She is only a girl … so they said

She is only a girl … so they said


Date: October 10, 2018
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By Sifisosami Dube

Gugu* beamed with excitement when her teacher asked her to collect all books from her class mates and bring them to the school staff room. She felt important to be assigned this important role. As she sauntered towards the staff room with a pile of books, she could feel the eyes of her fellow classmates green with envy. When she reached the staff room, only Moyo, the gigantic male teacher for a Grade seven class was there. He asked her to place the books on his desk with a deep, scary voice. Gugu obliged lest Moyo tells her teacher that she is rude. Moyo suddenly pulled Gugu toward his huge body and pinched her breasts. He proceeded to pull up her uniform exposing her lower body. Gugu managed to free herself from Moyo and dashed towards her class confused on what had just happened. She told her grandmother about the incident who dismissed her saying she is only girl who tells a lot of lies.

Many girls have experienced sexual abuse at schools like Gugu and have lived with the scar of abuse for the rest of their lives. As the International Day of the Girl Child approaches draws closer on 11 October, the voices on the #miniMetoo campaign need to be amplified. Gugu has lived with the scar of being abused by Moyo and being told that she is a liar by her grandmother.

When her grandmother passed away, Gugu could not continue with secondary school education as no one could pay her fees. Even the government’s social welfare programme was discontinued. She worked as a domestic worker from the age of 12 until a Non-Governmental Organisation sent her back to school at the age of 15. She remembers the day when she had her first period at 12 and was told that it was her fault she started menstruating so early. She could not afford any sanitary pads and used pieces of cloth when she was having her period.

Intergenerational poverty is perpetrated due to lack of education opportunities and life skills for girls. Despite many SADC countries reaching gender parity in primary school enrolment rates, secondary school completion rates tend to be lower for girls. Only Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi have higher rates of secondary school completion compare to secondary school enrolment. The United Nations predicts that of 600 million adolescent girls that will enter the work force in the next decade globally, 90% of those from developing countries will work in the informal sector where low pay and abuse prevail.[1]

Poverty many girls are vulnerable to sex trafficking, child marriages, child labour, teenage pregnancy and intergenerational sex which puts them at risk of HIV and Sexual Transmitted infections (STIs). More than 10% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth in seven SADC countries (Angola, DRC, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe). South Africa for example has as much as 1,500 girls infected with HIV every week and has the highest number of adolescent girls living with HIV at 350,000.

Shocking stories of girls as young as nine year old working as sex workers emerged in 2017 in Zimbabwe’s Epworth community. Despite the Zimbabwe government setting aside a budget for child and social welfare, many young girls, in particular orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) roam streets begging for food making them vulnerable to sex trafficking and abuse. In September, a six year old girl was raped at a Dros restaurant in South Africa sparking a public outcry on safety of restaurants. Again the anger must be directed towards non-implementation of policies and laws. “Gender Based Violence has become a pandemic in South Africa” said Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a High Level Panel to celebrate Women’s month.

The fact remains that many girls suffer in silence as no one takes them seriously when they report abuse – just because they are girls. As we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child, it is important to remember survivors like Gugu who have been silenced by patriarchy deeply entrenched to discriminate against the girl child. This year’s theme With Her: A Skilled Girl Force calls for governments to invest in girls’ continued education and life skills in order to prepare them adequately for the world of work. Girls deserve to be given platforms to freely report abuse, be adequately equipped with skills for the world of work and share their experiences.

With Her: A Skilled Girl Force!

 

 

 

[1] United Nations events – International Day of the Girl Child


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