Nyaradzo ‘Nyari’ Mashayamombe (36) is a musician and activist who is the Founder and Executive Director of Tag a Life International (TaLI). The last of eight children, Nyari is also a Reagan Fascel Alumni, Vital Voices Alumni, Community Solutions Board Member and Alumni who holds a Masters in Development, BBA Marketing among other qualifications. Nyari (NM) who has bagged awards for her work on the rights of girls is our #WCW today. She speaks to TIA’s Vimbai Chinembiri (VC) about her work and life.

VC: Which came first in your life, music or activism and were any of these influenced by your upbringing?

NM: (Laughs) It’s difficult to tell which came first because, I started activism when I was still in school when I spoke up for my friends who were susceptible to beatings by teachers owing to their backgrounds. At one time one of my teachers sent me a love letter in my exercise book which, I reported him to the school Head. With music, I grew up singing in the church choir, despite being shy. My mother loved to throw me in the deep end, asking me to help with the choir and I did this from time to time so it’s hard to tell which was which, I however carry the two passions with equal weight. While Human Rights are my daily bread, I cannot live without music. Both are a calling.

VC: Your organisation is called ‘Tag a Life’, tell us more about what inspired that name?

NM: ‘Tag’ came from the social media meaning drawing attention of one, or being in contact with someone, so I thought ‘Tag a Life’ would mean Touch a Life meaning every girl or young woman’s life that we touch must change for the better and be transformed, and hence ‘Tag a Life International’ (TaLI).

Nyari performs. Photo: Supplied

VC: In your opinion what exactly is feminism? Does it mean women always have something to prove to the world?

NM: Feminism in my simple terms means women and men are equal human beings, should be availed equal opportunities and should be treated with the same human dignity and enjoy equal rights, for instance girls should have same rights to education as boys. We all believe in the same notion that girls and women should go to school therefore ‘we are or should be all feminists’, in the words of Adichie! Women do not have anything to prove to the world except that they are just doing what the world keeps trying to keep them from doing; thus being equal human beings, climbing corporate ladders and being political leaders.

Women do not have anything to prove to the world except that they are just doing what the world keeps trying to keep them from doing; thus being equal human beings, climbing corporate ladders and being political leaders.

VC: We enjoyed watching the video to one of your songs, ‘Cry’, what would you say inspired the writing of that song and the making of the video?

NM: So my work with girls informed the message in the song ‘Cry’ and the need to send the message out inspired the video. The song talks about the circumstances that surround the raping and abuse of girls and young women. It highlights the statistics reported by UNICEF in Zimbabwe, that more than 74% of girls who are raped are actually abused by people they know. The song talks about how most times mothers or guardians of those girls conceal the cases because they are either not ready to expose the family member or fear backlash from the relatives of the perpetrator. Having the late Chiwoniso Maraire featuring on the award winning ‘Cry’ brought my dream to come true as I wanted someone respected by society.

Chiwoniso Maraire at Ottawa Bluesfest 2010. Photo: Scott Penner/Flickr

VC:  You are basically a global citizen in the sense that you are well travelled. How are African countries faring in as far as upholding the rights of girls is concerned? How would you compare this to developed countries?

 NM: Africa has in many parts done fairly well to ensure education, advancement of women’s rights, however lags a lot unreasonably behind in accountability, governance and economic performance. As a continent that went to war to take back their inheritance thus land and independence, we expected shared prosperity and enjoyment of human rights, and a demonstration of Pan Africanism through shared values that are people oriented, but many African countries’ economies are on their knees owing to bad governance, greediness, lack of accountability, ideology of life presidency and that has taken all the gains of independence.

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Africa needs a total overhaul in its government management systems as there are too much remnants of colonialism. Again some of the opposition politics have greatly failed people such that Africans seem to be in a fix. The issues that I have mentioned in my opinion are not the only reasons, the international policies are not necessarily fair to the prosperity of Africa and in a way, exploitation of Africa has continued even after independence. Unfair trade, unfavourable aid regimes continue to exploit Africa.

[The] exploitation of Africa has continued even after independence. Unfair trade, unfavourable aid regimes continue to exploit Africa.

However Africa needs to hold on to some of its cultural values to keep children protected which is not necessarily available in other continents. At the same time the opportunity that I’ve had to work across the globe such as in the United States have exposed me to the fact that western women are still vulnerable. For instance in the United States one in three women still get exposed to gender based violence, women are still fighting for equal pay. The availability of good government structures and systems enables access for all to basic education (Primary and Secondary) in most of the countries in the North ensuring a level of fair start for boys and girls. The recent developments in the United States and the controversies towards human rights, justice and global issues by the new United States governments present a lot of speculation for its regard for women, with a president on record for disrespect and abuse of women.

VC: What needs to be done to make equality a reality and to ensure girls get the opportunities they need to be successful in life?

NM: Equality for girls requires a holistic approach. It has to start with the empowerment of girls as individuals through education, life skills to have a voice and body ownership. Then they have to live in safe communities where the family respects their rights, local leaders respect the rule of law and human rights and hold their community to live to that standard. And local leaders can only do this if a country and its leaders are transparent, govern the resources well and are accountable to its people, ensuring the functioning of state machinery and the respect for the rule of law, where no-one is above the law, with shared values to ensure prosperity and sustainable development.

VC: What is your opinion on marriage being viewed as an obstacle to the potential of girls and women?

Just ‘marriage’ being viewed as an obstacle to the potential of ‘women’ maybe a wrong statement, but for girls yes it is an obstacle and a threat to their potential and well-being. ‘Girls’ often refers to females below the age of 18 in many countries in Africa, at that age, they have not finished a level of education that is empowering for them to be a socially and economically fully developed individual to contribute to their own growth and that of the community as they will not have achieve life skills, a course, a degree or diploma to start better at life. Also physically they are not yet developed to take up the responsibility of a wife thus child bearing, often the hard work associated with being married as well.

Many women who marry young are susceptible to gender based violence, poverty and diseases like HIV. When young women get married after college or university, they are highly likely to be able to articulate their needs and opinions in a marriage, including self-development needs.

Nyari Mashayamombe. Photo: Supplied

VC: What is your typical day like from morning to the time you go to bed, do you have a routine? What do you attribute to the success of your work around activism?

NM: I try to have routine as much as I can but my day can be dramatic as my life is different daily. An ideal day would begin with reading some scriptures and meditating on the word (am still struggling to keep this going). Then check my emails, messages, then get ready for the day. I LOVE working from home as much as I can, but my work centres around going to meetings, training in the communities, responding to cases of abuse, chatting with people online who need our help, attending networking meetings either in Zimbabwe or abroad, facilitating trainings depending on where I am. To be honest the only routine I have is between the time I wake up and the one or two hours that follow.

 VC: What are the most challenging and exciting components of your job?

NM: The most challenging issues of my job are for instance speaking truth in the sight of potential danger and defending vulnerable girls. For instance when I went live on television to speak against Mr Tomana who was then Prosecutor General of Zimbabwe I felt it had to be said, but it was such a risk. Addressing difficult issues such as corruption and bad governance, holding leadership accountable can be quite a daring task. Also sometimes just being bold to go for what I want can cause one to have fewer friends even in a community where you should have friends. Exciting things are such as spending time and inspiring girls, young women and the youths, as well as working with mature leaders in the communities. I love to use my story of being born in a village to where I am today to inspire girls.

Nyari intends to study for a PhD later. She enjoys road trips, watching movies, going to the beach and is currently reading, How to Hear from God by Joyce Meyer, The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir and The book of Judges in the Bible. She cannot do without Prayer and worship, her family as well as speaking out. Had she not been a singer she says she would have been an entrepreneur-she’s working on this though.