Zimbabwe this week joins the rest of the world in marking International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, as designated by the United Nations General Assembly two years ago.
This year’s commemorations, focusing on finding new innovative ways to get girls into school and keep them in those institutions, comes at a time when the girl child continues to grapple with a number of challenges including early marriages, lack of educational opportunities and sexual abuse, among others.
The United Nations says despite strides and gains that have been made in the empowerment of the girl child, there is more that can be done, especially in this era of technology.
This year’s theme is “Innovating for Girls' Education” in recognition of the importance of fresh and creative perspectives to propel girls’ education forward, according to the United Nations website.
The commemorations come at a time when young girls in Zimbabwe are still grappling with sexual abuse, early marriages and lack of educational opportunities.
Zimbabwe has scaled up awareness campaigns to reduce sexual abuse of young girls below the age of 15, with the Zimbabwe Republic Police saying they have held 669 campaigns so far this year.
The UN says this kind of abuse, impacts on all aspects of a girl’s life as it dents her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk of violence and abuse, and jeopardizes her health.
Precious Simba is the founder of Girl Power Initiative which seeks to encourage the enrolment of girls into school and keeping them there.
She says it is necessary to use the platform availed by this day to assess the progress that the country has made and work on new strategies to empower women and the girl child.
She adds that it has been proven that an investment in girl’s education is an investment in the development of her whole family.
Gender activist, Sibusisiwe Bhebhe, concurs saying women are central in the development of families and the nation. Bhebhe said while there has been significant progress in improving girls’ access to education over the last two decades, many girls, particularly the most marginalized, continue to be deprived of this basic right.
She says girls in some rural areas are still unable to attend school and complete their education due to financial, institutional and cultural barriers.
A Bulawayo nurse, Progress Dube, says the International Day of the Girl Child should be used to engage children in dialogue and raising awareness on abuse and the importance of reporting such issues and getting help.
She adds that the high prevalence rate of abuse is a time bomb as abused children are most likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, low academic achievement and health complications in future.
However, it is not all gloom, says women’s rights activist, Nompumelelo Moyo, who pointed out that the recent constitutional rights guaranteed for women and the girl child are an indication that strategies are needed to uplift vulnerable groups in society.
As Zimbabwe commemorates the International Day of the Girl Child, it is also a time for communities and policy makers to go a step further than just crafting laws but to see that they are fully implemented so that the empowerment of women does not remain a dream that is only talked about during such commemorations and left on the back shelf the rest of the year.