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Political instability threatens Zimbabwe revolution

A young Danish student sets foot on African soil to do sociological research on gender issues in Zimbabwe.

Travelling for the first time to Zimbabwe, Josephine Svensson was eager to conduct research, but also a little bit scared.

»I had heard stories and read about the political instabilities, and as a white woman I wasn’t sure how safe it would be for me travelling in Zimbabwe« she says.

A student who is interested in human rights issues and the political situation in Africa, she traveled on her own to Zimbabwe to do field research for her masters’ thesis. She is writing about political violence and gender issues, and has conducted interviews with different non-governmental organizations (NGO), activists and politicians.

Political violence and women

Josephine is doing her research in cooperation with the Danish NGO Africa contact, which primarily works in cooperation with NGOs and activists, in the southern part of Africa in the fight for economic, democratic and social rights. In other words, towards a more politically stable society with equal rights.

One pressing issue in Zimbabwe is political violence against women. Women movements have a long tradition here, and have had an important role in the fight for human rights and democratic justice. But for politically active women, this also leads to insecurity and exposure to violence.

Josephine experienced this issue first hand, she explained. »I had an interview scheduled with a political activist woman who lived in the rural area. She cancelled the interview because she felt that her position was not safe and that an interview could potentially expose her too much«.

First hand experiences

Her aim is to find out how much influence NGOs and activists have on politics and how organized they are, when it comes to women’s rights in Zimbabwe. So the University Post asked her about her first impression of what she experienced on her trip.

»I was surprised to see how much influence the NGOs have, and how professionalized they have become«.

»It seems that the movement is becoming much more organized, and that the activists on the streets are fading out and don’t have the same influence on politics. I actually expected to find more traditional grassroots organizations«, she states.

Dangerous reality

Josephine said she was surprised about how warmly she was welcomed, and she states that the people were friendly and peaceful. However, she only stayed in the capital city.

»It was a reminder to me, when the woman cancelled her interview. Even if it was safe to stay in the city, there are still areas where there are more danger and violence«

»Even if many laws now are in place to protect women, the problem is often the implementation. It is a long way from the existence of a law to the actual reality.«

Humanity in action

This summer, Josephine attended a summer academy provided by the organization Humanity in Action. There were nine other Danish students and international students from many different fields of study along with her.

In this intense five week program she was able to sharpen her debating skills by attending daily debates with prominent scholars, journalists, politicians and activists. She was impressed with the academy, and the professional level was high throughout.

»It was a rewarding experience, as we got to interact with and listen to so many prominent speakers specialized in different fields. The networking opportunity I had at the conference is valuable and opens up doors for future collaboration. I got to know so many people driven by their passion, eager to share their experience and help me with my projects«.

Sociology student out of the ordinary

Josephine got engaged in the world of developing country politics and human rights issues in the beginning of her studies.

»As a Danish sociology student, it might be a bit unusual not to have a focus on Danish politics and social well being, but I think there are so many important and interesting issues outside of Denmark«.

She has already bulit up a steady foundation of experience with an internship with Care International in Ghana, as well as working for Amnesty International through-out her studies.

»I don’t know what I will do when I graduate, but I would love to work internationally and have the opportunity to go out and work in the field«.

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