Girl Empowerment through Education
My vision is to see a well-developed girl-child socially, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally with a high self-esteem. And I believe that girls can be empowered to stand for their rights through education.
The main barrier to education for girls in my community is the economic crises the country has been facing over the years. Besides the economic crises, Zimbabwe which is mainly an agro-based economy has had recurrent droughts over the past five years. The economic downturn has resulted in many families forcing their children out of school or transferring them to mediocre schools a situation that affects their ability to excel at Ordinary and Advanced levels. Unaffordable food prices, school fees and healthcare costs are forcing the household to compensate by reducing quality and quantity of the food consumed and reducing other “less essential” expenses (health and education). In most cases the girl child is one that is forced to drop out of school and engage in risky behaviour and in exploitative income generating activities such as forced prostitution and child labour to earn an income for the family.
One of the projects we have done as an organisation is to deliberately target the girl child through the goat pass on project. Girls in the community are selected to benefit from this project. They are given two goats each which they rear and when these goats have kids then the beneficiary passes it on to another girl child in the community. The proceeds that the children get from selling their goats are used to assist them to pay school fees and buy uniforms and stationery. We have also facilitated the establishment of income generating projects at various schools like poultry projects and nutrition gardens. The proceeds from selling the chickens and the vegetables also go towards paying school fees for girls.
At University level, the government due to the economic crises is no longer providing student grants to university students and this has led to most female students resorting to either prostitution or transactional sex for survival. According to the National AIDS Council as quoted in the Sunday News of 29 December 2012 there is a high incidence of HIV and sexual transmitted infections in the 15 to 24 age group in tertiary institutions of Zimbabwe.
Children and youth clubs have been established where they are taught on life skills, including decision making, assertiveness, confidence, children rights and adolescent sexual reproductive health. Girls also get to play rest and relax when they attend these children’s clubs meetings as they do most of the chores at home without much time to play or study. Parents are not left out. They have their own clubs where they meet weekly and discuss various issues that affect them and their children and come up with solutions to their problems. These are also the clubs that do incomes, savings and lending’s which as an organisation we have termed self help groups. These are usually groups of 15 women that meet weekly and teach each other on how to start businesses. They also access loans to start businesses from their savings clubs.
The other barrier that has been noted in my community is the long distances to schools. Zimbabwean women generally have a high illiteracy rate due to the fact that secondary schools are far away from one another (an average of about 15-25km away). The ratio of secondary schools to primary schools in most rural Matabeleland is 1:6. On the other hand when it comes to primary education, according to the PASS report 27% of pupils in Matabeleland leave further away from primary schools, that is they walk more than 5 kms to school. This poses a risk for the girls as they may risk being sexually abused along the way. Sexual abuse cases are high in Zimbabwe and it is perpetrated amongst young powerless girls. One of the projects that we are currently doing as an organisation is raising awareness on child sexual abuse amongst girls and encouraging them to report abuse cases. We use the children’s clubs as a platform for our awareness campaigns. The children are encouraged to walk in groups on their way to school, with other children’s club members. I am a trained facilitator of child friendly tools that can be used when working with children to raise their self esteem and to be assertive. These are the artistic self expression tools like puppetry, poetry, dance, drama and drawing. The tools are utilised to develop the child’s life skills. Through these tools children have been able to report abuse cases. Self-confidence and assertiveness has increased which helps to ward off some of the perpetrators.
Through this forum I believe we will cover some strides in helping girls to access education.