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Her Zimbabwe

Her Zimbabwe was Zimbabwe's first women's web-based platform promoting discussion, debate and consciousness building for women within Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe's vast diaspora.

It was a digital storytelling platform that aimed to build young women's capacity in digital content production, digital security and storytelling.

Submitted on 8 August 2023

Case Author

Fungai Machirori

Her Zimbabwe

Key takeaways

Her Zimbabwe taught me that passion is key to driving a successful project. The energy that drove Her Zimbabwe was pure curiosity, passion and dedication. And that made other people want to come on board as audiences and co-creators.
I also learnt that it is important to stand in your own vision for a project. The reason why Her Zimbabwe eventually disintegrated was because I, as the visionary, stopped trusting my own instincts and  began to go along with other people’s ideas of how the project should roll out. This led to loss of passion and burn out.

As women, it is often read as being overly assertive or difficult when one stands by what they believe. And so we often back down from our visions believing that we are being selfish for having them. But it is absolutely essential to evaluate when ‘you know that you know’ (to trust your instincts and stand in your vision of things) and be willing to face the consequences of not dancing along to a tune you don’t recognise.

Key issues

Securing large institutional funding very early into the project. This meant that very quickly, Her Zimbabwe stopped having much leg room to innovate and expand organically. Previous funding had been through small flexible grants and my own personal savings. A move to having a big funder controlling operations meant that the project - in essence - started to move and shift as per the funders’ ideas, and not ours. In retrospect, however, I don’t think it was so much just an issue of large institutional funding as some funders can be very good to work with. We had challenges and issues with our main funder not being aligned with the vision, goals and objectives of Her Zimbabwe. A tip, therefore, is to always do as much background research on the funder(s) you want to work with to see and understand if their core values, goals and trajectory align with yours.

Case target / aim / intention

Her Zimbabwe was aiming to give young Zimbabwean women’s voices space within the digital realm, understanding that this is often not the case and that women do not get heard.
It was targeted at young women aged 18-35 years.

Case Study

Part One

Initial Situation

I had been a blogger for some years. And in 2011, I was honoured with a global award for blogging. This galvanised my interest to grow my efforts in the digital space beyond my individual capacity and begin to think of a collective digital project. 

I had noticed that there tended to be intergenerational schisms in women’s organising in Zimbabwe. Older women, feminists and activists tended to have more established spaces and institutions and it was often difficult for younger women to break into those. As a result, young women did not always have outlets to articulate their lived realities and experiences of being Zimbabwean and female. This is why Her Zimbabwe sought to give young Zimbabwean women a voice and platform to construct and deconstruct their identities and experiences. The process was also aided by findings from my Masters thesis. My thesis, titled ‘Imagined sisterhood? An analysis of the women’s movement(s) in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe’s diaspora’ looked at the fracturing of women’s organising among Zimbabwean women in Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwean women in the diaspora. A recommendation I offered to counter this fracturing was the use of digital tools and spaces as a means of creating dialogue across the two groups. Realising that my recommendations stood minimal chance of being implemented if I did not take this upon myself, I decided to implement them myself by setting up Her Zimbabwe and exploring, initially, what dialogue across the diasporic division of Zimbabwean womanhood could look like. 

Initially, Her Zimbabwe was attempting to bridge the gap between Zimbabwean women in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwean women in the diaspora.

Because of the ongoing sociopolitical context in Zimbabwe, a large diaspora exists and continues to grow. What I observed was that this was creating schisms among Zimbabweans - and women as a core interest group of mine - around mobilising and conversation. I therefore sought to think through how growing digitality and digital storytelling could facilitate more nuanced exchanges. 

I had a great understanding of the  importance of blogging and digital storytelling. However, through working with others on the project, we began to also develop an appreciation of the importance of skills building in digital security. As such, Her Zimbabwe offered inclusive trainings that introduced young women to blogging and digital storytelling, while also giving them practical skills in the secure use of digital devices and the internet. 

Reaction of a young participant publishing her first blog

Part Two

Strategy and implementation

The initial approach was more intuitive than structured. I was simply feeling my way through the terrain to see what worked and what did not. This allowed for Her Zimbabwe to pivot into more defined activities (trainings and activities) with time. Initially, Her Zimbabwe was self-funded as I used my personal savings to grow the project. 

After a couple of years of intuitive growth, Her Zimbabwe began to define parameters of work. We set up a trust to oversee the operations of the organisation. As such, the organisation was governed by a Board of Trustees, and a secretariat and also governed by the rules and laws of the country as pertained to taxation and employment policies and benefits.

Because of the sociopolitical context of Zimbabwe (protracted political and economic frustrations) NGOs and NGOisation have become very big within this context. This has tended to create situations where NGOs - in the scramble for scarce resources - abandon their core strengths and visions in pursuit of financial stability.

This began to happen with Her Zimbabwe when, by taking on a large grant which included funding for large scale content production, the quality of the content on the platform began to decrease significantly. Her Zimbabwe was a space for thoughtful writing and analysis, but with a new mandate to produce content daily, keeping up with this became a challenge and meant that we had to compromise quality for quantity.

Furthermore, our funder housed another storytelling project within the organisation which produced content of a different gendered focus. Because of the overlaps between the projects (that is, gender and women using media) Her Zimbabwe was obliged to share this content on our platform, leading to further loss of identity of Her Zimbabwe as a space for thought leadership. This is no way to denigrate the work of the young women who produced content for this other storytelling project, but to highlight the fact that women engaging in media and storytelling are not a monolith and wish to do so from different positionalities and for different outcomes. It is important that funders appreciate the varied lived experiences of African women and afford them space to articulate these in ways that they understand and identify.  

Part Three

Outcome and reflection

Prior to setting up the institution, more time could have been spent exploring more dynamic funding models. The model we employed was very top-down and didn’t allow much space or scope for negotiation into more radical pathways. 

Her Zimbabwe had many successes including being cited by the UK Guardian as a ‘platform of a nation’. Her Zimbabwe was runner up in the 2013 Communication for Social Change Awards hosted by the University of Queensland in Australia. It also has been used as a case study by university students and academics. Her Zimbabwe also made appearances at conferences including Women Deliver, Highway Africa and The Breaking the Code Summit. Most importantly, Her Zimbabwe employed a staff cohort, paid stringers and contributors and provided skills training for many young Zimbabwean women in an economically challenging environment. 

I think we could have had more honest conversations as a team about our different aspirations for the project. And I, as the leader, could have been more forthright about keeping  the project semi-formal until it was clear what exactly its aspirations were. As women, we are socialised to swallow back our words when we desire to set boundaries that may make us seem difficult or inflexible. But in the long term, there is far more value in speaking one’s truth from the onset and building something with people whose values and principles align with yours.

Nonetheless, we were all very young and this was new terrain for all. Mistakes and challenges were bound to occur. The lessons were big and hard. But it was still a magical project.

Author's notes

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