In the last decade, the world has been wowed by girl power like never before. From Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousefzou for her courage shown to promote the education of girls under extreme difficulty, to environmental gladiator Greta Thurnberg, girls are making a significant new impact on our world. Zimbabwe also has its girl child heroes: motocross champion Tanya Muzinda; child prodigy Taida Mupara who is attending medical school at the tender age of 14. Girls are finding their voices which they have been denied for centuries. Girls are showing the world that once they are allowed to have a voice, they are can initiate change: change not only for the status of girls and women, but for benefit the whole of humankind.
On the 11th of October 2011, by Resolution 66/170, the United Nations General Assembly earmarked the day to be commemorated as International Day of the Girl Child. The day is also known as Girls Day. It echoes the blueprint for advancement of progressive rights for women and girls established by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action exactly 25 years ago.
This Year’s Theme
This year, the theme for the day is “My voice, our equal future”. The theme is a call to recognise that in empowering the girl child, a better and more equal future is created not only for her but for the entire community. The theme highlights the importance of strengthening and bettering the life of the girl child. In changing her world today, we can transform the world for all tomorrow. When the conference in Beijing was held 25 years ago, governments promised girls all over the world that they would safeguard girls’ equal rights and ensure girls reached their full potential. The time to take stock of that progress has come.
Predicament of Girls in Zimbabwe
According to Relief Web [said to be the largest humanitarian information portal in the world with its parent organisation being United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] there are about 130 million girls of school going age world-wide who do not attend school. This number is predicted to rise by 11 million by year end due to the long-term effects of COVID-19. According to The Borgen Project [a non-profit organisation the focus of which is to bring political attention to extreme poverty in the world] Zimbabwe is going backwards when it comes to the enrolment of girls in school. The organisation says this is because of the increase in rural poverty rates causing parents to opt to educate their boy children over their girl children. Furthermore, according to both Relief Web and Zimstat, 20% of the children in Harare are believed to be child labourers. A great number of these children are often taken into domestic work as child minders or housemaids. According to UNICEF data and Girls Not Brides data, 32% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18 and 4% are married before the age of 15. The story of the girl child’s success is cut short by such practices. They show how vulnerable they are and even such achievements that have been made are disproportionately affected by factors such as Covid-19 and economic recession.
Laws that Affect Girls in Zimbabwe
Under Zimbabwean law girls have the right to basic education under the Constitution. Most recently under the new Education Act, girls have the right to attend school after pregnancy. It is important that lawmakers be commended for this effort at this point, it allows for girls that get pregnant to be able to continue with their education and so give them a chance to better their own lives. ZimStat however notes that about 1.2 million children end up being turned away from school as a result of not being able to afford school fees.
The Next 25 years
Most societies have for centuries suppressed equal opportunities for the girl child. The statistics that we have highlighted above indicate that there is a lot more that needs to be done when it comes to empowering the girl child and allowing her to have a voice towards her future. We therefore call on all players – from Churches to the Ministry of Youth to the Ministry of Health and Child Care – to make sure that the next 25 years for the girl child need to be better than the last 25. Change in educating and uplifting the girl child needs not only to be on paper but must be backed by real and practical effort and results.
As we commemorate this day and celebrate girl heroes, let us take time to remember the girls that are the uncelebrated and often unseen. Those that have forfeited education in order to support their families and young siblings and those that have been forced down a path with no future for them. May we all realise that it is our duty to keep the dream of the girl child alive and that by giving her a voice and an equal future we are enriching our nation for generations. May the efforts of the 30 000 Beijing Human Rights defenders never go to waste.
Veritas is dedicated to ensuring that girls and women and all their supporters have access to information which directly affects their rights and tells them where they can seek help: www.veritaswomen.net is an interactive platform both provides information and answer to specific questions. Veritas encourages girls and their mothers, brothers and fathers to use it as a resource.
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