“Nhai mukoma muno tambisirei mari muchi endesa mahure kusecondary? Akakura anoroorwa ono budiritsa umwe musha.” (Brother why do you waste money sending prostitutes to school? When they’re older their education will benefit another family.). My father’s younger brother asked, he like many in my village, down in Maranda, did not understand why Elias would choose to waste his money educating his daughters who were going to get married and belong to another family anyway.
My elder sister was in a her final year of high school when my uncle asked that question, I swear she could have spilled the hot tea she was pouring into his cup, right on his thigh had it not been for my mother who shot her that “don’t you dare” look, that African mothers are famous for. I know for many years my sister found it hard to forget and forgive my uncle’s words even though my father had refused to listen to his advice.
Our family, like most in my neighborhood, was classified poor. I was born in a family of five girls and one boy and for most of my childhood we lived in a three roomed backyard cottage in Mufakose, a high density suburb in Harare, famous for giving birth to some of Zimbabwe’s most notorious thieves.
My mother, a housewife, would knit crotchet doilies for the cross boarder women in the neighborhood to supplement my father’s meager earnings as a sales man, their combined earning was not enough to send all their six children to school, feed them, pay rent and the bills, for years our school fees was paid by the social welfare, and my siblings and I endured a lot of jeers and bullying in primary school because our school shoes were torn and uniforms had sewn patches on them because papa couldn’t afford to buy new uniforms every new year.
Yet even in poverty my father never thought of dropping us out of school or packing both our mother and us to Maranda, our rural home, as many of the men in our neighborhood had done when things were hard.
In deed in the 90’s it was the norm, many of the men who worked in the city would leave their wives and children in the rural areas to lessen their economic burden. To most it seemed reasonable, accommodation ekhaya was free, and education was cheaper, he could rent a one roomed house in the ghetto and every end of month he would send groceries and a few dollars to the village.
The reality though was most of the girls shipped or left to stay in the rural areas rarely finished school, most of my cousins living in the rural areas even those brighter than me were married or pregnant before they reached 16. The social and cultural demands placed on them sometimes made it difficult for them to travel the 5 to 10 km distance from home to the nearest primary or secondary school.
Traveling 5 kilometers to and from school on foot during your monthly periods can be stressful, coupled with the fact that you might not have proper sanitary wear, most girls in my rural home missed school for at least a week every month due to the fact. Most were required to wake up before dawn, do house chores before they embarked on the 2 hour by foot journey to school and rush back home soon after to help with the cooking, while the boys stayed behind to study.
You see, these girls did not have much time to study so their grades were bad, and their father’s felt it was a waste to send them to school, after all the sooner they got married the lighter their burden would be, with the money & cattle they would get as part of the bride price, they reasoned they could easily send their well performing sons through high school.
Our father’s refusal to send us to the “roots” ensured we stayed in school and life though hard was better compared to that of my female cousins who lived in the rural areas. Every night my father would bring home the newspaper from work and I would sit on his lap while he read it aloud so I could hear, and whenever he got a few extra dollars we would hop on his motorbike and head to the Magaba market in Mbare where he would buy us second hand books to read plus a few toys. His resolve to ensure all his children were educated is something our whole family, even those that once thought him mad, looks back on with pride.
My sisters and brother finished school, got jobs and started helping out at home that by the time I went to high school life was not as hard as it used to be, I could afford to choose which school to attend without worrying if the tuition was too high. My father’s investment was beginning to pay off.
I had heard of feminism in reference of men-hating bitter unmarried women. The university boys whom we hung out with talked about these “women” as if they were a plague, they hated a certain lecturer at their campus whom they claimed was one of those, a feminist, and how educated working women wanted to defy God’s original plan for human kind, “a woman leading a team of men is crazy, women make terrible bosses” they said.
When I started college I was sure I did not want to be one of “those” until one of my male lecturers introduced feminism to me, real feminism not the stories of college boys I had heard in high school.
What really is feminism? It is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities and a feminist is anyone who believes in this notion. When I looked at feminism and feminists from this point of view I realized it really was not about men hating or wanting to be superior in deed the greatest feminist in my life was male, my father, he didn’t hate men he couldn’t have, he is a man after all. Yet in all his actions as a father, he has lived this belief that his children male or female are equal, and has accorded us all an equal opportunity to make something out of our lives.
My father chose feminism, albeit unconsciously, and invested in all his children, even after finishing school he remains our greatest supporter and lending help and cheering us, always believing we can do more.
Nearly a decade after I left high school, young rural women are still dropping out of school in numbers, being married off young and both young boys and girls walk 5 or more kilometer distances to and from school every day.
Our rural homes are filled with inventors, doctors etc., that never were because their light was blown out before its time.
We need more fathers who are not afraid to believe in the potential of their daughters and are willing to invest in their future. When a parent, especially a father, is willing to believe in the potential that lies within their children, female or male, they allow their children to bloom.
Whenever I stand on podiums to speak I am conscious of the fact that had my father chosen not to give me a voice, I probably would be a statistic. By choosing to focus not on my gender but my ability and investing in me, he gave me the greatest gift a father can give to his daughter, he believed in me.
I am an activist because he is.