For Pelamutunzi, being a girl meant ridicule, adversity, and fear. Today, empowered by her hard-won education, she is advancing a new definition of girlhood in Zimbabwe.
"It is time for girls to rise up and swim in the pool of unity."
My mother knew the value of education, and it was never a question that I would attend school. As a child, I watched friends my age stay at home and get married young without proper schooling. Yet, I was always told that education was of the utmost importance; and still, my journey was not easy. It took courage for me to succeed. Challenges threatened me at every corner, and I would have given up if my mother had not insisted that education came first, no matter what.
I first began to sense that being a girl was burdensome when I started menstruating. No one prepared me for the experience, and for months I used tissues to absorb the blood. I was scared and ashamed. I wanted to talk. My confidence dwindled. No one was there to discuss my fears or answer my questions. I stopped paying attention in class and missed school. I became timid. I was dirty and disgusting, just as a teacher had once said all girls and women are.
The school environment was hostile, when it should have been supportive. Teachers were strict about correct disposal of sanitary wear. The incinerator was in one toilet in the middle of the school. Entering that toilet meant you were menstruating and you became the object of ridicule. Sometimes, we were asked to lower our pants for inspection. The guilty girls would not come to school for days afterwards. At times, some never returned. Menstruation leads to high dropout rates as girls’ self-esteem plummets.
From these early experiences, my vision was born. I want to empower girls about their sexual and reproductive health and teach them to speak out about their lives. Girls should be empowered from an early stage to understand their worth. I teach girls who are already afraid to speak. Young girls are often left out but they are our future leaders. I want to roll out a program to distribute sanitary wear to needy children in rural areas whilst building awareness among communities about educating girls.
My vision is to see a generation of girls who say no to silence and abuse and yes to equality. A woman’s world is one where fear is the root word: fear of rape, fear of men, fear of political violence, fear of domestic violence, fear of speaking out. Silence is presumed to be safety. If girls are empowered young, they can speak out and challenge the culture that has perpetuated this fear. They will not be afraid of being heard, and they will encourage other girls to shout out fearlessly and unapologetically.
It is time to break the silence that has been a part of the African woman’s experience for so many generations. It is time to help girls be a lifeline for each other, for girls to rise up and swim in the pool of unity. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent an injustice, but let there never be a time where we fail to protest and act to create change.
ABOUT THIS STORY
This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign. This campaign showcases solutions and unites grassroots voices speaking out for the rights of girls worldwide.