Plight of the girl child

t is said that educate a girl and you have educated a nation. This is quite noble indeed, and in Zimbabwe, this has become a slogan for many stakeholders in education and a mantra for those propagating the mainstreaming of gender. Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe, this has been reduced to a mere rhetoric. While appreciating the virtues of educating girl children, it has been difficult to practically deal with issues negatively impacting the empowerment of a girl child.
Zimbabwe has an enviable rate of literacy in Africa, if not the world at large, however, a glance at this fact may deceive one into believing that all is perfect in the nation’s education sector. Millennium development goals no. 2 and 3 make direct reference to the need to achieve universal education and more specifically to promote gender equality and empowerment of women. An achievement of these would see a significant change from the current status quo of girls in Zimbabwe.
It is unfortunate that today, in the 21st century, many girls in Zimbabwe are still being afflicted by some negative issues which have been in existence since time immemorial. Challenges emanating from the social, economic and political spheres continue to hamper the emancipation and empowerment of girls especially in education.
Generally women have always been economically and socially marginalised in Zimbabwean society. Girls have played a subservient role when it comes to education in a society where some still believe that educating a girl child is a waste of resources as they are ‘destined’ to marry off into another family. Such myopic views have witnessed quite a significant number of girls being withdrawn from school at the slightest hint of economic hardship in some families.
The HIV scourge has also added to the plight of girls in Zimbabwe as many girls are at a higher risk of being infected by the virus, their economic vulnerability can expose them to sexual exploitation by older males. In this light, many girls have been involved in prostitution. Furthermore, the high prevalence rate of HIV has seen many girls taking up the roles of caregivers to their ill parents. In this
respect, a girl’s education will inadvertently suffer as she will be affected by absenteeism and in worst cases, total withdrawal from school.
Certain cultural and religious practices in Zimbabwe have also affected a significant number of girls in Zimbabwean society. There are certain religious sects such as the Apostolic sects infamous for their promotion of early marriages. These see a girl being unwittingly married to an older man at the instigation of the ‘prophet’ and usually with the blessings of the parents. Many a girl has been married at a tender age in this way.  In addition to this, certain cultural practices such as ‘chimutsamapfihwa’ (where a young girl is married off to her dead sister’s husband as a replacement wife) and ‘kuripa ngozi’ (appeasing the avenging spirit of a dead person by giving off a girl to the deceased person’s family), although seemingly out of the spotlight, have been practised secretly and have seen many girls being sacrificed. Apart from being a direct affront to children’s rights. These negative practices have also mangled the future of the girls involved as it is almost certain that a married girl will drop out of school.
The aforementioned are just a cursory view of some of the challenges bedevilling girls in their quest for total empowerment. However, as it is said. Knowing a problem and acknowledging it is part of solving it, the rest remains for action to be taken. For any rational person, the challenges mentioned need not be sobering only but also help to galvanize him/her to take necessary steps to ameliorating the situation.
It is no longer a secret that empowering women is key to the development of any society and the world at large. Gender related myths need to be debunked and current efforts to mainstream gender in every aspect of life need to be given total support by policy makers, private and public institutions as well as by individuals. Measures to ensure girls get the basic necessities in life, from basic sanitation to education, should be fully and effectively implemented. A shift from mere rhetoric to action needs to be seen if a better tomorrow is to be realised by mankind.


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