My Zimbabwean Sheroes: Amy Tsanga

Radical, somewhat rebellious, robust-those were my first impressions of this woman when I first met her. Then I was a naïve-mousey thing, studying for my undergraduate degree in law. I observed how she had embraced her feminine self and African-ness yet she had also surpassed societal stereotypes of who an African woman is and what she can be. Here was a woman who lived through an era when the education of girls was not a priority yet she had done it and done it well too. She was my lecturer and I idolised her or was it, uh, hero-worshipping. Gentle, yet firm, she spoke so eloquently and confidently and we all hung onto her every word. She reinforced my conviction that women’s rights are human rights; as inalienable, indivisible an interdependent as any other right in relation to other rights. And from then on I have been fighting relentlessly for the empowerment of women and the realisation of their human rights.

Dr Amy Tsanga

Her name is Amy Shupikai Tsanga, but I, like many others who have had personal contact with her, like calling her Dr T. Maybe I may be blowing my horn too loudly, but I would like to think (an impression which I hold to date) that we took an instant liking to each other. Over the years she has become more than just my lecturer, she is my mentor, my (free) career guidance consultant, my friend, my big sister and my role model.

One cannot talk of women, law, gender and education without mentioning Dr T.

She earned her Ph.D. in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1998, a certificate in Law and Development from the University of Warwick (UK) in 1991, a Diploma in Women’s Law from the University of Oslo, and a BL/LLB in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1986. During her undergraduate studies she received the university Book Prize as the best Law student in 1985. She was also a Fulbright Scholar and visited the University of San Diego in 2010 as part of the Fulbright Scholars’ Occasional Lecturer Program.

Currently, a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe and the Deputy Director of the Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women’s Law (SEARCWL)  famously known as the Women’s Law Centre, Dr T is a woman of outstanding achievements. The Women’s Law Centre is popular for its excellence in gender, women’s studies and the law. As a lecturer she is responsible for teaching the modules in women’s law and the law of succession for undergraduate Law students (which she taught me and ably so too). She also teaches numerous courses on the regional masters in Women’s Law which is designed to bring students from Southern and Eastern Africa to pursue studies in women’s law. So far the Masters has pooled students from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, DRC, Botswana, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

She has an outstanding record as an academic, challenging the patriarchal system and advocating legal systems and processes that correspond with the lived realities of women as full citizens. Her many publications in the areas of violence against women, women and development, human rights and gender are evidence of her academic prowess. Among her publications is the book ‘Taking Law to the People: Gender, Law Reform and Community Legal Education in Zimbabwe’ which explores the myriad of challenges that organisations face in transmitting the law to the people on the ground.

’She also co-edited with Anne Hellum, Julie Stewart and Shaheen Sardar Ali the publication ‘Human rights, plural legalities and gendered realities-Paths are made by walking,’ which addresses the failure of human rights norms at the national, regional and international levels to afford ordinary citizens at the grassroots the projected human rights benefits and protections. Her featured articles in that publication are entitled “Reconceptualising the role of legal information dissemination in the context of legal pluralism in African settings’ and ‘The widows and female child’s portion: The twisted path to partial equality for widows and daughters under customary law in Zimbabwe,’ the latter which she co authored with Professor Julie Stewart.

She featured the article ‘Dialoguing Culture and Sex: Reflections from the Field’ in the Pambazuka publication ‘African Sexualities: A Reader.’ She also authored ‘Women and law: innovative approaches to teaching, research and analysis’ together with Professor Julie Stewart. The book looks into the manner in which legal teaching methods can be tailored to engage and explore women’s experiences with the law in various legal disciplines.

Dr T also designed together with Ige Olatokumbo a Manual entitled ‘A Paralegal Trainer’s Manual for Africa’ which is a publication with the International Commission of Jurists. She was featured in the African Yearbook of International Law with article such as ‘Moving Beyond Rights in the Realisation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Challenges in Contemporary Africa.’

As a gender activist Dr T has played a pivotal role in influencing legal, policy and institutional reforms to ensure gender equality. She sat on the Board of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association as its Chairperson from 1998 to 2001. ZWLA provides legal assistance to indigent women. She is an award jury member on the Body Shop Human Rights Award, an award that was set up to give recognition to groups working in the field of socio-economic rights and other fields of human rights that are usually not recognised. She was also board member of the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights from 1995 to 1999. Since 2005 she has sat on the board of Musasa Project, a Zimbabwean organisation that challenges and addresses violence against women and since 2010 sits on the board of the Institute of Creative Arts for Development in Zimbabwe.

In July 2010 she briefed Parliament on how to ensure a democratic and inclusive Constitution for Zimbabwe that addresses gender equality. In that briefing she emphasised the importance of an inclusive constitution-making process; the expansion of grounds for non-discrimination; improving women’s participation in politics and decision-making; ensuring women’s equal status before the law and in marriage; and a proper enforcement of the Bill of Rights as some of the prerequisites for achieving gender equality in Zimbabwe.

For all her outstanding work Dr T received the national Women’s Human Rights Defenders Award in 2009.
I always look at her and admire the dexterity with which she has mastered the art of methodologies, which happens to be one of my biggest nightmares. The vivacity with which she pursues the empowerment of women is beyond words. And that is the story of one of the women in the women’s rights movement in Zimbabwe whom I admire verily.

*This article was first published as part of the Feminist Chronicles on Madubesbrainpot