STOLEN VOICES, STOLEN FUTURES

Dr Hellen Venganai and Dr Abigail R Benhura

On the 11th of October each year, the world

Commemorates International Day of the Girl to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges that they face around the world. The 2020 theme is “My Voice, Our Equal Futures”.

For years, the world has been focused on giving back the girl child her voice, yet every girl has an inherent capacity to voice her needs. This transcends all levels of ability and disability. Ironically, when the world pledges to ‘give voice to the voiceless’, this connotes the denial of autonomy to the vulnerable groups of people in matters that concern their lives. The term ‘give’ places the power right back in the hands of the adult, the men, the perpetrator of violence and the system. From the onset, the choice of language is indicative of the power wielded by the adult world who appear to own and have the prerogative to ‘allow’ the girls to use their voices. The majority of girls’ lives the world over fall into the category of this form of vulnerability whereby their voices along with their needs continue to be suppressed. Consequently, many girls have become conditioned to silence to a point where the silence is not only audible but loud.

The girl child has borne the brunt of gender inequality with some parents preferring their sons over their daughters. Others are physically and emotionally abused by the men in their lives. These different forms of abuse have often gone unreported as the girl child feels intimidated and cowed into silence. Sadly, sexual abuse is sometimes weighed against the arrest of the perpetrator who may be the bread winner or a close relative. The latter is often the victor. When ignored long enough, the girl child is muted and silently endures the abuse. It is then no surprise that UNFPA states that over 50% of women between 15 and 24years have come to believe that wife battery is justified in certain situations. Girls in such situations normalize the abnormal conditions they are forced to live in.

Abuse is often camouflaged in harmful cultural practices. In the contemporary Zimbabwean society, practices such as early marriages have aggravated the already stifling environment most girls find themselves in. 1 in 3 girls is married off before their 18th birthday. When teen girls, sometimes as young as 12 years old, are married off to men old enough to be their grandfathers or fathers, they lose multiple rights and freedoms. The right to play, right to education and compromised Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) are among the earliest and most common negative effects of child marriages. Access and utilization of SRHR by girls is a contested area with two (adult) views dominating the discourse. On one end is the view that these girls should not be exposed to contraceptives while the opposing view states that adolescents are already indulging in sex and therefore should have access to the contraceptives. Amidst these clamoring adult voices, adolescent girls are rarely consulted nor do they participate in the decisions critical in their lives.

Perhaps the most invisible loss early married children experience is the stolen voices and stolen futures. In many cases these voices are neither redeemable nor regained. Such practices often mark the demise of the girls’ futures unless the girls find their latent voices. Reminiscent of the 100 years old women’s suffrage, one envisions a future where the girls repossess their voices through different forms of activism. Theatre, writing, music, and poetry are some of the methods easily available for girls to express their perceptions, interests, priorities that can shape their future.

Girls can also turn to many organisations founded with the core purpose of uplifting the girl child while amplifying their voices. The girl child can now access opportunities previously denied such as access to education and funding for empowerment oriented projects. With the accessibility to the internet, blogging has become another outlet the girl child can use to drive social change. The girl child is now able to change her life and that of the girls in her community through projects like sewing reusable pads. With the right mindset, girl friendly environment, girls can find their voices and speak against suppressive conditions for the collective benefit of many more girls.

 

Dr. Abigail Rudorwashe Benhura                                        Dr Helen Venganai

Senior Lecturer: & Program Coordinator                           Senior Lecturer: Child Sensitive

Child Sensitive Social Policies                                             Social Policies          

Women's University in Africa                                              Women's University in Africa

Forced Migration Researcher

 

Women's University in Africa © 2020 All Rights Reserved Developed By WUA ICT

Search