VIVA WOZA



Zimbabwean Receives International Women of Courage Award

Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spotlighted the
achievements of Zimbabwean human rights activist Jennifer Williams with an
International Women of Courage Award presented at the State Department March
7. Williams, founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) -- a civil society
organization established in 2003 to protest government abuses -- accepted
the award in the name of the group's more than 45,000 members.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
spotlighted the achievements of Zimbabwean human rights activist Jennifer
Williams with an International Women of Courage Award presented at the State
Department March 7.

Williams, founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise ( WOZA ) -- a civil society
organization established in 2003 to protest government abuses -- accepted
the award in the name of the group's more than 45,000 members.

"The award is a great honor, but the real award will be a free and
independent Zimbabwe," Williams told USINFO during an interview at the State
Department on the day of the ceremony.

The Zimbabwean was one of 10 recipients of the courage award chosen from
among a field of 82 women activists nominated by U.S. embassies worldwide.
The ceremony was held on International Women's Day, during a month that the
United States celebrates as National Women's History Month. ( See related
article. )

Announcing the award for Williams, the department cited the "harassment and
physical abuse" she suffered under President Robert Mugabe's regime and
commended her for "providing an example of courage and leadership by working
for change through peaceful and nonviolent means."

In establishing the award in 2006, Rice said, "Women of courage are standing
up for freedom and human dignity and the United States stands with them. We
must not forget that the advance of women's rights and the advance of human
liberty go hand in hand."

Arrested more than 25 times for leading protests against Mugabe's regime,
Williams said, "Zimbabwe supposedly got independence in 1980." But under
"dictator" Mugabe's disastrous land-seizure policies the economy is being
destroyed and the country is turning into a beggar of international food
aid.

Because of resulting malnutrition and lack of proper health care, she said,
"Women are dying at age 34 [median age]; men, at 37. You can?t earn a
living. The authorities tear down houses that are not squatter houses and
stop you from making a living."

Hardships fall especially hard on women, Williams said, because it is the
children "who beg mama for more food or want to know why they can no longer
go to school" when there is no money for school fees.

Williams, a Matabele from Bulawayo, has paid a high personal price for her
social and political protests. She received death threats following her
arrests. Her thriving public relations business is defunct and her husband
and children live in "economic exile" in Britain. A Matabele is a member of
the Bantu people native to southern Zimbabwe.

Despite the personal sacrifices, the activist said she feels empowered
because WOZA's strength lies in its community members "who have ownership"
in the organization. "It is because of our united struggle, hand in hand,
that we are going to get the Zimbabwe we want," she said.

"Another very important aspect in saving our [protestor's] lives is the
solidarity we get from people around the world," Williams said. And in that
regard "the American Embassy in Harare has been very helpful."

"On the 12th of December I was arrested along with 300 others at
parliament," she related. "It was an incredible thing to see a U.S. Embassy
vehicle parked right there where we were seated on the ground under arrest.
One police official after another tried to get the Americans to move but
they just kept sitting there saying, 'we are just here to observe the
process.'"

"That gave us a lot of courage," Williams said. "We had been brutally
beaten just two weeks before at a demonstration and we just needed to know
that someone was watching out for us this time around. And at the
demonstration at parliament, the police allowed us walk away free, which had
never happened before.

"So, we think it is important for the diplomatic community to play a role in
helping us achieve our struggle," she added. "We can do it ourselves but it
helps when the Mugabe authorities know the world is watching."

http://media-newswire.com/release_1045177.html


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