your girl did it mama
Going to school was a given for me since my mother knew the value of education. It was difficult seeing children my age stay at home and then getting married without qualifications. I had always been told to get qualified then marry so that if I faced problems in marriage I would fall back on education. My journey still was not easy, from primary to university, the hurdles were many and it took courage to succeed. Challenges threatened me at every corner and I would have given up had my mother not been stubborn and insisted that education came first no matter what.
In grade 7 my teachers were strict about correct disposal of sanitary wear. It sounds easy but there were difficulties associated with it. The incinerator was in one toilet in the middle of the school. Entering that toilet meant you were menstruating and you became the object of ridicule. Though we learnt about menstruation, it only increased the stigma. Unsurprisingly, menstruating girls were secretive and didn’t use this facility, wrongly depositing their used sanitary.
During one incident we were called and asked to lower our pants for inspection. I never forgot it because it was embarrassing and the guilty girl did not come to school for days and at times some never returned. Instead of support, the environment was hostile. In rural areas girls use newspapers or cloths, the lack of ablution facilities and sanitary wear leads to high dropout rates as self-esteem and confidence is brought down by this natural process.
In high school, my body began changing. I was ridiculed because of my looks. Inappropriate and derogatory comments were passed everywhere especially by male teachers who pass subtle comments that are difficult to report but makes girls uncomfortable. I fought one boy because of this and the teacher told me I did not know my place.
During university girls become more vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse by lecturers and peers. One lecturer courted girls he taught. We were all afraid because there was always the danger of failing a module if you reported him. Worst, was you could not report without facing discrimination, so the harassment was never reported.
School authorities harass children who have not paid fees and they end up playing truancy. Schools must be safe and welcoming, but many girls in Zimbabwe fail to attend school due to the hostile environments. Bullying destroys girls and it is the subtle forms of bullying that leave the worst scars. My friend’s parents died from AIDS and the reaction of classmates was horrifying. She was the subject of scorn, school became unbearable and she dropped out.
Many girls do not have access to education because of household labour. They do chores before going to school and if they can’t finish they miss school. The effort can become too much that they just stop going altogether.
Poverty forces girls to drop out of school. The economic environment in Zimbabwe has led a lot of girls to drop out of school and venture into vending and domestic work. There is no motivation to stay in school. They are able to make money in the informal sector but it makes them vulnerable.
Educating girls should include parents’ awareness, especially mothers, on the importance of education as many uneducated women do not send their daughters to school. Informal education at home plays an integral part in educating girls: especially building life skills like decision making and assertiveness which cannot be learnt academically. If girls understand the impact of education on their lives they are more likely to make better decisions, avoid early marriages and face challenges without compromising their education. They are less vulnerable to external shocks and persevere no matter what life throws at them.
Authorities need to focus on making schools child-friendly. I have introduced a lesson every week for my pupils on human rights and life skills to empower girls. The long-time spend in school helps girls mature, they make wise life decisions. In relationships educated women are empowered and respected by their partners. They can leave abusive relationships and empower their children.
The support I received from my mother’s family helped me succeed. When my mother died she had just sat for promotion exams and passed. My uncle handed my sister and I my mother’s certificate and challenged us to go to school to get our own certificates. Years later, I am the proud holder of a bachelor degree and a master’s degree. I am now looking forward to starting my PHD. Many girls in my community do not have anyone to support them especially orphans but there are two choices in life accept conditions as they exist or accept the responsibility of changing them (Dennis Waitley) and break barriers.