I am a strong and unapologetic feminist who hails from a small village in rural Zimbabwe. I am one of the two girls in a family of six which my parents had. My early childhood memories are filled with love and protection from my parents but also painful socially constructed difficulties for girls based on gendered stereotypes and roles.
I grew up in a world where I was being taught female submission and male domination. It almost sounds cliche when said like that but what I mean is that I struggled to make people see that girls can aspire to be more than wives and mothers and still be human enough. In my childhood, there was no dignity in dreaming outside of maternity or matrimony. Those were the main attributes a girl was expected to have.
There were ridiculous beliefs such as, if a family spends money sending a girl to school, it was a loss because she would ultimately get married and her education would benefit the husband's family. Why, because often women were expected to be onwed rather than to belong equally or to be themselves.
I speak in past tense as if all this is now a thing of the past. It isn't, but I just feel like when I share my childhood experiences, speaking in past tense enables me to travel to that time of my life and live it again in order to be able to articulate it clearly and concisely. But sadly, all these beliefs and traditions are still alive and thriving in my village even though I no longer live there. In fact, they are now being compounded by other emerging politically informed challenges that my country is facing.
With the economy having crushed and HIV/AIDs orphanage rising, you see that girls are expected to take over the burden of looking after their siblings - because they are viewed as mothers and therefore are required to tap into that maternal factor long before their ability to do so.
To say girls are dropping out of school is an understatement, most girls have never been to school at all. Families are often not able to send all the children they have to school ( another result of lack of education which inhibits the ability to utilise available family palnning methods in order to have a family which one can afford) therefore when the time comes to choose who goes to school it's often the boys who get to be the priority and are given the chance to go to school. I myself am a product of my mother's radical feminist beliefs that boys and girls are equal or I would have suffered the same fate.
The reason why girls are not given the first priority is because they are viewed as having 'another option', of getting married and trasferring the burden of their welfare to the husband. But this creates a complex ownership problem given that the girls do just just get sent off for marriage, the man has to pay money or bride price for them. So they end up being owned and looked after by someone, and without education their options are very limited.
Now, I speak of marriage but it is not only that they end up ''married'' but that they also end up using their bodoes in exchange for food or money. This means most of them end up with children who they can't look after because they were not even able to look after themeselves in the first place and thus they have to continue selling their bodies again, and of course, most of the time the story does not end very well. We end up with many orphans and if there are girls among those orpahns the vicious cycle repeats itself.
I also noticed that there is a lot of stigma around girls once they have had children. They are called names and labelled as ''damaged goods''. There is a strange thing in my country that associates motherhood with failure or the end. Girls who have had children are often told they 'destroyed' their lives. The language used to describe early motherhood is a language of failure and shame.
But I want to change that. I want to give girls who are not in school or who have become mothers another chance at life. I want to give them an opportunity to dream. To want to be more and to know that they are worthy everything this world has to offer.
I want to implement programs that allow girls to get another chance at education and to be able to use information technolgy to access life changing resources. I want girls who are told not to dream to start dreaming, and those who were told to stop dreaming to start dreaming again.
There are many organisations which are raising awareness on gender and women's rights but while this is very important, it is also very important to empower the girls to be able to translate that information into pratical knowledge which they can use in their everyday lives. Because, I think, it's one thing to have information but another to utilise it.
How can we tell girls that they have a right not to be beaten if the person beating them is the one feeding them? Most of the time, girls and women choose to stay in abusive relationships and ''marriages'' because their livelihoods depend on them. Therefore, I believe that truly empowering girls - who ultimately become the women who anchor our communities - begins with giving them the means to lead their own independent lives; which I believe providing education and opportunities is a stepping stone to helping girls realise their ull potential.
But, as a journalist, I believe rights can be nothing without their expression. Girls and women should be able to express themselves as part of claiming and fulfilling their rights. The term expression means so much more to me than just the act of being able to say something out loud. It means being able to say something out loud in a way the enables what has been said to change the lives of other women. I want women to use new media to amplify their voices when advocating for change or to share their stories. As I write this, I wonder how many girls in my village know about World Pulse? I wish they could and I want them to, if I am able to realise my dream.
My dream is to have an empowerment centre for girls who are not in school where they can come and learn to read, learn to use computers and for those who do not want to pursue an academic career, to learn other ways a person can be empowered to use for example their hands in order to reach their full potential. But mostly, I want each and every girl who leave the centre to be able to express their voice and to connect with other women globally through platforms like World Pulse, and benefit form a strong global sisterhood which can only make them stronger as the poignant saying rightly states, we are stronger together.