Going through social networks, especially Facebook, I could not help but smile and empathise. I saw pictures of parents proud of their children who were going to school. The calming and inspiring fact is that many young male friends were so proud of their children going to school. It gives a sigh of relief that this young generation is taking responsibility for their children’s education seriously.
A male friend whose child was going to school, Brian Muchemwa posted on his Facebook page last Monday; “I’m really getting old… took my son to sch [school] today.. only to be told it’s opening on the 13th. Lol. Had to apologise to him but he cdnt [could not] forgive me. How embarrassing!” Great young father!
Back to my school days, as a rural student, being early for school was always a mission. The distance was long, attracting punishment, ridicule or embarrassment at the hands of school authorities. This made me hate school during my time when I was in the infant classes. Corporal punishment was the most popular form of punishment and it made me dislike going to school even more.
The first school term in Zimbabwe is reserved for athletics. Most school authorities do not give children the option to choose disciplines they like. It’s compulsory and a pupil is forced to take part in at least one sport.
In my village there was a girl whom I was in the same class with. She stayed with her step mother. She would cook, fetch water and sweep the yard before going to school. This was despite the fact that she was in Grade 7, where a morning exercise was done at 6:30am. The exercise would be marked that morning and the girl would be beaten for every mark she missed. One day I gathered the courage and confronted the teacher whom I explained to about this girl’s challenges at home. The teacher understood what I told him and became supportive of the girl.
I went to Kwekwe High School for a year when I was in Form 1 and came back home to do Form 2. Upon my return as a newcomer, all eyes were on me and many boys came after me. These were mainly senior students. I was embarrassed, but at the same time, clear not to pursue a relationship at school.
At some point it became unbearable as I could not leave class during break time because of these senior students. Many girls are deceived in such a way and they only realise when it’s too late.
Girls are also lured by teachers into relationships where they are abused and impregnated, at the detriment of their careers. It is the same schools where government policy is slow to deal with such errant teachers. It is not surprising that some convicted teachers find their way back into schools where they abuse children.
I have used real-life examples to explore the types of violence in schools that girls experience and how it affects their education.
Schools need to be safe for girls through deterring policies that prevent gender-based violence against girls from either fellow students or school authorities.
In some instances, girls have been forced to take nude pictures of themselves by their boyfriends, who in turn post them on social media when they break up. Some teachers are also victimised when they report cases of abuse as other school authorities choose to protect perpetrators. Our experiences with Tag a Life International both in schools and communities have shown that it takes longer than it should for a raped child to access services, including post exposure prophylaxis, which they should get within 72 hours so that they prevent contracting HIV.
There is urgent need to invest in making schools safe for children, especially girls. Organisations that have been doing work in schools have been suspended for over a year now. These had been providing support to teachers, equipping them to respond to cases of abuse. We do respect the new curriculum that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is introducing, which is hoped to address comprehensive sexuality education. We are hoping that every teacher will be capacited enough to work with children around comprehensive sexuality education as a sustainability measure. Government, however, needs to keep the doors open to partnerships with experts like local and international non-governmental organisations. This is meant to support implementation of the development goals, including comprehensive youth and adolescent reproductive health rights in Zimbabwe.
Nyaradzo “Nyari” Mashayamombe is the founder and executive director of Tag a Life International Trust, a girl child rights organisation. She is a development consultant, entrepreneur and musician. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org