Kuda Chitsike
Change & Innovation, Justice

An activist who is breaking the glass ceiling in politics

Kuda Headshot

Kudakwashe Chitsike (Zimbabwe’15) is a women’s rights activist who is committed to changing the culture in Zimbabwe so that more women can run for political office.

Harare, Zimbabwe

In the midst of a global movement of women taking strides towards political leadership, Chitsike uncovered the barriers that prevent women from succeeding in her country. After her fellowship ended in the fall of 2015, Chitsike secured funding to research why women were reluctant to take on political leadership roles. Even though Zimbabwean women make up 52% of the population, government, political parties and decision-making bodies fail to engage and encourage women to participate in politics. Despite the Zimbabwean constitution’s clauses on gender equality and quotas in place, the number of women in the National Assembly has not dramatically increased.

Why is it so hard for women to enter into politics in Zimbabwe?

According to Chitsike, factors that stopped women from running for office include attitudes towards women in politics, lack of support from spouses and family, domestic responsibilities, the absence of the rule of law, and lack of resources for campaigning.  Chitsike discovered, however, that fear and violence, both real and perceived was the most significant barrier.

The real and perceived threat of violence emerged this year when four women ran for the office of the President of Zimbabwe, out of 23 candidates in total. Working with organizations like Women in Politics Support Unit, Women in Politics Incubator Zimbabwe and GenderLinks through the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Chitsike helped deliver programs to raise the number of female leaders in parliament and councils. These female candidates and organizations came up against a fierce battle with hate speech, slander, online bullying, body shaming, sexual harassment and threats of physical violence. According to Chitsike, government and other political parties did not do enough to condemn these acts of violence against women. The election results showed a disappointing 15% support for women candidates despite women constituting 52% of voters.

With the #metoo movement as a backdrop, new strategies were used to fight the backlash facing women running for political office. Some candidates used social media hashtags to reclaim words such as “prostitute” that were once used to wound and target them. Chitsike explains that “if you haven’t been called prostitute in your quest to promote and protect women’s rights, then you haven’t been doing a good job. If you embrace the term, it cannot be used to hurt you.”

In the future, Chitsike plans to continue to work behind the scenes to encourage and support women to run for office. Chitsike’s counsel to those who stand with her for women’s rights is this: “The fight against a patriarchal and misogynistic society is not for the fainthearted. Women’s rights activists and women in leadership in any sphere must be prepared for the long haul as changes are not going to happen overnight. Although ground was lost in the July election, there are lessons to be learned that can bring about the desired result, increased women’s political participation. These lessons should include supporting the few women that did make it into parliament in whatever way possible. Challenges will continue along the way but anything worth fighting for doesn’t come easy.”

Listen here for Chitsike’s words of wisdom.

Change & Innovation, Prosperity

An architect of career advancement for Rwandan women

Rwanda

Shivon Byamukama (Rwanda ’16) is deputy chief executive officer of Babylon Health Rwanda (Babyl), a digital healthcare provider headquartered in London, England. Byamukama is a 2016 Fellow from the Africa Regional Program and examined women’s leadership and capacity building in business, and sought to expand her social enterprise LegalBiz, which focused on providing women with free legal tools and guidance to help them launch successful businesses. Since fellowship, Byamukama has become a leader in women’s mentorship in the business sector.

At the time of her fellowship, Byamukama worked as the company secretary and head of corporate affairs at the Bank of Kigali, Rwanda’s largest bank. The fellowship provided her with valuable insight into how to develop leadership skills and channel them into pathways for career growth for women.  Byamukama indicated that while she had been considering making a transition in her career to pursue more senior opportunities in banking, the information gathered and connections made during fellowship gave her the passion to venture out into a new direction and seek a senior role with Babyl Health.

Rwanda is one of the top countries globally in terms of gender equality, yet women still face challenges in terms of having equal access to mentorship and leadership development opportunities that are critical to a woman’s career success and advancement according to Byamukama.  With the help of the fellowship, Byamukama created strategies that she has since implemented through programs that she is running to help women prepare and excel in their businesses and career advancement. She has expanded her women’s mentorship program and added a workshop series led by field experts.  She has also ventured into youth-related mentorship programs.

Byamukama says that the fellowship journey also reinforced the importance of network building and development. This concept forms a key part of her work not just as deputy chief executive officer but as a leading architect of women’s career empowerment in Kigali. Byamukama continues to collaborate with her fellow Fellows to enhance her own knowledge base of tech and its interweaving into the health sector.  She remains excited about the opportunity to go global with Babyl and is well positioned to help Rwandan women reach new heights.

byamukama

 

Written by: Chioma Azi, Program Officer

NZ
Justice

Providing access to quality education

United States

Susan Patrick (USA ’16) is the president and chief executive officer of the  International Association for K – 12 Online Learning (iNACOL) based in Washington, D.C. She traveled to New Zealand and France in a quest to examine and compare leading educational systems in economically developed countries with the United States in terms of how education innovation and policy support for future-focused learning. She came away with so much more, including a bolder vision for education transformation in the United States.

While on fellowship, Patrick confirmed her belief that the first order of business is examining how to create equitable, high-quality and effective educational systems. Her notion of innovation expands beyond technology to include contemporary and student-centered learning methodologies. She saw that education systems are redefining what student success looks like, and this deeply involves the community in crafting educational goals to address complex global issues with social, racial and economic disparities.

Immediately after the fellowship, she was inspired to grow the research arm of iNACOL to deepen the understanding of global systems best practices with American policymakers. The research and advocacy work provides access to examples of successful education models from all over the world.

Patrick says that the challenge for change in the U.S. is massive given the scope and scale of the country — 50 states that set policies and local control in 13,600 school districts. The fact that federal policy is limited in its role (due to the omission in the U.S. Constitution) means the states are leading the way, with innovative districts, to drive transformation for the education system. To scale transformation in a just and equitable way is one of our biggest challenges, according to Patrick.

Despite the massive task ahead of her, Patrick has found great success in developing partnerships at the state level. Using her knowledge and experiences from the Eisenhower Fellowship, Patrick and her organization are leading work for education innovation in more than 38 states. Arkansas and New Mexico are two states where she saw the immediate effects of her fellowship journey.

In Arkansas, her presentation to a group of school district leaders, state representatives, and philanthropists led to a sponsored learning trip to New Zealand, a country with a national literacy rate of 99%. Sponsors sent local practitioners, educators, foundation staff and state administrators to learn from site visits with innovative schools in New Zealand, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand and non-profit partners like Core Education. The outcome of the trip was the development of an Office of Innovation at the Arkansas Department of Education, now housed at the University of Arkansas. For many practitioners from Arkansas, it was their first trip experiencing education models outside of the United States.

Her experiences in New Zealand also influenced her work in New Mexico, a state that is committed to addressing opportunity and achievement gaps through youth development and the dismantling of systemic inequity. New Zealand strongly supports and empowers its indigenous populations. Their focus on competency-based learning and initiatives that improve the transition from school to further study, work or training are particularly effective. They also provide a wider range of learning opportunities and make better use of the education network. Notably, New Zealand schools deeply involve community and rely on local wisdom to drive reciprocal accountability, which Patrick believes is an approach that could have significant implications for new education models and solutions to support youth, schools, communities and the future health and prosperity of citizens in the United States.

Patrick has partnered with Eisenhower Fellow Rhonda Broussard (USA ’14), to share knowledge and practices. Their virtual conversation can be found on Broussard’s blog, where the two dialog about current assumptions of the U.S. education system. The pair shares a strong commitment to supporting advancements in our public education system with a focus on equity and student agency. Innovations for equity are sorely needed if the U.S. as a whole wants to improve its overall outcomes in education and equality, which according to Patrick, have a long way to go.

 

susan patrick