By Robert Tapfumaneyi
For girls and young women in Zimbabwe to better access education, support and protection, investment must increase, according to a newly released study by Plan Zimbabwe.
The research, which assessed the prevailing situation of girls in seven program areas where Plan is working, found that more girls than boys enrol in lower school but a significant number of girls fail to complete secondary education. Girls drop out of education for a wide rang of reasons including an inability to pay school fess, early pregnancy, early marriage, cultural and religious practices, a lack of sanitary ware, death, peer pressure and a lack of interest in school work.
The study finds that as many families in both rural and urban areas have unstable incomes they struggle to afford the cost of school. These financial difficulties affect both boys’ and girls’ education but the undervaluing of girls results in families preferring to invest boys’ education instead of girls, meaning more drop out.
The study also found that 19% of sampled girls experience some form of violence while 52% had heard of a girl who had been raped either by a grown man such as a relative or male teacher or by both a peer.
Child marriages were found to be prevalent among the Apostolic church. These often result in young girls joining polygamous unions.
Many of the Apostolic church do not value education for girls beyond primary school. The study found that allowing a girl to continue in education is seen as something that will end up benefiting a girl’s prospective in-laws rather than the birth family itself, meaning it is not favoured by many communities.
Early pregnancies and child marriages were cited as major contributing factors to girl’s high school drop out rates. At one school in Kwekwe , ten girls in Form 2 and 3 left school due to pregnancy while in Mtoko, 13 girls drooped out for the same reason.
Although the findings indicate that there is access to sexual and reproductive health information for adolescents, this information is mostly about biological facts and does not provide the skills necessary for girls to be adequately equipped to protect themselves from enforced early sexual activity and HIV.
Plan Zimbabwe has recommended that all stakeholders and communities share an understanding of gender inequalities and the reasons why girls’ education is important. It also calls for an increase in the number of girls finishing ordinary level education with opportunities for employment and income generation available afterwards.
Plan Zimbabwe’s findings are the result of a study commissioned under the Because I Am Girl Campaign to assess the situation of girls in Zimbabwe.
Plan’s global Because I Am a Girl Child campaign launched in 66 countries in 2007 to ensure the plights of girls remains on the family, community and international agenda. It argues for equal access, participation and training for girls and boys as well as men and women and for all research data to be categorised by age and sex in order for gender analysis to be built into all studies. The campaign in Zimbabwe argues that strategic public/private partnership must also be developed, and initiatives to improve girls’ lives expanded nationwide.
In denying Zimbabwe girls access to education and other rights, communities forfeit the economic potential of girls, and Plan Zimbabwe is convinced that government, civil society, the private sector, children, their families and the media have collective responsibility to ensure the issues that affect girls remain on the national agenda.
Plan Zimbabwe is a child centred community development organisation that works with the government and communities in 10 districts to ensure children realise their full potential.