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Category: International

In Zimbabwe: She Won't Be Stopped

| March 4, 2011

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Taurai “Sandra” Chinyerere is a delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women annual meetings, ending today.

The focus of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women this year, in annual meetings ending today, is to promote women’s and girls’ access to education, training, science and technology. Here is one woman’s story.

Taurai “Sandra” Chinyerere is a typical looking 26-year-old from Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. Yet this young woman is anything but typical. She has traveled far from her homeland for the first time to New York City.

As a delegate representative to the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women, she has come to share her story on panels and workshops for the two weeks of the annual meetings, held this year from February 22 through March 4. As a youth leader in the United Methodist Church, she is the elected president of Zimbabwe Youth Council and the secretary-general of the Methodist Youth movement for 12 African nations.  Her responsibilities include the planning and coordination of large annual conferences, organizing committees across countries and writing and presenting thoughtful speeches to inspire her peers. This diverse array of volunteer duties seems an overwhelming task for most young people but especially impossible without the use of a laptop or smart phone. Her only email access is at her place of work. And that is where the real story begins.

Sandra Chinyerere always has had a passion for information technology. Her older brother studied IT and inspired her to follow in his footsteps. Although in their culture as in many around the world technology is considered a man’s job and not a career suitable for a woman, she pursued five years of vocational training in the field of information technology. She was the only woman left standing in her graduating class and immediately sought work in her field of expertise. But no one would hire her because she was a woman. She accepted a position as a receptionist to get her foot into the door of a company where her abilities and superior skill set were slowly accepted.

But Chinyerere wants more. She now wants a university degree in information technology to acquire the skills to increase her income and create future employment opportunities. Her company offers scholarships to employees for educational training and advancement but when she told the managers she had been accepted into an IT program she was told they would not pay for her studies. IT was a career for men. They offered to pay for an advanced degree in administration, but she refused, explaining that her passion was in technology not administrative work.

Chinyerere's life has had other challenges. Her older brother, mother and father all were killed in an automobile accident that has left Sandra the head of her household with three younger siblings to care for and support.

But despite her personal setbacks she flies across the world to share her story and to inspire other young women not to give up their dreams. She is still holding tightly onto her plan to go to university and get her advanced degrees in information technology. In the meantime, she must pay her siblings' school fees—and for the time being, their needs supersede her own. She continues to seek grant opportunities for women in science and technology careers.

Sandra Chinyerere’s quiet and melodic voice hides the strength of an incredibly powerful woman. Determined to overcome the gender stereotypes in her culture, she is an inspiration to an entire generation of women watching her succeed against all odds.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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