Blog Article

Maggie Mapondera

Published by: GenderIT.org  on 07/09/17

Maggie Hazvinei Mapondera is a Zimbabwe born hybrid feminist, perching at the intersection of grassroots feminism, feminist communication and movement building.

In this interview, Maggie reflects on the current status of technology and the internet in relation to the feminists movement building and women’s everyday organising and participation globally.

Koliwe Majama: Lets talk about your feminist activist journey. What is your passion and drive?

Maggie Mapondera: It’s been a strange journey; And I think what makes it strange is that I have never really restricted myself to one sector or place. My feminist activism dates back to my Undergraduate years as student at Yale University in the United States of America. There I started organising with homeless women who were either struggling or recovering from substance abuse and poverty. The experience was the first synergy between my writing and my creative side as an activist. I organised creative writing workshops with and for the women. It was then that I discovered that creative writing can, in fact be an integral part of how women can build voice, identify the root cause of their issues and find ways to organise around them.

I organised creative writing workshops with and for the women. It was then that I discovered that creative writing can, in fact be an integral part of how women can build voice, identify the root cause of their issues and find ways to organise around them.

I then moved to a feminist movement-building organisation Just Associates (JASS) where I did communications. There was a connection there for me because JASS was focusing on Her-stories as a means for individual women and women’s communities to tell the story of their struggle, and not only telling them to make their experience visible to others, but to analyse them and collectively organise themselves and fight for change. Today I find myself with Womin, an organisation that organises frontline peasant and working class women across Africa around land rights and climate justice. Everyday I interact with the challenges women face as the climate changes their livelihoods, land and capacity to provide for themselves and their families. My passion is about women’s stories and the power those stories have to change the world. If we could find a way to collectively tell a different story of the world we live in, then maybe we can change things.

KM: What do stories contribute to the movement?

MM: The women’s movement is rooted in women’s stories. A lot of women are at the cross cutting edge of some of the deep issues that the women’s movement is challenged with today. They face patriarchy daily and in some cases have to deal with even more dangerous issues – such as the consequences of the pursuit of capital by governments and corporates at the expense of their bodies, their lives and their rights.

They face patriarchy daily and in some cases have to deal with even more dangerous issues – such as the consequences of the pursuit of capital by governments and corporates at the expense of their bodies, their lives and their rights.

So the women’s movement has to challenge itself, and think outside silos and search for the interconnectedness of these stories so that we have a full story. Otherwise we keep going two steps forward, and five steps back, as we continue thinking that issues such as the political participation of women is important because we think representation in government will take us where we need to go. But it is not enough to have the story. Her-stories need to feed our activism, action, advocacy and analysis and we have to keep growing that analysis, sharpening it and nuancing it. Otherwise what is the point? We begin to look like we are telling stories and sharing stories for the sake of stories as though that is the end. It is not the end. Across the board as a movement, we need to push ourselves and ensure that these stories are not just in vogue, but make a difference.

it is not enough to have the story. Her-stories need to feed our activism, action, advocacy and analysis and we have to keep growing that analysis, sharpening it and nuancing it.

KM: In general, is there a fair representation of women online?

MM: I don’t think it is fair at all. Especially when you look at countries like Zimbabwe and the realities of inequitable access between men and women. A huge proportion of women are not represented in online spaces largely because of their socio economic status. I am not convinced that our goal should be to get those women online. Rather what we should do is broaden the way that we connect our conversations online with the traditional and ‘conventional’ ways such as radio and television so that our messages filter through to corners we do not usually reach. That way we would have brought those critical voices on board. We cannot allow ourselves to think that the internet is the ‘Be all and end all’ of communication. We have to be context appropriate, and appropriate to the people that we are speaking to. We must think about whether the woman who tells her story, her geographical and/or interest community will have access to it. What is the point of getting her story on the internet if it cannot change her immediate and country context? We have to be strategic about how we communicate in order to fairly represent women online.

We cannot allow ourselves to think that the internet is the ‘Be all and end all’ of communication. We have to be context appropriate, and appropriate to the people that we are speaking to. We must think about whether the woman who tells her story, her geographical and/or interest community will have access to it.

KM: What is the best way of connecting the ‘unconnected’ especially in repressive states?

MM: We always have to be creative and sharp about our class analysis because it informs how access to the internet is different for all women. Access to the internet will vary based on geographical location, race, class and age. Given this reality, the women’s movement must organise itself so that, as much as possible, we reach each other as best we can and have the ability to share our experiences horizontally. For instance, I don’t think women use popular social media platforms, like WhatsApp, to their greatest potential. In Zimbabwe today, you will find that WhatsApp is the most popular mode of communication and accessing information. The sheer number of chain messages my mother sends me everyday about the most random things – whether religious or political, is amazing. Most of the information that I received about the street protests against bond notes, the nationwide stayaway, arrests of activists last year, organised by under the #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka movements, for instance, I got from Whatsapp. So that is the platform where Zimbabweans share opinions, mobilise and organise. This has exposed them to a lot of insecurities, and as the women’s movement we need to recognise and appreciate this. What I see as critical in times such as these is to find a way of getting women that are connected to understand how vulnerable they are when they are online. We also need to prepare ourselves to support them to understand their individual responsibility to consciously protect their rights to privacy, and consciously respond to safety and security online.

What I see as critical in times such as these is to find a way of getting women that are connected to understand how vulnerable they are when they are online. We also need to prepare ourselves to support them to understand their individual responsibility to consciously protect their rights to privacy, and consciously respond to safety and security online.

KM: Do you see potential for women to organise online?

MM: It has been and remains really exciting to see my mothers and my grandmothers using WhatsApp – being so proficient and sharing information- I mean they use it more than I do! So there is something there, obviously -organising opportunities. However they come with their own complications such as security, which is something that we should begin to talk about. It is also clear from the crackdown that the people in power in Zimbabwe have identified WhatsApp as a politically dangerous terrain. It says something is going on in this WhatsaApp, you want to call it – revolution, that is dangerous to those in power. So given that the people in power across the African continent see the dangerous side of the internet, we need to see what is and what is not possible in order to use, especially social media, strategically and in a way that is useful for our movement. There are possibilities and there is potential everywhere on different platforms. The movement just needs to harness these opportunities if that is the way more people can get the message.

Given that the people in power across the African continent see the dangerous side of the internet, we need to see what is and what is not possible in order to use, especially social media, strategically and in a way that is useful for our movement.

KM: Can the internet enhance African women’s participation in very contentious women’s rights issues?

MM: The internet has limits. To be honest, there is nothing better than opening up spaces and getting women together physically so that they see each other face to face and talk. However, it is not practical given the fast shifting context, which has made the terrain so fraught and dangerous for feminist activism. Therefore if we are to venture into the sensitivities of our womanhood, we have to be agile and ready with an analysis to deal with and respond to threats quick and effectively. The other dangerous aspect in as far as women’s participation, and closely related to inequality of access, is that those with access seem to be talking to themselves all the time. I have observed that, across the different social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, the same people follow and interact with each other. In the end, it becomes a bit of an echo chamber. This, I think, can be detrimental to one’s activism and feminism; especially if those women are not forcing themselves to grow by challenging themselves enough to reach out to, or be in solidarity, in real ways, with women on the ground. So as the women’s movement we must challenge ourselves not to get trapped in the echo chamber of ourselves.

I have observed that, across the different social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, the same people follow and interact with each other. In the end, it becomes a bit of an echo chamber. This, I think, can be detrimental to one’s activism and feminism; especially if those women are not forcing themselves to grow by challenging themselves enough to reach out to, or be in solidarity, in real ways, with women on the ground.

KM: Do you see the women’s movement benefitting from the internet?

MM: There are examples where movements have harnessed the internet, and especially social media to amplify, magnify and voice out an issue so that it gains traction. For instance, South Africa’s #FeesMustFall obviously did not just start online. There was students’ activism on the ground around the issue for a long time. Students in South African universities were passionately angry about the injustices in university institutions for a long time, and yes! the hashtag really caught fire. It gave visibility to the students activism that has continued offline meaning the hashtag was not the sole reason that the campaign was ‘big’. The hashtag allowed the movement to gain a presence beyond the South African borders, which it may not have had without social media. The same can be said of #BlackLivesMatter. People have been organising against racism in the United States for a long time. This is not to say that the hashtag is insignificant. No!

It is important that long after that the hashtag has gone or been changed to something else, those movements remain and continue to grow. All these online movements were informed by the real and lived experiences of the people on the ground.

It still is a powerful moment and movement that has given birth to other movements. However, it is important that long after that the hashtag has gone or been changed to something else, those movements remain and continue to grow. It is not possible for something that happens in isolation online to be sustainable. There has to be the on-going conversation because things always have to be that grounded. People always make reference to, for instance, the Arab Spring, as a phenomenon that happened online. But those people had been organising against oppression for many years. All these online movements were informed by the real and lived experiences of the people on the ground. So even for the women’s movement, it is such experiences that should prompt us to connect with other women. This can be done ether online or in other ways, so that when social media comes along, it is just to amplify and spread the message.


Audre Lorde. Photograph contributed by Rooturu. Source:Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons License Attribution Share-Alike.

KM: What role(s) do social media play in movement building?

MM: We must not see one strand of the strategy for any movement as the end. Everything must be a means. If we reach an end then what are we doing? We will never reach an end in the struggles against oppression. We have to continue going back, wait, something happens, then we come back and analyse then we move forward. Otherwise we become static and stagnant. Social media becomes a part of the strategy and it plays a complimentary role.

KM: What challenges (if any) are women facing online?

MM: Unlike men, most women do not have the confidence of masculinity or advantage of patriarchy to say whatever we want without fear. We have to build a support base for women to share more online, and to feel more confident to speak out. It is hard, especially with social media, as there can be a lot of backlash. People will jump on you if they feel that you are wrong or that your analysis is weak. As you can imagine, for women its even more dangerous So imagine being a radical feminist, deal with radical opposition politics as a woman – backlash and criticism cannot be avoided. What is important to protect each other by creating both private and public platforms of different kinds to foster conversations among ourselves and with other people that we do not ordinarily interact with daily.

Personally I do not see analysis of class, race or sex and sexuality of different contexts in conversations online. Instead, most times, there is a narrow mainstream line of womanhood and what it means to be a woman in the world today.

We must sharpen one another like we sharpen knives by having the courage to say, ‘Hey my Sister! You need to step up on this one’. From there, we need to put ourselves in spaces where the backlash will be inevitable because our voices need to be heard there. This is where our challenge lies now. Only certain groups of women get their voices heard in those spaces and I am not sure that the agenda they push is indeed the ‘politics’ that we can confidently say represents the women’s movement. Personally I do not see analysis of class, race or sex and sexuality of different contexts in conversations online. Instead, most times, there is a narrow mainstream line of womanhood and what it means to be a woman in the world today.

KM: How do you think the feminists movement can touch base with the different constituencies and make their presence online more representative?

MM: We must interrogate each other on the extent to which, as individuals, we are ‘representative’ of the constituencies that we say we represent. On this one we have to be honest with one another and appreciate that it is necessary to be critical if we are to move forward. Sisters in JASS Meso-America use a Spanish term, ‘Critica Amorosa’, which, translated, means to love criticism. So, for instance, if you saw Maggie on Twitter speaking to the women’s situation in Zimbabwe as the country heads towards an election, you can be more upfront and remind her that her work is mostly based in the capital city, Harare and outside the borders of the country. That way Maggie will be clearer that maybe her scope is not deep enough as she cannot really speak on behalf of the experiences woman in rural Murehwa and their concerns about the upcoming election. So how do we bring the women from Murehwa and make them part of the conversation? That is the work we have to do and its hard work, but it is important work.

We have to be honest with one another and appreciate that it is necessary to be critical if we are to move forward. Sisters in JASS Meso-America use a Spanish term, ‘Critica Amorosa’, which, translated, means to love criticism.

KM: Describe the way women’s movement works online

MM: I struggle with the ‘performative’ nature of conversations online as women posture and say things that they actually may not believe. We see multiple identities online that conflict with those we interact with offline. Agreed, it can be quite liberating to have all these different identities, but once in a while, one has to step back and ask oneself what it is exactly that they believe in. People do and say things just for ‘clicks’ and they use this to prove the success of their moment or movement. This is not our success. Our success as the women’s movement lies in what we have done to change the lives of women on the ground. Sure, the fact that we have had conversations on sensitive issue that we are passionate about, is a success. You can mark it as a ‘little outcome’, but that cannot be it.

KM: So is a feminists internet possible?

MM: Weeeellll! [Laughs] I have had had time to reflect deeply on this since the City Conversation on the Feminists Principles of the Internet here in Harare. Having principles is a powerful thing as it gives us something to look towards and fight for. The principles are key in that they will give us a code in which to function as feminists. We can try and create the space of a feminist internet, knowing though that the reality of a feminist internet is quite far in the future – and that is still okay.

The principles are key in that they will give us a code in which to function as feminists. We can try and create the space of a feminist internet, knowing though that the reality of a feminist internet is quite far in the future – and that is still okay.

In general, my take way, and this is purely based on my current work with community activists, is that the internet is not the ‘hugest’ of priorities for the majority of women on the African continent. My major concern for feminism in this digital era is the failure to reach the relevant audiences. Everyday stories are told and discussions are held that only a certain set of people can access. This is the dilemma of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). I see the possibility of the extension the ‘NGO-isation’ of movement online if we do not take heed. Being online gets us funding because of the exposure and visibility, but the communities who are the reason we can produce this content and for whom this content is supposed to serve, don’t always have access to it.

KM: Thank you Maggie for your time
MM: Thank you

September 28, 2017

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Maggie Mapondera Published by: GenderIT.org  on 07/09/17 Maggie Hazvinei Mapondera is a Zimbabwe born hybrid feminist, perching at the intersection of grassroots feminism, feminist communication and movement building. In […]
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