Protecting Zimbabwe’s Girls

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Africa News Update

A rural girls gender program is bringing hope to many young girls in the Nyanga North district helping to fight violence, exploitation and abuse, a growing problem not only here in Zimbabwe but in many African countries and even globally.

The Edit Trust program on eradicating gender violence and abuse against girls and women in this district is having a positive impact; women are being encouraged to stand up for their rights.

Dr. David Mazambani, the director of Edit, says the program has scored a number of successes in educating community members to promote the status of girls. The major achievements, he said, include establishing 59 Girl Child Clubs in schools and churches, training more than 60 Girl Child Clubs coordinators from schools and churches dotted around the Nyanga North district, and producing training manuals.

"More than 27 heads of schools in Nyanga North have endorsed the project which aims to educate rural girls about their rights," Dr.  Mazambani says. "It's difficult to quantify but it is a very serious problem. Young girls have told us of horrifying stories of sexual abuse taking place in schools, churches and in homes. Rape of young rural girls is the most serious problem. It's unfortunate that it's not being reported. Its prevalent and its swept under the carpet especially in churches," he says.

Additionally, the program aims to encourage the community to teach rural girls how to protect themselves from abuse, raising awareness on HIV and Aids as well as training rural girls how to report abuses.

The Canadian International Development Agency supported the program with $ 99, 000 to help eradicate gender violence and abuse.

"After many years of successful political discussions and the adoption of bills, protocols and conventions, it is time to take concrete actions towards ensuring that every women and girls are living in a safe and respectful environment," said the Canadian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Roxanne Dube when she commissioned the Edit Trust project. "I trust this will change negative attitudes towards women and girls subsequently leading to a reduction in cases of gender based violence and abuse."

The majority of children in Africa are rural girls. In many African countries, NGOs prefer to operate in urban areas. As a result rural girls may be left with little access to information on their rights, how to protect themselves from abuse and the raging HIV and Aids pandemic—that’s what makes this approach unique.

"Young rural girls are forced to keep quiet because the abusers are close relatives," says Theresa Nyamaropa, 17, a student at Emmanuel High School in Nyanga North district. "With this project, I'm now able to protect myself and know what to do when I'm abused."

Adds student, Tariro Matongo, 17: "The Girl Child Clubs should be expanded throughout the country. It helps everybody to understand gender abuse and how to expose the abusers—all schools should have such clubs to help fight the abuse of rural girls."

Rural girls have fewer opportunities –little or no access to radio and television, educational materials and other forms of media that may help them get messages that promote the status of girls.

Parents in rural areas are less likely to be educated themselves and so have less ability to promote the rights and status of their girl child. Some report that they are embarrassed to discuss sexual issues with their children because of cultural limitations and probably lack of knowledge.

Many girls in rural Africa are forced to drop out of school because school administrators are insensitive to gender issues, sexual abuse and intimidation.

Dr. Mazambani says his organization is promoting awareness and lobbying church and traditional leaders to respect and uphold the rights of women and girls. He says they are also encouraging the leaders to change negative attitudes and practices towards girls.

"We have managed to sensitize 74 traditional leaders in six wards in Nyanga North district about the rights of girls and women," he says. "Church leaders resolved to review two issues –women's freedom of speech and expression in church and the practice of virginity tests by some churches."

Other activities included lobbying school authorities to promote the rights of girls in schools, lobbying policy makers to support the project and to fight the practice of appeasing Ngozi (avenging spirits) through giving away girls.

Edit Trust has managed to establish a safe house for abused rural girls and women and facilitated the formation of women's forums at community level.

Child marriages and the practice of appeasing Ngozi is a major problem in most rural communities in Africa as parents choose to marry off their daughters early for a number of reasons.

In some cases poor families may regard a young girl as an economic burden and her marriage as a necessary survival strategy for her family.

Tsiko is The Black Star News' Southern Africa correspondent based in South Africa.

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