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Two Zimbabwean women refuse to be defined by gender

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Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


There are very few women truck drivers in Zimbabwe, but Molly Manatse does not like to be singled out for her gender.

The 31-year-old says truckers should not define themselves by gender - and women like her "are just drivers, we do the same job".

Manatse is the only woman driver at a trucking company that employs 80 drivers.

Her latest trip is a 1,700 kilometres (1,056 miles) journey to the port city of Durban in neighbouring South Africa.

"I chose this career as a truck driver, it has always been known as a male's job, but for me I can say they have to look at us as drivers. Don't say 'I am a female driver or male driver', we are just drivers, we just do the same job. So don't limit yourself, the sky is the limit to everyone. If you have passion to anything, any job that is male-dominated, don't limit yourself."

Many women in Zimbabwe are refusing to be defined by their gender or circumstance, even as the pandemic hits them hardest and imposes extra burdens.

In many instances, these women are helping the troubled country grapple with the double trauma of COVID-19 and ongoing economic deterioration.

Manatse's salary helps to take care of relatives who have lost jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Memory Mukabeta also helps to support members of her extended family whose livelihoods have been hit by the restrictions caused by the virus.

The 37-year-old runs a car repair shop, a vocation traditionally viewed as a male domain.

Zimbabwe saw a devastating resurgence with an increase in numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths in December and January.

Now, the government is beginning to relax restrictions and businesses are trying to recover.

But Mukabeta fears it may be a longer road to recovery for businesses owned by women, especially in male-dominated sectors, due to inherent prejudice.

From the moment she answers the phone, many clients doubt her abilities, she explains.

"When they hear my voice they expect a male to answer (the phone), then they say I want a panel beater, then I tell them 'it's me'. When I go there obviously they will be doubting, and then we have to convince them we are going to do a good job, we are going to do this, and they will be asking me so many questions, obviously they will be doubting.

"Clients there are supposed to trust women that we can do it, like myself. I would love my clients to believe in me, to when they leave their vehicles here, they believe not because this is a woman, they should just believe that the same way that the man is going to do, that is the same way myself I am going to do it."

On paper, Zimbabwe has progressive laws that guarantee women's rights in the workplace and at home.

The country - where women make up 52% of the population of 15 million - is a signatory to international treaties supporting gender equality.

However, lack of implementation, as well as trained cultural practices that reinforce inequality, mean women still lag behind, according to the United Nations.

Many women say it is not easy to achieve equality or professional recognition and they are often reminded of women's traditionally subservient role.

Manatse says recognition, respect and equality for women are unlikely to come on a silver platter in a highly patriarchal society such as Zimbabwe's.

But she says women should realise that "the sky is the limit to everyone" and follow their dreams.