Transcript of Betty Makoni on Question Time

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A day before she launched her new book, Girl Child Network founder Betty Makoni spoke to SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma on Question Time. The book “A Woman Once A Girl: Breaking Silence” chronicles Makoni’s lifetime of activism towards protecting the rights of young girls and women in Zimbabwe.

Betty Makoni, founder of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe, was voted one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2009
Betty Makoni , founder of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe, was voted one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2009

Lance Guma: Good evening Zimbabwe and thank you for joining us on this special edition of Question Time. She’s been a guest on the programme before; she’s girl child rights activist Betty Makoni and she has a book that she’s launching in a couple of days entitled “A woman, once a girl: Breaking Silence”. Betty Makoni, thank you for joining us on the programme.

Betty Makoni: Thank you so much Lance Guma.

Guma: Okay, the book – let’s start off with that – why the book?

Makoni: Ah the book is a clear documentation of all the work that I did in Zimbabwe to assist young girls. The book is actually opening up a story of the many things that happen to young girls who are raped, who don’t exist because they are not assisted. It’s basically a mouthpiece for those girls you don’t see every day or who don’t come to be known anywhere in the world. So it’s an advocacy tool, trying to speak on their behalf.

Guma: And are you doing this via your own experiences? Is the book focusing on you, Betty Makoni as the individual and what sort of work you’ve been doing?

Makoni: The book is basically focusing on me and my story as a girl and then I’ve come to say I’m now a woman. But as a woman I also walked a journey where I took one girl at a time. So the book is trying to tell the world that after I am done, we still have many more to assist.

So the book begins with the Betty stories of girls that have never, you know, come out in the open and it speaks also stories of women who are trying to do something to help on the ground. Then it speaks about the challenges that we encounter as people who are trying to help the victims, situations where we end up as victims as well.

But at the end of it, the book is trying to say to everybody, nobody in this world should be a victim. When we were born, we were all victors in our own right so the book is also trying to uplift everybody who is doing something to defend human rights in the world.

Guma: In as far as the challenges that women and even girls face in Zimbabwe, how much of those problems are down to politics? If you were to be asked to weigh where the source of the problems emanate from?

Makoni: As you know at the moment the political situation in Zimbabwe is not fully full addressed nothing is going to move about the social wellbeing of women and girls because everything is about policy, everything is about leadership, everything is also about women getting a 50 percentage stake in the decision making.

As it is now, we still have a lot of things polarized and people’s energy is actually spent on the political conflict so it’s going to be very difficult for women and girls who are already vulnerable to suit anywhere within the structures of leadership, so it’s a big challenge. Politics is actually the root causes of most of the issues I’m raising in the book.

Guma: You entitled your book – “A woman, once a child: Breaking Silence” – why that phrase there – “Breaking Silence”? What are you trying to say?

Makoni: Issues around rape are where people have declared wars on girls’ bodies, sugar daddies, Apostolic sects that are marrying off girls, rape used as a political, as weapon of war, in the homes where we are, issues around rape are not easy issues for anyone to talk about anyway.

You become ashamed, you also take the blame, so we’ve come to say – Betty was once a girl, I’m breaking the silence so that everyone else does the same. Women I’m going to meet on International Women’s Day, were also girls which should help other girls transform through our stories, so “Breaking Silence” means you are not going to stay a victim at all. So it all ties up with the theme that we are not victims, we are victors.

Guma: In all the years that you have been doing this activism work, what would you say is the attitude of fellow women to the type of work you do? Do you feel women have supported you enough in your cause?

Makoni: You will see I’ve got a poem entitled “I’ve seen it all”; in this poem I actually said it’s very difficult in a country with scarcity of resources especially money, funding and dwindling donor support for one woman to be prosperous and others struggling so always there’s this back-biting, rumour mongering, blackmailing each other in order to outdo each other.

So there’s a big fight not against Betty Makoni only but also against other women who are trying to do something. So it’s actually a battle of surviving in a space where everything is limited to individuals who already made it. When you try to make a breakthrough there are always spanners on your way.

So every day I did my work for a decade, there was always a spanner that I had to pull out of the road in order for me to move on, so in the book I’ve made it clear but at the end of it, I know the women who do that especially in Zimbabwe, I’ve only said shame on you all.

Guma: Well Zimbabwe I’m speaking to girl child rights activist Betty Makoni and remember this is Question Time, if there’s anything that you are hearing her say that you disagree with by all means send in your questions, we will get her back on the show and pose those questions.

So remember this is your programme, you get to ask the question. My next question for you Betty – the nature of our society – some say it is a patriarchal society – do you think that also contributes to the problems that you face as an activist trying to change attitudes?

Makoni: Oh yes definitely because in a patriarchal system the development of women and girls is underestimated. Just one being in domestic circles cooking for a family is not understood as a contribution to the development as a country so anything that women do is not money tied; patriarchy still sees the place of a woman being a bedroom and a kitchen.

And then when you try also to get out of that bedroom and kitchen and stand up to say – no, don’t use women as sex objects, what you see is backlash. The backlash comes in the form of you being isolated, insulted in public, labeled nicknames and everything that I stated in my book. So patriarchy is still very strong, it’s one of the oldest wars that we are still fighting against. You know, we had colonialism, we had slavery but patriarchy is really one of those things that really stand anchored in our community.

Guma: Do you think it’s an African problem or it’s worldwide? Would you, where would you restrict it – onto the African continent?

Makoni: Ah no, no, no, no – actually in my book you will see it’s taken also a global perspective because if you see recent developments in the United States of America with this radio producer who called a woman a prostitute and a slut on public airwaves, calling a student, a law student that, and even last night he went on to say over-educated white women are a problem.

You can see the labeling, you can see the gender stereotyping so it’s not something confined to African societies. Even United States of America, a developed and civilized country, women are still in tears in that country.

Guma: Let’s move on to your book launch – when is it going to be on, where and who’s coming?

Makoni: My book launch is going to be in London; South Bank University, London Road and I’ve got quite a number of important women who are coming, high profile women. I’ve got the London Mayoral candidate for 2012, I’ve got also the Secret Millionaire, Pauline Long one of the distinguished Kenyans in UK is actually coming to be the Director of Ceremony so I do have quite a number of women who are coming who are quite high profile.

Guma: You are based in London of course, the United Kingdom, for those of our listeners who have forgotten why, why are you based in the UK now?

Makoni: As you know I was doing my activism in Zimbabwe and it became a challenge, the interference in my work and as you know, 2007 I was arrested and interrogated whether I wanted to run for presidency. That disturbed me and I left the country to just make peace and be somewhere where I can continue with my charity work. So I was just trying to find a spot to do my charity work without harassment.

Guma: Has this impacted on the work of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe?

Makoni: Not at all, it has not impacted on our work. What we have gone on to do is to actually establish worldwide network which actually ensures we incorporate Zimbabwe but you know if, as an activist you become targeted, there’s no need for you to become a dead hero so I tried to work from a different location but still contributing to my permanent work. So nothing has changed, it was just me trying to make a transition from being at the forefront to being like the supporter.

Guma: And just finally Betty, seeing you are essentially now based in the Diaspora, how much of that Diaspora are you harnessing in your work? Are you finding it easier working with people in the Diaspora than let’s say when you were back home?

Makoni: Ah most definitely; I’ve formed networks of young women, I’ve got quite a big fan base of young women who ring me and tell me daily that you empower us, we want to be with you, we want to do this kind of work. So you will see from the launch tomorrow, that quite a group of young women have come out and this is another massive, massive movement of younger women staying in the United Kingdom and all over and all over the world.

So I can say Zimbabwe really, really I got a lack of support from young girls but the development that is happening here in the Diaspora is that the age group, 19 to 30, is actually massively supporting what I’m doing which is something that has actually taken me by surprise because I thought by uprooting myself from Zimbabwe I was going to start from nowhere but only to meet thousands of young women of all colours in the world following.

Guma: Just one more extra question – those who are listening in who want to contribute to the work you do – how do they do that? Is there a way that they can reach out and support you?

Makoni: Yes definitely, they can actually go through our web site: www.girlchildnetworkworldwide.org. Everything that is done there is done with a team of volunteers so on the web site, they can pick any areas they feel they want to contribute and all contributions that we make in cash and in kind, my job is to ensure that we all support efforts in Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

Guma: Well Zimbabwe, that’s girl child rights activist Betty Makoni joining us on this special programme on Question Time. She’s going to be launching in a few days her book “A woman, once a girl: Breaking Silence” and as I said, if you have questions for Betty Makoni about her book, about her work or anything to do with her activism in Zimbabwe or here in the United Kingdom, just drop us a line – [email protected] or you can just visit our web site and see how you can participate in Question Time. Betty Makoni, thank you for joining us on the programme.

Makoni: Thanks so much Lance, thank you.

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