Courageous Zimbabwean Women Stand Up for Human Rights

Posted by Priscilla Linn
March 29, 2010
Jestina Mukoko With Scarf on Display at State Department

About the Author: Priscilla Linn is the Curator for the U.S. Diplomacy Center.

When Zimbabwean Jestina Mukoko could no longer tolerate the abuse of human rights in her country, she founded Zimbabwe Peace Project to speak out against politically motivated abuses of human rights. Because of this, she spent months in prison. For her tireless work on behalf of human rights in Zimbabwe, this year Jestina earned one of 10 International Women of Courage Awards. During the awards ceremony held at the State Department, Jestina spoke on behalf of all the recipients. Read the remarks here.

But why the photo of Jestina standing by an exhibit case in the State Department's Exhibit Hall? The answer begins when the U.S. Diplomacy Center commemorated Women's History Month by displaying the scarf pictured here. This was not just any scarf; it is an emblem of courage, formerly belonging to Jestina's Zimbabwean friend and colleague in the battle for justice, Jenni Williams.

Jenni was among the first recipients of the IWOC award in 2007. She founded WOZA, "Women of Zimbabwe Arise,” basing her strategy on the non-violent teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Like Jestina, Jenni spent days in the degrading conditions of prison for speaking out, having been arrested more than 50 times, but nevertheless continuing to protest peacefully. Today, more than 75,000 women belong to WOZA.

When Jestina stood by the scarf that represents WOZA, she explained that the two sit on the same UN human rights board. Today, we preserve the scarf for posterity in our collections, knowing it is a perpetual reminder of the extraordinary work real individuals can accomplish. Good fortune has brought us two stories connected to the scarf -- Jenni's and Jestina's. And what powerful stories they are -- summoned to life by a strip of black and white cloth.

Read more about the meaning of the scarf and the courageous work of Jenni Williams and see more photos of WOZA in action at USDC's website.

Related Entry: International Women of Courage Awards



Brad B.
March 30, 2010

Brad B. writes:

Congratulations to this valiant lady.

I often wonder if the foreign policy types at State and their counterparts elsewhere in the west, ever reflect on what went wrong in Zimbabwe. It was we who were instrumental in forcing the collapse of the Rhodesian government.

This is not meant in any way to support policies of racism, but should we not pause before taking risks with systems that produce food and just generally, work? Perhaps we could have found a way to negate racism in Rhodesia more gradually.

It's also worth considering that in this particular case, the original winner of free elections was Abel Muzorewa. A re-vote allowing Mugabe to win was forced by a certain American President; a president who remains vocal to this day on all sorts of issues yet has not to my knowledge, ever offered a mea culpa for Zimbabwe.


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