In her electrifying opening address at the 7th Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in Lima, Peru last fall, Glanis Changachirere described her upbringing in rural Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe. “Like other peasant families,” she recalled, “my family relies on farming and struggled to fund my education. Although they tried hard, it was not easy with society dictating that the girl child is not worth investing in.”
Glanis became involved in her crusade for women’s rights as a result of her strong desire to receive an education. She defied the norms of a highly patriarchal society and enrolled in university where she joined the Student Representatives’ Council as the only woman. She says she joined the student movement to fulfill her desire to say that “women are equal to our male counterparts and can equally represent their fellow students.”
Glanis’ activism had severe consequences, and she found herself in police incarceration on a number of occasions on the charge of “fighting for and representing student rights.” But she was not to be intimidated, knowing that she was fighting for the right to education and the improvement of the lives of girls and young women in a free Zimbabwe.
Glanis, 30, became the founding director of the Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD) in 2009. The organization provides a platform “where young women can organize and come together to live a life where they have a choice in how to lead their lives and have a sustainable livelihood.” IYWD targets the most marginalized to participate: young women who live in rural communities and work in farming and mining.
“Our vision is to see a society in which young women are able to have access to resources and opportunities, to live a life of their choice,” she said in a Civic Space Initiative video about her life and work. “Young women are not seen as equal citizens,” she said. “We don’t have a right to human dignity as our boys or male counterparts do.”
“There’s a certain drive that tells me I need to actively do something in order to bring about the transformation that I need to see.”
IYWD has played an important role in calling for peaceful, democratic elections, and creating guaranteed spaces that allow for the participation of all Zimbabweans in the political system.
“The idea of mobilizing young women is to ask [the question], ‘How can we challenge these systems that are [preventing] us from being who we are?’” Glanis said. “In the eyes of society, including church and even close relatives, I was being a ‘rebellious girl child.’ I was defying societal and religious norms.”
In addition to educating young women and providing them a platform to participate in Zimbabwean politics—two of their young women ran for office during the 2008 elections—Glanis promotes entrepreneurialism among young women to help them build a fiscal life that allows them to support themselves.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a social worker,” Glanis said. “There’s a certain drive that tells me I need to actively do something in order to bring about the transformation that I need to see. It’s important for our society to realize that when they invest in young women, they invest in their community and therefore their nation.”
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