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Women of Zimbabwe Arise Awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

December 4, 2009

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, which is awarded every year to individuals around the world who show courage and have made a significant contribution to human rights in their country, was awarded to a women’s rights organization called Women of Zimbabwe Rise (WOZA). WOZA was praised for their non-violent resistance against oppression and the government of Robert Mugabe.

The name “WOZA” derives from a Ndebele word meaning “come forward.” The center of their movement is about using forms of non-violence for resistance. Their mission is to

  • Provide women, from all walks of life, with a united voice to speak out on issues affecting their day-to-day lives.
  • Empower female leadership that will lead community involvement in pressing for solutions to the current crisis.
  • Encourage women to stand up for their rights and freedoms.
  • Lobby and advocate on those issues affecting women and their families. (from http://wozazimbabwe.org)

It’s amazing what these WOZA women have down thus far: they are considered enemies of the state, where they’ve been arrested over 30 times for their protests. But they continue resist and fight for human rights. Since WOZA was formed in 2002, they have organized more than 100 protests for democracy and women’s rights.

More so, WOZA includes men in their resistance: in August 2006, at the WOZA National Assembly, Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA) was formed. Men, mostly youthful, have been ‘coming forward’ to join this non-violent struggle for a better Zimbabwe.

Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams of WOZA were presented with the prize by President Obama. In a recent BBC news article about the event, Mr. Obama said about Mahlangu and Williams:

They often don’t get far before being confronted by President Mugabe’s riot police…By her example, Magodonga has shown the women of Woza and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors’ power with their own power – that they can sap a dictator’s strength with their own…Each time they see Magodonga beaten back – beaten black and blue during one protest – only to get right back up and lead another, singing freedom songs at the top of her lungs in full view of security forces, the threat of a policeman’s baton loses some of its power. -Obama, 11.24.09, BBC News

In accepting the award, Mahlangu quoted Robert F. Kennedy in saying that “The future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future.”

This award may also help to push their activism efforts even further. In fact, last year’s RFK Human Rights Award winner, Aminatou Haidar, is currently on a hunger strike in order to be with her family in the Western Sahara where she was forcibly removed. To help Haidar return to the Western Sahara, you can call on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay to conduct an investigation into Haidar’s immediate removal by clicking here.

To learn more about the RFK Human Rights award, click here.

To read more about WOZA and their efforts, go to their website at http://wozazimbabwe.org.

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