First Lady’s philanthropic work inspires global community into action Angel of Hope Foundation board member Mrs Leya Mnangagwa who was representing First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa delivers a speech while flanked by Zimbabwe’s permanent representative to the United Nations Ambassador Albert Rangarirai Chimbindi, Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, and President of the senate Mabel Chinomona during the 68th session of the Commission on Status of Women in New York yesterday.

Tendai Rupapa in NEW YORK, United States

CAPTIVATING and inspiring.

These words aptly capture the feelings and experiences of dignitaries who were inspired by First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa’s inclusive multi-pronged empowerment initiatives that have transformed the lives of women and girls at the Zimbabwe event held on the sidelines of the 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

The event was held under the theme, “Safe Spaces Catalysing Women and Girls Social and Economic Security: A Case of Collaboration between Government, Civil Society Organisations and Development Partners in Zimbabwe”.

The high-level event which was attended by heads of missions, experts in women’s issues, civil society organisations, the Zimbabwe delegation and other foreign dignitaries, was oversubscribed, resulting in some guests following proceedings while standing since no one could afford to miss the proceedings because the First Lady’s name and programmes through her Angel of Hope Foundation, are now popular across the globe due to her hands-on approach and hard work.

The mother of the nation was invited as Guest of Honour to the event in recognition of her unparalleled commitment to empowering womenfolk by providing them with safe spaces, skills and resources to participate fully in the country’s macro-economic development.

A documentary detailing Dr Mnangagwa’s breathtaking works and social interventions was beamed while a magazine with the same content was distributed, giving the world a glimpse into what she is doing for the people of Zimbabwe, mainly women and the girl child.

Amai Mnangagwa has become synonymous with the economic emancipation of women to restore their dignity and ensure they respectably raise their families without venturing into vices like prostitution and drug abuse.

Guests were awestruck and showered praises on the First Lady whom they said was setting a good example for other First Ladies across the globe.

Others expressed their willingness to visit Zimbabwe on a benchmarking mission.

Part of the delegates who attended Zimbabwe’s side event on the sidelines of the 68th session of the Commission on Status of Women in New York yesterday.

They said the First Lady had placed Zimbabwean women on the pedestal of success across many sectors.

In a speech read on her behalf by Mrs Leya Mnangagwa, a board member from Angel of Hope Foundation, the First Lady said it was every citizen of the world’s responsibility to ensure women and girls live in environments free from violence, discrimination and fear.

She said she felt honoured to be part of the meeting, a very important United Nations annual calendar event where nations gather to reflect on how they have lived up to the commitments they have made towards the upliftment of the lives of women and girls. 

“While the Concept of Safe Spaces is considered an emerging global concept, allow me to share that for us in Zimbabwe the Concept of Safe Spaces is a long-standing tradition that has deep roots in our culture and traditional practices.

“Concerned by the plight of survivors of gender-based violence, orphans, the homeless and the vulnerable, on my assumption of the role of the First Lady, I considered it key to put in place initiatives that strengthen and reignite the socio-economic security of women and girls and the vulnerable. Most of the initiatives are underpinned by the positive aspects of our culture and the concept of safe spaces, the theme of this event,” she said.

Dr Mnangagwa said it was in recognition of the power that tradition and customs play in building communities that she introduced the Gota/Nhanga/Ixhiba programme. 

“The concept of Gota/Nhanga/Ixhiba is a replica of our modern-day Safe Space initiatives. Traditionally, through the Nhanga/Gota/Ixhiba boys and girls were brought to discuss issues of concern separately while being guided by the elders of the same sex. I resuscitated this concept by going around the country, engaging girls and boys separately and empowering them with information on sexual and reproductive health rights as well as teaching them the importance of respecting themselves, their families and their communities. This programme has gone a very long way in building families and communities.

“In the same vein, working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, I also engaged in interactive sessions with adolescents on issues around child abuse, early marriages, teen pregnancies, drug abuse and bullying in schools while at the same time distributing safe sanitary wear for adolescent girls,” the First Lady said.

Shelter, Dr Mnangagwa said, is a basic human right and there is need to make sure that the homeless and orphans have a safe space in the form of a home for their economic and social security. 

“I realised that young women and girls in the streets were at risk of rape and gender-based violence. Against this background, I started the Angel of Hope Foundation, a non-profit organisation to provide a physical space for the vulnerable, especially women and girls, can access health care, social services, education and economic empowerment. 

“Through the Angel of Hope Foundation, I have rescued children living in the streets of Harare and other cities, taking them to my Children’s Home, where they are being taught life-transforming economic empowerment skills. To sustain support for this cause, I have mobilised corporates, local authorities and organisations with a similar vision across the country to rally behind me in helping mould the former street children so that they fully develop their talents and live productive lives. The lives of these children have been transformed for the better,” she said.

Further, through the same foundation, Dr Mnangagwa said she has visited and supported several vulnerable communities and institutions donating foodstuffs, bed linen, stationery, ICT and medical equipment, and initiating comprehensive self-help projects.

“Having realised that a safe space that enhances women and girls’ social security is not only a static physical infrastructure, with the support of qualified medical doctors, I initiated and am currently running mobile clinics traversing the length and breadth of the country providing health services in hard-to-reach communities. Services provided include; Awareness raising on non-communicable diseases as well as promoting early screening, diagnosis and treatment; National Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination, an anti-cancer programme which has so far benefited over 1 million women and girls nationwide, providing free cervical, breast and prostate cancer screening and providing free accommodation for cancer patients receiving medical attention,” she said.

Through such initiatives, Dr Mnangagwa said in 2020 she felt honoured and humbled when she was appointed an Ambassador for Health and Child Care in Zimbabwe.

Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, permanent secretary Dr Mavis Sibanda pose with Angel of Hope Foundation board members Mrs Leya Mnangagwa and Mrs Kezina Sibanda during the 68th session of the Commission on Status of Women in New York yesterday. — Pictures: John Manzongo.

Taking cognisance of the very important role that men play in changing negative social norms and fostering positive masculinities, which is a catalyst for ensuring social protection for women, girls and boys, Dr Mnangagwa said she has also created men’s engagement platforms such as men’s conferences, engaging men on issues of gender based violence and child marriage. 

“To augment the strategy, I have established a toll-free number 575 for safe and confidential reporting of Gender Based Violence where women and girls are assisted with appropriate response mechanisms. We all agree that the home is the first safe space that any woman or girl should have, and to sustain this they need to be economically empowered. I also have a strong passion towards the economic empowerment of women and this motivated me to initiate several women’s self-help projects and training on life skills so that disadvantaged women and girls can be self-reliant.

“Noting that traditional leaders have a role in ensuring peace and harmony in communities and that they also preside over issues that have a bearing on women’s social and economic security as a first port of call in rural areas, I engaged the spouses of traditional leaders as agents of women empowerment by providing platforms where women meet and encourage each other through the cookout competitions. These sessions are not only transferring skills from the young to the old, but are also a platform for social cohesion and nation-building,” she said.

Even the undermined population like commercial sex workers, Dr Mnangagwa observed, can change their ways of life if they are provided with safe spaces and the necessary support. 

“In Zimbabwe, the settlement of Epworth is infamous for prostitution and drug and alcohol abuse. Driven by the country’s mantra of leaving no one and no place behind, I started a life-changing programme for commercial sex workers and drug addicts to transform their ways of life for the better. 

“To sum up my discussion, I would like to challenge all of us here to be torch-bearers and support the women and girls whom we are representing. Countless women and girls around the world continue to face challenges when it comes to personal safety and economic opportunities. Women and girls should be able to thrive in environments free from violence, discrimination and fear. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that they can live their lives without the constant threat of harm. By doing so, we pave the way for their social and economic security. 

“Distinguished Guests, I believe we can do more if we put our heads together. If each one in this room holds the hand of a few fellow women and girls, we can change the world and make it a safer place for women and girls,” the First Lady said.

In addition, Amai Mnangagwa who is the country’s health ambassador, is providing safe shelter for cancer patients in Harare.

Through her Angel of Hope Foundation, she provided a fully-equipped shelter for the patients who do not have relatives in Harare to stay for free.

The shelter resembles a home set up with a living room from where patients watch television, beds and a fully-equipped kitchen.

Mrs Yadi Njie Eribo, chairperson of the CSO umbrella organisation in The Gambia, Tango, said she felt inspired by Dr Mnangagwa’s work.

“I watched the documentary and I felt what everyone was saying in the documentary. The First Lady’s work is very impressive. We expect our First Ladies to be hands-on, especially in women’s issues like what the First Lady of Zimbabwe is doing. I was very glad to see all these things she is doing in maternal health, women empowerment and economic empowerment among many other issues. We were very impressed and I hope other First Ladies in Africa will emulate her and do the same,” she said.

Dr Iva Carruthers, the General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference from Chicago echoed similar sentiments.

“We are an organisation and an NGO that is based in Chicago. Together with my colleagues, we attended the event because we had heard and read a lot about the First Lady of Zimbabwe. Her philanthropic work has gone far and wide. We were very much impressed with her work and her Angel of Hope Foundation which was shown via a video and magazine. The very name of it (Angel of Hope), sheds a light for all of us in the world to follow the way. As I understood, the work that she is doing represents cultural integrity and at the same time the key responsiveness to the real needs of the people from the ground up. We were inspired by what we heard and saw. 

“As an organisation, we are working with several seminaries in Zimbabwe and look forward to building that relationship with Angel of Hope and I would like to give God the praise for directing our delegation to this session. 

“To the First Lady we say thank you, stay strong, stay encouraged and God bless you,” she said.

Mrs Nicolle Boujaber-Diederichs from Florida remarked: “I was excited about all the great work that the First Lady and all of the speakers today have shared about women’s empowerment, gender equality in Zimbabwe, protecting girl children, fighting child marriages and all the different services in education for all the people in Zimbabwe.”

Mrs Belly Angasi from South Sudan said she was charmed by the First Lady’s life-transforming and educative programmes.

She said Zimbabwe is blessed to have a First Lady of that calibre who has the people at heart.

“Based on the speeches that have been made here, we appreciate the work of the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe together with the Ministry of Women Affairs in Zimbabwe. We appreciate the efforts the First Lady has made in terms of women’s empowerment and gender equality aspects. It is a privilege for us as South Sudanese to attend the Zimbabwe side event. 

“We have learnt a lot about the efforts that are being made by the First Lady, the efforts that are made by the Ministry of Women Affairs and the commission and how the country works with the civil society and engages young women. 

“This is a very important part of the future and we are also happy to appreciate that there is value in safe spaces for women in public spaces because you cannot empower a woman if you do not want to take care of her child who might be in danger. We have gained a lot from this side event and we hope to collaborate with Zimbabwe so that we learn from each other,” she said.

A delegate from Namibia emulated the First Lady’s programmes on women empowerment and said together with her delegation they were keen to visit Zimbabwe on a benchmarking mission learning from Amai Mnangagwa.

Speaking at the same occasion, Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Monica Mutsvangwa pointed out that the First Lady was undertaking many initiatives towards creating safe spaces for women to fight gender inequality.

“This she is doing through implementing various programmes and initiatives that seek to address gender inequality and promote the empowerment of women and girls throughout the country. She has been instrumental in spearheading many beneficial programmes towards improving women and girls’ social and economic security that resonates greatly and directly speaking to the theme of the side event,” she said.

Zimbabwe through development partners and civic society organisations, Minister Mutsvangwa said, adopted the safe working spaces concept to promote women’s social and economic security.

“By adopting this concept, Zimbabwe is guided by the four dimensions of safety which are outlined in the United Nations Habitat which are freedom from violence and social exclusion, freedom from poverty, women’s financial security and autonomy and women’s self-worth,” she said.

“The first safe market was built in Harare with support from UN Women and Katswe sisters. This market became a model which the Government is replicating in other towns and cities. In the same vein, we are constructing safe SME workspaces. This is important because women can feed their families. The establishment of these safe work spaces and markets has helped to create a violent-free environment for our women and has become a vehicle for women’s empowerment. The Government through the Ministry of Women Affairs is doing a lot and we thank what the civil society organisations are doing working with us. We are moving together with everybody. We also want to thank our First Lady for her wonderful work which is changing the lives of people.”

Senate President Mabel Chinomona also paid glowing tribute to the First Lady.

“On behalf of the Zimbabwe delegation, it is my privilege and honour to extend my heartfelt gratitude to our Guest of Honour, the First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa being represented here. Under the theme “Safe Spaces Catalysing Women and Girls Social and Economic Security: A Case of Collaboration between Government, Civil Society Organisations and Development Partners in Zimbabwe” we admire you for the profound work you are doing in empowering women, particularly in creating safe spaces for women in Zimbabwe. 

Your work has touched the lives of countless women, providing them with hope, inspiration and the tools they need to overcome challenges and thrive in all aspects of life. Your passion, resilience and unwavering commitment serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for women not only in Zimbabwe but around the world. We appreciate you Amai,” she said.

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