*MALAWI*- Chikondi Precious-Chabvuta: Women’s Land Rights Officer

 

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Background
Chikondi Precious Chabvuta is the first born in her family of seven, she has a background in Environmental Science and is working for Actionaid International Malawi as Women and Land Rights Officer. She is involved in the emancipation of women and girls in land to maximize the benefits that could be accrued from land in agriculture, enhancing the needs of women in the agricultural and environmental spaces. She enjoys role modeling events to mentor to young girls and to encourage them to finish school and aim high. Previously she was working for Farmers Union of Malawi as a Gender Mainstreaming Coordinator where she delivered on coordinating gender initiatives and mainstreamed issues for FUM and making policies for the organization and its partners on issues of gender, women empowerment and governance. Before joining FUM, she was involved in research work at Bunda College of Agriculture that involved empowering women farmers through research results. Chikondi is geared for improving women’s participation in agricultural sector and she is a beneficiary of the New Mexico State University’s Service Learning for women program that seeks to inspire and empower women in agricultural careers so that they can excel as leaders in local and global communities.

Chikondi is a recipient and active member of the following notable organizations making a difference for the youth and women in Africa: The prestigious African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), The esteemed Moremi Institute for Leadership Development (MILEAD),  Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD)  and The  Young African Leaders (YALI) Program.

Why did you pick the career path that
did?
I am from an Agro-based society and have always seen how women are in the forefront of tilling the land in the country but their efforts are not appreciated. This has always pained me, and also our agricultural methods are still in the hand hoe era.  I want to witness the drift form that to mechanization and modern ways where farming is not seen as a curse. Another reason, is that I am moved to see agriculture which gives food destroying the land so I aim to sensitize women who are the tillers of the land to embark on sustainable farming to maintain the environment, curb climate change effects but still benefit more from the land. I am also interested in ICT(Information and communications technology) for agriculture and environment.

Who and what are some of your influences?
Wangaari Mathai is my role model on her fight for environmental restoration, Siku Nkhoma for her fight to end poverty in the country, Linda Stout for her generosity and kindness, Grace Malindi, David Mkwambisi and Jennipher Sakala for their intellectual and professional guidance. These are a few of the many role models that I look up to.

Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.
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I am glad with the way my life is turning out; so far things are going well! All thanks to God who has been good to me all the time!

What do you count as your greatest achievement?
For me, the greatest achievement was doing my Msc while working and helping the adoption of the ecological sanitation research. This was my moment of greatest satisfaction. Every time, I see women’s lives being changed due them allowing me to guide them and engage with them, I get fulfilled.

What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?
More so from being a young woman, my challenges include having to talk to women farmers, older ones on agricultural and environmental messages. Being young and a female also faces resistance with men who tend to ask “what do I know?” But with time, respect is built and it only takes time but I wish my age or my gender did not influence my work, sometimes I wish I was older.
Another challenge, is sexual harassment which goes unreported because our rules tend to favor men and the woman who reports always ends up the victim.

How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?
Having focus, there are several opinions different groups are going to have but when you are focused and are prepared, you can handle any audience. Having this challenge has built my planning, presentation and time management skills so that I go out to several groups prepared and ready, it shows the level of seriousness and also how focused one is.

With sexual harassment, it has been overcome by speaking out to the perpetrators to ensure they treat you as an equal professionally. Not being subdued and having my mentor Don Boyd who helped me through constructive dialogue to overcome this challenge that is usually a silent fight among a lot of women, but I overcame it through constructive dialogue.

Having low confidence was overcome by reassuring oneself of my value, it is always better for oneself to realize your worth and not depend on the opinions of other people.

How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?
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Well, family is important, it makes life worth living. I think it is also important to have a work life balance to ensure you maintain professional focus but you also have time for family, it is God’s blessing.

Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?
When you share your story, another women could be in a similar situation as you and can benefit from your experience. I reach out  more when I hear other women’s  stories and would love to share my story because it can impact another women positively.

In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?
Having to juggle between family and work is a challenge. Cultural constraints like in our country, where the more quicker you are as a woman, the more respect you gain. Which ends up holding a lot of great ideas women have and  one of the ways they can use it is though the trend of eroding. Sexual harassment in the workplace is also there for women and it is treated silently.  Also, having an unsupportive spouse or fellow women also tends to kill most women’s self-esteem. At household level, in our culture boys are told to be leaders from a young age and not girls, this also tends to influence the level of confidence and self-esteem between girls and boys.

What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

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Constructive dialogue as taught by Don Boyd where everyone should be able to engage and negotiate with others to ensure they get what they want but also having mentors who can help you cross the professional circle with ease.  Most importantly, more organizations should mainstream gender and recognize gender roles of women and men by  creating spaces that would allow both  balance in work life and  flexible hours for nursing mothers. Girls and boys should be treated equally right from their homes to their schools, so that confidence between the sexes is equal.

What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

Work hard, focus, and be innovative in the approach to agriculture and environment using a gender lens. It is a fulfilling career path which is holistic for all the needs of a human being and hence satisfying which leaves an impact!

What do you do to give back to your community?
I hold role modeling events to school girls and boys and mostly girls to ensure that they focus on education and have goals in life and to always aim higher. Also, I volunteer to do charity work through the Lions Club, I am a Leo and it gives me the space to contribute to my community. I also offer free agricultural advice to women farming in my community.

If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

Have a goal, focus on that goal, no matter the obstacles and they will be there even though they are a lot of them  always focus and remember to work hard and pray!

Source: http://africanqueensproject.com/2013/11/07/malawi-chikondi-precious-chabvuta-womens-land-rights-officer/

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