McLane Harrington – 2019 Advocacy Project Peace Fellow
Mhoroi from Harare! After a 35+ hour journey last week, I made it to the airport to find my hosts waiting patiently for me. Watching from an observation deck in the arrivals area, they saw me go back and forth in customs until I finally made it through, and shook their heads good-naturedly at me when I set some of my valuables down on the ground to grab my suitcase off the conveyor belt (I’ll blame the jetlag for that mistake!). After a quick journey back to their home through the darkened streets of the city, I rested and began to settle in to begin my work for the summer.
I will be working with Constance Mugari and Dickson Mnyaci and their organization Women Advocacy Project (WAP) which seeks to promote and protect the rights of vulnerable and marginalized women and girls in Zimbabwean communities and to prevent the practice of child marriage. WAP carries out its mission by holding advocacy campaigns on women’s human rights, providing training and leadership capacity-building workshops and facilitating economic empowerment for disadvantaged and marginalized women and girls in Zimbabwe. The three of us will be working together this summer to raise awareness about WAP’s programs, strengthen its activities, and build plans for the future of the organization. One of the projects I will be working on is WAP’s Ambassador program, in which young women in several communities of Harare lead regular club meetings to support young girls in their community and provide education and support. I was lucky enough to meet two of the Ambassadors during my first few days in town.
Earlier this week I sat down with Constance and Dickson in their office to discuss their motivation behind this work, and to understand why it is so important not only to them, but to girls all over this country and the world. The WAP directors explained several Shona cultural practices that impact young women and girls in Zimbabwe, including the practice of kumutsa mapfihwa. Through this practice, when a young woman dies, her parents marry her sister to the husband. Despite the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases between married couples and regardless of the age of the husband, the girl’s parents send her there to replace her sister because the husband paid the full amount of the bride price. Another practice is kuripa Ngozi, in which a family marries a young girl off in order to pay off a debt of some kind. A father may have made promises that he failed to pay back or he may have had problems with another family; in order to acquit himself of the problems and the challenge he has created for himself he offers his daughter in marriage. The girl is used as a way of repaying whatever wrong has been done without her consent or even without her knowledge. Through honoring cultural practices such as these, child marriage has been promoted in these Zimbabwean communities. These are some of the issues that motivated the creation of WAP in 2012.
I have already learned a great deal since arriving last week, and one of the most important things I have learned is that Constance and Dickson are two incredibly driven and motivated people – their passion for the work they do is inspiring, as are their ideas for the future. I am excited to move forward with them this summer and to help make their vision and passion a reality. In the coming months you can check back here on the blog and follow The Advocacy Project on social media to keep up to date on how our work is progressing this summer and to learn more WAP’s programs.