Dorcas Makaza Review Correspondent
Following the death of Zvomuya village head Traditional Ward in Murehwa, Mashonaland East Province in 2006, Lilian Zvomuya (51) never considered herself the replacement.
Being a woman, the position of village Head was traditionally beyond her on the grounds of gender than merit.
However, when the chief gathered all the villagers for a meeting to nominate a new village head, Zvomuya was surprised to be the only woman among three short-listed candidates.
When the chief asked the villagers to line up behind the candidate of their choice, she had more people behind her than both her male contestants. Zvomuya has been a village Head for the past 12 years.
Speaking during an interview in Murehwa, Zvomuya said, “I was surprised at being the only woman among two men nominated to be candidates for the headship.
The mere nomination of a woman, let alone my winning, was beyond everyone’s imagination as village heads have always been males. “Initially, it was not easy for people to have confidence in me, as their village head.
“They doubted my capabilities not on merit, but on the basis of my gender with some even contesting my nomination, but the chief stood his ground.”
A mother of three, Zvomuya is renowned for her work ethic.
She said, “As a farmer, my household never goes hungry. I set myself as an example for the village, by working hard on my field. I am glad that they are now emulating me.
“Some people used to think that I use juju to get bumper harvests every year, but they now appreciate that with hard work, they too can have good yields. It is pleasing that they now even get surpluses, and many women have started income generating projects such as market gardening, chicken rearing and joining saving clubs.”
Her fellow villagers now have a new perspective towards development. She instilled a sense of commitment to working hard that none of her subjects still do piece work (maricho) on other people’s fields.
Spurred by the manner in which she has transformed her village, Zvomuya is not resting on her laurels. She has set her sights on improving on her educational qualifications in preparation for running in Council Elections.
Though the number of women in traditional leadership is still low, women are breaking new ground in this previously male exclusive leadership.
As it stands we now have six female chiefs, 13 head women. Further, the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognises that both men and women can preside over their communities. Section 280 (2) states that, “A traditional leader is responsible for performing the cultural, customary and traditional functions of a chief, head person or village head, for his or her community. This is to say women and men can lead as traditional leaders in their communities.”
Zvomuya urges women not to fear taking leadership positions. The local leadership of Zvomuya, humble as it might sound is a laudable step towards the realisation of women in leadership from grassroots to national level which, Women and Law in Southern
Africa (WLSA) Zimbabwe has been advocating for.