The main driver behind the decision to found the Women Advocacy Project was the need to fight against and overturn some traditionalist and religious practices that have very negative impact on the lives of women and girls in Zimbabwe and Africa. Today in almost every single village and town throughout Zimbabwe, there are many women and girls silently suffering from the effects of women’s rights abuses. Child marriage has a devastating impact on the health, safety, education and lifelong ability of girls to realize a range of essential human rights.
Child marriage has detrimental impacts on girls globally, and especially in Zimbabwe where rates of early marriage are extraordinarily high. According to UNICEF, UNFPA and the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) one third of all girls in Zimbabwe marry before the age of 18. Even though child marriage was outlawed in 2016, girls still turn to marriage, oftentimes because they have no other choice or they lack critical understanding of their sexual and reproductive health. Furthermore, due to abject poverty in poor urban areas, many families directly or indirectly force girls into marriage.
Though women constitute the majority of the population in communities we serve, (Zimbabwe is composed of 52% women) they are still economically and financially underprivileged. Poverty in families is leading to early child marriage, premature pregnancies and early school drop outs among young girls. Children, especially girls, in these communities grow in poor environments that further perpetuate their vulnerability and expose them to the HIV/AIDS pandemic which continues to destroy family and community structures, and that affect existing support systems in families and society as a whole.
Many girls are forced to marry for reasons of family honor. If a girl is seen with a boyfriend, or returns home late she might be forced to marry to mitigate the shame of the family. If she is suspected to have had pre-marital sexual relations, she will be expected to marry the man involved – even in cases of rape – and if a girl falls pregnant she might choose to enter into a marriage if she fears abuse from her family for the dishonorable behavior. When WAP interviewed Evelyn, it was discovered that she was a victim of this type of tradition. When Evelyn was only 13 years old, she was raped by a man in his fifties. Her family then forced her to marry her own attacker against her will. At only 13, Evelyn had to drop out of school, risk health problems, and be exposed to domestic violence. This tragedy is all too common for girls in Zimbabwe.
Another class of child marriage causes in Zimbabwe is the varying traditional and cultural practices that have promoted abuses such as sexual harassment, promiscuity, physical abuse, rape and torture. These practices have not been rightly exposed, further subjugating women to the culture of silence. Visit this page to read more about these different practices.
An early marriage means that girls will drop out of school in order to fulfill her role as a child bride. An overwhelming majority of the girls that WAP has spoken to about their situations have said that they did not want to drop out of school, but did not have any other option. Most say that they once hoped to be studying subjects that intrigued them and pursue careers but are no longer able to do so. Anodiwa, who is currently 19 years old, was only 16 when she gave birth to her first child. “My favorite classes were history and English. I had wanted to be a human rights lawyer,” she told WAP. Because of a child marriage, poverty, and a lack of knowledge about her reproductive rights, Anodiwa is no longer able to live the life she had dreamt of. This is a direct violation of the fourth UN Sustainable Development Goal, which is to ensure a quality education.
Child marriage also poses serious health problems to girls. According to UNFPA, only 4% of Zimbabwean girls between the ages of 10 and 19 have a comprehensive understanding of pregnancy. Without proper sexual education, many girls who marry are unaware of how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. More often than not, girls will become pregnant before their bodies are fully developed, which will give them physical problems for the rest of their lives. Portia, age 19, does not want to marry after seeing the consequences that her married friends are facing: “They get married early because of harassment and bad treatment from their families. But there are many challenges for women who marry and give birth at a tender age, their muscles are not ready.” Furthermore, the practice of child marriage is extremely dangerous for young girls. According to Human Rights Watch, married girls between age 15 and 19 with minimal education are at heightened risk of domestic violence and spousal abuse when compared to adult women with higher levels of education.
WAP was formed to help the women and girls in their communities like Evelyn, Anodiwa, and Portia. WAP focuses on giving attention to groups of marginalized and vulnerable women and girls who are in need of support and resources to avoid the treacherous path of child marriage. Not only does WAP provide a safe space for these women and girls and provide them with education and emotional support, but the organization also promotes women’s socio-economic rights. WAP hopes to foster a community of girls and women who can learn from one another and create successful and independent lives for themselves.