Food For Thought – The Status of Women in Zimbabwe

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr.

Public Affairs Section Auditorium, Harare, Zimbabwe

Honorable Irene Zindi

Honorable Jessie Majome

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’d like to welcome you to the U.S. Embassy’s weekly public discussion series, which we call, “Food For Thought.”  During the month of March in the United States, we commemorate the important contributions of women to the development of American society, and we highlight the often neglected narrative of American women in my country’s history.

Please join me in commending officials from Harare’s diplomatic missions and members of the surrounding communities, who this morning organized a 5K walk in commemoration of International Women’s Day.  I recognize that I am the man I am today because of the women in my life, beginning with my sister, my wife Mithi, my daughters Casey and Zoe, indeed, the many women who have shaped my childhood and my adult years through their rich experiences.  I like so many of you owe more than we can ever repay to our mothers and grandmothers who worked, inspired and took care of us.  When I met President Mugabe, I brought him birthday greetings from my 92 year old mother, a retired school teacher and social worker.  President Mugabe asked if she was a tough and disciplined task master.  I laughed and said yes, she was and remains tough.

My mom was born into abject poverty, the second of eight children in the American south. She went to college on a scholarship and said it was the first time she had slept in a bed of her own.

But my mom was more than resilient. She was humble and self-sacrificing like so many of women we have known through our lives. My mom was a senior civil servant with lots of people under her charge but six nights a week, she would come home, change to an apron and then go cook and serve people at the restaurant she co-owned with my father. Despite having a master’s degree from NYU, one of our most prestigious institutions my mom sacrificed to support my dad, to help pay for our college tuition and to assist with her grandkids education.  I know that each of you here today could tell similar stories about your mom, aunts or sisters. The world is full of women working hard to make their families lives better.

For all five of the Food For Thought sessions this month, we have decided to feature topics that will focus on gender equality and other related issues affecting women.

Today, on March 8, International Women’s Day, we have a very special panel of women who will lead a discussion on “The Status of Women in Zimbabwe.”

This is a topic that is relevant to every society around the world.  As Secretary Kerry has said, “No country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind.  This is why the United States believes gender equality is critical to our shared goals of prosperity, stability, and peace, and why investing in women and girls worldwide is critical to advancing U.S. foreign policy.”

Today you’ll hear from Zimbabwean women who work in government, in civil society, in education, in health, and in the private sector.  These are some of the women who are setting the bar for women’s participation in Zimbabwean society.  I’d like to challenge you to engage them, ask questions, and take away with you more questions to ponder.  This conversation should not only be limited to the time that you will have in this room today.  I hope that you will return to your workplaces and your communities and start asking the men and women around you the same questions.

International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month is not meant to be a single moment in time that we focus on women’s issues.  Rather, it is a starting point, a catalyst to spark ongoing reflection and conversation.  My hope is that you will benefit from the collective knowledge of the successful women who make up today’s panel.  I hope that you will take this discussion today with you and challenge yourselves, your colleagues, your families, and your communities to form partnerships to promote gender equality and empower the participation of Zimbabwean women in every field of endeavor in this country.

Women deserve equal opportunities to participate in governance, in education, in healthcare, in entrepreneurship, in business, in civil society, and in the arts, among many other spheres.  Everyone in this room is in a position to lend your support so that the boundaries in your communities are enlarged to become more inclusive of women.

The United States Government is committed to engaging and assisting Zimbabwean women – and Zimbabwean men – in this effort.

Again, I thank you for coming to take part in our activities marking International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.  And before you go to sleep tonight, take time to thank the women in your life who have and are paving the way for all of us.