Ednah Masiyiwa, the director of the Women in Action Group, a lobby group for women’s rights is probably the longest serving director in the women’s movement. She has been with the organisation for 22 years, 12 of which she has spent at the helm of the organisation as a director. Ms Masiyiwa says her decision to hold the post for such a long time has not been motivated by the perceived grandeur – of four wheel drive vehicles, foreign trips and unlimited power perks normally associated with directors for NGOS.
She has remained at the helm of the organisation to further the cause of disadvantaged women across Zimbabwe.
“Working with disadvantaged women and bringing a positive change in their lives has been the driving force in my work.
“I enjoy what I do, and that has been the reason why I have stayed this long. There are no huge perks to talk about, as many would want to believe, but I just have a passion to work with women.
“I drive an ordinary car, have a plain office as you can see and I just live an ordinary life,” said Ms Masiyiwa in an interview recently.
She says her passion for advocacy work started more than 30 years ago when she trained and worked as a nurse at Harare Hospital soon after completing her Ordinary Levels at Tegwani Mission School.
It was while she was training for her Midwifery course (State Registered Nurse) that she resolved to become a community worker, after going through one of the modules that dealt with community advocacy.
Back then courses on advocacy and community work were not readily available but were included as extra training packages in care work programmes.
“It was during the training programme that it dawned on me that I could not continue with bed-side nursing. I realised I would be happy working in communities on different advocacy work.
That decision marked the beginning of her journey in advocacy work, where she has spent the better part of her life, giving moral and technical support to disadvantaged women across Zimbabwe.
Armed with diploma in health and education in addition to her nursing training, she left Harare Central Hospital and joined the Women in Action Group in 1992, as an assistant programme coordinator. She held the position for a year, before she was appointed health programme coordinator for WAG, dealing with health issues of women in identified communities.
“It was in the communities that I drew a lot of strength. I was encouraged and inspired to do more for women, who really needed help in their different but difficult circumstances, especially those abused by spouses and relatives,” she said.
For a decade, she worked tirelessly to uplift down –trodden women in different communities. It therefore did not come as a surprise for many, when was appointed the director of WAG in 2002, following the departure of Salina Mumbengegwi.
“I took over the organisation during the most difficult period. Donor funding had just dried up, it was not business as usual and things were getting very difficult,” said Ms Masiyiwa.
She took over at a time when there was mushrooming of non-governmental organisations, with some even duplicating activities of establishments that were already on the ground.
“It became very difficult to fundraise and provide leadership for programmes in such a competitive environment,” she recalled. Armed with experience, knowledge and skill in advocacy work, she rose to the occasion to ensure the survival of the organisation in such turbulent times.
“With donor funding drying up each day, we had to improvise and look at other avenues of making money, while ensuring that the objectives of the organisation were met,” she recalled.
Looking back, Ms Masiyiwa admits that the rebuilding the efforts, did not come on a silver platter, but was a result of hard work, determination and high level of ingenuity.
And the Zimbabwean community is grateful for her contribution to the plight of women, as attested by the number of accolades she has bagged over the years.
She was recently crowned the Manager of the Year –under the national contribution category by the Zimbabwe Institute of Management in recognition of her contribution and dedication to developing and promoting best practices in management and leadership.
“It is this kind of recognition and my passion to assist women that inspires me,” she said. However despite all her achievements in the non-governmental organisations, Ms Masiyiwa said working for a women’s organisation, has not been without challenges.
She has often been called names, labelled home wrecker for her vigilance in education women about their rights. She blames this kind of stigma to the mystification of work done by women’s organizations, within communities where they operate from.
“There are some communities and individuals who do not appreciate our work, which focuses on prevention of violence against women.
“They still think that women’s organizations want to break marriages and are lead by women of loose morals. But that is not true. Women’s organizations are doing a lot in alleviating sufferings in communities and empowering women in a number of ways.
“We are not discouraged, because we want to continue working with the communities” she said. Ms Masiyiwa however admits that although she enjoys her work, the environment can be very stressful.
“I am often confronted with traumatic situations where women have been abused, but are not willing to come out in the open, for fear of reprisal from relatives.
“That can be traumatising. The victims have to get help, but they can’t come out in the open. In such situations, I feel defeated, it drains me emotionally,” she said.
It is in situations like this, that she turns to God and family for both physical and spiritual support.
“I do get a lot of social support from my staff, the board, family, pastors and everyone from my church, Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (Hwisiri).”
Despite the dimension that the gender discourse has taken over the years, with some men refusing to buy into the discussion, arguing that gender is all about women, Ms Masiyiwa still believe that cause has not been lost.
“Although it is important to acknowledge and understand the differences, the best-case scenario for everyone is to look at strengths of women and men as an aggregate force and allow space of variant thinking, working styles, decision making approaches and ultimately capacity to lead.
Born in 1960, Ms Masiyiwa has three children and is a doting grandmother to three grandchildren.