Women’s Rights work can at times be heartbreaking and draining. Every day we wake up to a world that has figured out new ways to victimise and torture women and girls. We encounter headlines about murder, rape and other atrocities committed against our sex. When we go on social media and try to engage our tweets and Facebook posts are met with misogynistic responses. It is very easy to end up burnt out and hopeless. How do we keep going? What renews our strength? The stories of sisterhood and solidarity we encounter in this bleak landscape.
I had the privilege of coming across one such story two weeks ago. In the course of my work, I encountered young activists ranging from 15-17 years of age. They represent their peers as a part of a junior council in a small town in Zimbabwe. One of them, a 15 year old girl is currently threatened by the possibility of being married off by her family to a 72 year old relative who lost his wife. The wife was this young lady’s aunt, who allegedly told her husband to marry her niece after her death. Trapped in a religion that condones the marrying off underage girls, the young girl’s family is encouraging the arrangement. They consider her refusal to be in defiance of the “laws of God”. The young lady was absent from school and her junior council meeting for weeks as her family put pressure on her to quit school and marry her “husband”. Finally she made it to a friend’s house and related her sad tale. The friend who is a fellow junior councilor has taken it upon herself to rescue her friend from this situation. In a time where even her home is not a safe space, she has found refuge with her friend’s family. The friend finally brought the story to my attention and in turn a women’s organisation in Harare has offered the girl shelter and legal assistance.
I cannot help but be impressed by the fierce way the 15 year old defends her friend. The family has threatened the girl and asked her to stay out of family matters, but she remains resolute. She has appointed herself as her sister’s keeper. It is heartbreaking that mere children have to learn to fight at such a tender age; however it is refreshing to see that we are raising a generation that is willing to fight for each other. Coming from a culture that continues to silence the voices of women it is good to have a generation that refuses to be silenced.
As we all come together to fight for our young friend, my belief in sisterhood is renewed. My message to fellow sisters during these 16 Days of activism against Gender Based Violence is, as they spread hate let’s fight on in the spirit of love. We are indeed our sisters’ keepers so let’s continue to stand up for other women. I’m proud to say a 15 year old reminded me of the commitment to be my sister’s keeper.