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all have the potential, we can do what can be done by men, provided
we are given the same resources: Interview with Juliet Gwenzi
April 26, 2012
with Juliet Gwenzi
so many male-dominated professions in Zimbabwe, and indeed, throughout
the world, it is inspiring to find a woman who has broken new ground.
Juliet Gwenzi is one such woman. She is the only female lecturer
in the Physics Department of the University
of Zimbabwe, and is hard-pressed to find other women in her
chosen field of meteorology. Her work with the Ministry of Environment
has seen her be involved, time and again, in the climate-change
conversation. She has done hands-on work with Zimbabwean farmers
helping them adapt new farming practices as well as developing some
indigenous knowledge-systems in forecasting. Others might remember
her as the weatherwoman on the TV programme "Murimi WaNhasi".
Read on to find out how this woman did all this, and more.
begin by introducing yourself and giving a brief outline of your
educational and work history.
My name is Juliet Gwenzi. My maiden name is Marume, from Buhera.
I went to Bonda Mission for my secondary schooling and then came
here (University of Zimbabwe - U.Z.) for my bachelor's degree. I
did a Bachelor of Science, Physics and Mathematics. I joined the
Department of Meteorology, and am now concentrating on meteorology.
In 2002, I had a chance to do a Diploma in Meteorology, which I
did in Australia, for one year. I came back and continued work as
a forecaster and it was during that time, I think 2004, that I also
did a number of programmes with farmers, working with the National
Early-Warning Unit, and in the Agro-Meteorology section within the
department of meteorology. I also featured a lot on the ZBCTV programme,
'Murimi WaNhasi', presenting weather in the vernacular, which
is in Shona. I only stopped in 2008, because I had to go for my
Masters, which I did in the Netherlands. I then joined the Physics
Department at the University of Zimbabwe in August 2010, and this
is where I am now.
of women tend to shy away from the sciences. How did you decide
Well, I would say it was an inspiration seeing those people on television.
They usually talked about the weatherman. We never heard about the
weatherwoman. I got to interact with these people because I also
had my sister who was also working there, but mostly in Agro-Meteorology.
She never featured as a forecaster. All we would see on television
were these men presenting. So, I wanted something that was different.
And then it seemed like it was a very technical field, which was
meant for men. But I just thought to myself, with the way I grew
up, my father would always tell me that if you want something and
you strive for it, there's no limit. You can get it. Actually,
there were a few women who had been employed by the Met. Department,
and I remember at the time when I went there, there was actually
one woman forecaster. So I did a few presentations in English. And
I remember one day, the guy who was doing the Shona programme, had
a sore throat and his voice was hoarse. Then they said, "That
programme has to be recorded". I said, "Okay, I'll
give it a try". And I was on that TV programme from 2004 until
were the challenges along the way and how did you overcome them?
Being in a field that was dominated by men, you would get comments
that would put you off. So somehow, you always feel inferior, when
you are among the men. And we were only two ladies who were doing
the forecasting then. The good thing was that I now had colleagues
with whom I was in the same class, here (U.Z.) in physics. But if
I also remember correctly, in the physics class, we were only three
ladies, and yet the class had more than fifty in it. To say physics,
or anything that has to do with physics, you feel mentally challenged.
You say, "Why are we so few?" You don't get the
sort of mentoring that you would expect. You're thrown in
the deep end and then you have to discover things on your own. Those
who had been in the department for a long time, who also tended
to be a bit friendly, you go there, you ask, "How do I do
this?" but for those who were my age and a little bit older
than me, they tended to say "Ah, as women, you cannot do much,
compared to what we can".
shaped the person you are today? Where did it all begin?
I am the fifth in a family of nine. There was only one boy. So,
you can think of the society then. They also tended even to look
down upon the girl child. And what I remember hearing from my mum,
is my aunt coming and saying, "What is this?" when she
delivered a baby girl, because it was three girls in a row. So you
are coming from that setup where the girl-child gets to grade seven,
and not much comes after grade seven. And if I would remember the
girls in my class, most of them did not proceed in their education.
By the time we got to form four, most of them were married.
My father would
say, if you want to be a 'somebody', you really have
to stand up. And he was a no-nonsense man. He wanted to see results.
So growing up in such an environment, I realized that for you to
be a 'somebody', you have to stand for what you believe.
If I don't agree with things, I don't just keep quiet.
I speak out, or I look at avenues, where I'll say, they will
realize I have done something. So I would look at options for being
innovative, come up with something that someone has not done. I
know at the end of the day you will appreciate.
are your views on climate change and its impact on agriculture in
We may run away from reality; we have different names like variability
or change. It's now becoming extremely difficult to know when the
rains start. And even if I look at the time when I was young, we
would know that by October, we've planted and by December, crops
are above knee-height, but that has changed. It's becoming really
unpredictable. So many extremes, which you cannot deal with. I'm
looking at the use of indigenous knowledge systems in forecasting.
We tend to look at the "real" science that can be done in the laboratory.
But we are saying, these people know what affects them. They know
how to adjust to those changes. They will tell you, we had some
rivers, which were perennial, but now flow only a few days in a
year. And they have got plants that they talk about, which have
become extinct. There used to be waterlogged areas, but now they
are dry areas, which is just a clear sign that things are changing.
the seasons, we usually knew that when systems changed, we would
get a dry spell which would last about 10 or so days, that is around
Christmas into early January. But now the frequency of these dry
spells has increased, and you cannot even predict how long they
will last. And by the time we get rains, the crop is gone. For the
season ending 2011, I know some places, which last received rains
on the 24th of January. And it's happening for years in succession.
Can we still look at that and say things have not changed? So we
have to look at it with a different eye and try to understand what
are some solutions/measures that can be taken to alleviate the impact
of these climatic changes on farmers and, in fact, our economy?
For now, what farmers have to understand is rain-fed agriculture
is failing us, and we just have to focus on irrigation. I know,
we may say "How about the communal farmers?" They would
benefit if those that have got irrigation would intensify their
work, and then they can feed the whole nation. And if we also look
at the communal farmers, we find that most have very few resources.
They have to do intensive agriculture, concentrating their effort
and resources on smaller areas. Also, we are just appealing to the
seed houses to look at such options as developing very short season
varieties, which would allow the farmers to have some options.
is your advice to young women out there who may want to follow in
Lack of information is one area that hampers the development of
the girl child. They hardly get information, no career guidance.
And the moment you start talking physics, they cannot even think
of this 'animal'. They look at it as something that
information to find where their strength is. Then they look around
them and say, "Who has walked along that path?". Even
the bible says "Walk with the wise and you will grow with
the wise," You look around you. Who has walked along that
path, how did they do it? How did they get where they are? Get information
from them. And you get mentors in you life, and then you also have
got time to weigh the options that are available. But without that
information, people continue to look at it [physics] and say, "Well!
It's not possible." If I look at the first year students
right now, I think there are five or so girls, but right now it's
only three who are left, the others have already dropped [out].
Last year, there were two female students in the physics class,
and when it came to second year, one was actually given an honours,
but she opted for other subjects, and said, "I cannot do it."
So I think also as women, we still have this mentality where we
say, this is a man's area, this is a woman's area, but
we are now looking at equal opportunity where we are saying, we
all have the potential. We can do what men, can do, provided we
are given the same resources.
from her work, who is Juliet Gwenzi? What are the other roles that
you play and how do you strike a balance between all the things
you have to do?
It's not easy, but it's about time management. I've
got a husband at home. I'm a mother of four kids. The eldest
is in Form 2 and the youngest is in Grade 1. They all need attention,
especially the young ones. They want the homework to be parent-assisted,
so you have to be there, and also play with them too. I also do
a lot of work in the church. It's time-consuming working with
the youth. They need their time with counseling sessions, but you
have to plan your work. Sometimes I also do a lot of travel, and
I'm not at home, so the time that I am there I try to maximize
so that I give to family issues. When I am away, of course they
miss me, but they know we also have our time.
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