Updated: Sep 20
Omogolo Taunyane-Mnguni provides an insightful analysis of the GRRIPP Africa Team site visit to Zimbabwe, exploring the impacts of solar-powered trikes in the Machitenda Women Economic Riders project
In August, GRRIPP Africa Team members (Dr Kylah Forbes-Biggs, Omogolo Taunyane-Mnguni, and Sthabile Ndlovu) conducted a site visit in Zimbabwe, where grantee partner Echoes of Humanity is located. Through Machitenda Women Economic Riders project, supported by GRRIPP Africa, women are trained to acquire driving licenses in order to use solar-powered trikes and foster ease of access to markets where they can sell their goods. Some of the positive milestones include the installation of a solar power station to charge the trikes and empowering the participants with knowledge to become business savvy on the agricultural local market eco-system.
The local community welcomed the team warmly with boisterous dancing and singing upon arrival. Over the three-day visit, the team engaged with participatns of Machitenda Women Economic Riders, stakeholders from the teaching sector, local authorities, and the greater Machitenda and Masvingo village community. It was beneficial to get a first-hand account of how the trikes have transformed their livelihoods. As expected with the nature of our work, the team extracted key lessons about challenges that our grantee partner and participants encountered, and encouraged solutions-based dialogue.
While Machitenda Women Economic Riders focuses on sustainable livelihoods for rural women, the project has unearthed intersecting socio-economic issues such as climate change adaptation, negotiating power with local gatekeepers, and gender-based violence.
The project is emblematic of challenges that are endemic in rural communities, where negotiating power with traditional councils and/or local gatekeepers determines the success or shortfalls of grassroots development. In this case, the grantee has been confronted with the dilemma of how best to progress in an environment that presents itself with competing interests. An example of this is how the risk of theft or vandalism became apparent, which motivated Dr Charity Chenga to approach traditional leaders to deliberate on how best to secure the safety of the trikes. Discussions between the two parties were cooperative, with traditional leaders facilitating the relocation of the trikes to a more secure location. According to Dr Chenga, the loss of household income and missed opportunity for economic advancement of the community – rather than individual gains - were her entry point. That way, Machitenda Women Economic Riders gained support and legitimacy by leveraging the power and influence of traditional authorities.
Climate change adaptation for sustainable livelihoods
A fascinating outcome from supporting the project, is observing how it presents a business case for sustainable livelihoods through climate change adaptation in rural localities. The project site is the only provider of solar power in the region, enabling the farm operations to continue without considerable disruptions when power cuts occur. Another point of interest is the increased income-earning potential that emanates from greater mobility from using electric trikes. All this ensues in a rural eco-system that guarantees lower carbon emissions to preserve the environment. Referring to the trikes as an innovative way of life for rural women, GRRIPP Africa Project Lead, Prof Cheryl Potgieter, recently said “there’s certainly a motivation to scale up the project as it shows promise of having a ripple-effect that is sustainable and impactful.”
Challenges on the ground
Some of the challenges that participants mentioned was computer literacy. That the predominant factor behind their poor performance with their tests [a pass mark set at 80%] is due to lack of computer literacy. What exacerbated their poor performance is the anxiety that arose in preparation, knowing they had left formal education assessment systems for extended periods of time. Added to this is poor English language proficiency for Shona native language speakers.
The project invited tension in the community, as the question of who is being empowered often arose. As a result, incidents of overt and subtle gender-based violence occurred. Some husbands were reported of accusing their partners of neglecting their household duties because of spending more time on the project, instead of being confined to their homes. In other instances, men demanded to know the whereabouts of their partners and tried to control their mobility.
In conclusion, Echoes of Humanity redefines our conceptual understanding of rural women’s economic empowerment. The discourse from the site visit demonstrated some of the tensions that arise when applying a decolonial and intersectional lens in development knowledge and practice. Social stereotypes about how feminine and masculine roles should be performed, and embedded unpaid labour ascribed to women were firmly challenged. Throughout our visit, various stakeholders referenced the adage “if we empower a woman, you empower a community and the nation” regarding the positive effect of Machitenda Women Economic Riders. The general sentiment is that the participation of rural women in the project, will benefit their families, as women remain caregivers in their respective households.
Author bio: Omogolo is a feminist, activist-scholar working as Regional Communications Officer at GRRIPP Africa. She has dedicated her career as a strategic communicator, campaign manager, and media practitioner at GBVF Response Fund, eNews Channel Africa (eNCA), Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, and Talk Radio 702. Her most recent years involve media advisory roles for the mayors of Johannesburg and Tshwane respectively. Her opinion on developments unfolding in the current affairs and politics have appeared on local and international platforms such as Sowetan, City Press, Huffington Post South Africa, Al-Jazeera (UAE), Sky News (UK), and Women’s Media Center (USA).