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2009 – Zimbabwe

Empowering Girls through Education in Zimbabwe

Partner: The Stephen Lewis Foundation

Girl Child Network (GCN) was established in 1999 to give a voice to school-age girls under the age of 16 in Zimbabwe. Through proactive training and preventative intervention, GCN empowers young girls to become strong advocates for themselves and to speak out when their rights are being violated. GCN has directly benefited over 60,000 girls in 700 girls’ clubs, in 40 of the country’s 58 districts. It has also created three Girls’ Empowerment Villages, where survivors of rape and sexual abuse can seek refuge and rehabilitation.

The underlying raison d’être of the GCN is the conviction that girls’ education must not be the exception,  but the rule. It must go beyond primary school so that girls can become nurses, teachers, doctors, professors – a full education that allows them to become fully participating members of Zimbabwean society.

In just two years, the percentage of girls dropping out of school – especially in rural areas of Zimbabwe – has risen from 20% in 2006 to 60% in 2008. The problem has been exacerbated by many factors. Zimbabwe is a country just emerging from a war-like situation and recent political violence has turned most schools into youth militia bases. In addition, the historical context of gender inequality means that girls are often treated as second-class citizens, useful only for domestic duties and marriage – roles that have been heightened because of the economic crisis. If this situation is not curtailed, the development of the girl child will be seriously undermined.

Additionally, Zimbabwe is experiencing hyperinflationary times. Inflation is estimated to be over 11 million%, resulting in school fees that seem to be raised daily by school authorities.  Girls come to GCN to negotiate their reinstatement into school after failing to pay the required top-up fees. Because of inflationary demands, the school fees need to be topped-up on a monthly basis and GCN is having difficulty keeping pace.

The situation for teachers is equally depressing at the moment in Zimbabwe as many have had to desert their places of work due to the violence and continued intimidation. The need to empower and support teachers is crucial. If teachers are not fully empowered, they cannot be assertive, empower their female students and act as strong role models for the girls.

What will be achieved with our funding?

With funding from the 60 million girls Foundation, GCN would, over a 12-month period, increase access to education for girls and reduce the vulnerability of girls infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. The funding would allow GCN to continue to pay school fees, educational and basic needs such as uniforms, and to provide the girls with much needed guidance and psychosocial support. Through empowerment villages and support units, GCN would work to remove any additional hurdles related to ingrained gender disparities that put young girls at risk of violence and sexual abuse and prevent them from exercising their right to education. GCN would also assist with the retention of teachers by acting as a social support network for those who have faced difficulties due to the violence and continued intimidation.

What is expected as a result of this project? It is hoped that more girls across the country will be able to develop their full potential as future women leaders. Some of the female graduates, who are still involved with GCN, are the only nurses or teachers in their communities and many sit on the Board of the organization. In addition to reducing the number of girls who drop out of school and assisting with teacher retention in the community, GCN wants to create a force of young girls who will re-invest in their communities. This new breed of women will bring an added dimension to the fight for gender equality and equity, while simultaneously dealing with the challenges that come with the HIV/AIDS pandemic and gender-based violence.

Overall the program will involve 500 girls across 10 provinces in Zimbabwe. GCN will identify 300 of these girls who need payment of their school fees as part of GCN’s overall strategy to make sure that the most vulnerable and needy girls remain in school. While all these girls may be in need of further assistance, GCN will do an additional assessment to identify those in the direst situations who need school uniforms, school supplies and other necessities. With the reality of GCN’s limited resources, the most vulnerable girls will be prioritized for this further assistance. All of this is a step towards GCN’s efforts to provide vulnerable girls with a full basic education kit so that they can participate in the Women as Role Model Program.

In addition to the girls receiving scholarship support and assistance with basic necessities, all girls who participate in the Girls clubs will benefit from the Role Modelling Program and other activities outlined in the project.

Role modeling program

The modelling program of the Girl Child Network is part of their overall objective to empower girls. The GCN defines empowerment as a process of facilitating, instilling, and providing the means to live to their potential. The modelling program is a proactive approach that develops and empowers girls to deal effectively with life obstacles they face and provides one-on-one experiential learning as well as group and girls clubs’ mentorship.

The modelling program operates at two levels. In the first instance, GCN will bring back to their villages former GCN graduates between the ages of 18-28 years who have become women achievers (such as doctors, lawyers, bankers, pilots, engineers and so on) to share their experiences with the girls on how they worked out solutions to the many challenges they faced in their successful bid to climb the ladder of success. This program will give girls a new, positive worldview, especially in situations where education for girls offers limited hope. Four times a year, girls from different villages in the province will be brought together to meet and hear these mentors.

In the second instance, GCN will ensure that girls get the most out of their leadership training by getting exposure to mentors, especially mentors who are GCN Alumni and beneficiaries of GCN scholarships. GCN will coordinate regular local visits of mentors so that they can impart important and critical leadership skills.

The role of teachers

The most common role models regularly witnessed by girls in schools are, naturally, their women teachers. What GCN has realized is that most of the women teachers live in violent relationships, that the schools are dominated by male school heads, and that patriarchal beliefs, attitudes and practices tend to stand in the way of girls in attaining their education.

This is why GCN has led an initiative to empower and build capacity in female teachers. Women teachers are taken through a three workshop process that includes confidence-building exercises to help enable them to articulate and advocate for girls’ rights in instances where cultural and religious beliefs, attitudes and practices, families and communities interfere with the success of their girl students.

At this time of crisis, where teachers have had to flee due to violence, and cannot continue in their formal role, GCN is encouraging teachers to share their capacity with the girls school clubs. By taking this teaching and support outside the classroom in a non-formal setting, there is a continuation of this very important process of support and empowerment for the girls.

In addition, women teachers are taught how to do participatory monitoring and evaluation with girls’ progress so that the girls learn to value education and see it as a life investment. Teachers are trained to develop indicators and during the girls’ weekly club meetings, the girls undertake a self evaluation exercise to ensure they have achieved tangible empowerment results. The aim is to establish a model where teachers develop capacity and, in turn, develop capacity in the girl students through empowerment training, living assertively and showing examples how success can be achieved particularly through education.