as the executive director of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). She informed me that over the past 9 years WOZA has mobilized over 80, 000 men and women in Zimbabwe and has sparked dignity, bravery and protest in the name of human rights.
Later that evening I attended a lecture that Jenni delivered at Carleton University. She explained to the audience that the Government of Zimbabwe is primarily concerned with obtaining perpetual power and as a result chooses to ignore issues such as unaffordable tuition fees, sewage backups and water shortages. Jenni, who was well aware that anyone who did speak out on these issues would be considered an enemy of the state, decided that WOZA would go into the streets, as the mothers and women of the nation, and demand social justice. Through strategic non-violent demonstrations, members of WOZA found ways to empower themselves, and they continue to go out into the streets and tell people to choose love over hate.
One question that Jenni once asked herself was why so many Zimbabweans are living in the diaspora? Why are the policemen, teachers and doctors leaving Zimbabwe? She later recognized that this was largely do to the fact that Zimbabweans are refugees in their own nations and are therefore inclined to leave Zimbabwe and settle in the diaspora.
I strongly believe that I am a better person for having met Jenni. Upon departing, she presented me with a scarf that matches the one she so proudly wears. She explained that the scarf, which features a striking rose, symbolizes what WOZA stands for, stating, “The people in Zimbabwe want bread and roses because we deserve the beautiful things, too.” I am truly touched by Jenni’s thoughtful gift and wear it with pride not only for the women of Zimbabwe but for women all around the world whose lives are plagued with violence and injustice.
Before Jenni left, she informed me that she had been in jail 38 times and had many scars on her body from the beatings she received. I looked at her with sadness and fear in my eyes, but she responded to my concern defiantly by stating, “When you hit a woman, you hit a rock; they will never break me.”
Senate Chamber Statement – Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Role of Ms. Jenni Williams – Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise