We must support our women

RECENT media stories and reports on the abuse of women and girls testify to a horrifying reality they endure in their everyday lives as students, workers and housewives.

From rape, child marriage to sexual exploitation, women and girls face severe threats and violations of their human rights that most of us cannot begin to imagine.

Yet it is common knowledge the world over that when we empower women, everybody benefits. Women who are educated, healthy and free are capable of transforming their communities and pass on the benefits to their children, and to their grandchildren.

It is sad that 35 years into independence women in Zimbabwe are still treated like second-class citizens as their welfare is almost completely ignored.

Girls have no status, no protection and no prospects in many families and communities — this is simply the way things are. Inequality is so entrenched that it isn’t even questioned.
However, our policy-makers are slowly beginning to understand the importance of investing in the girl child as witnessed by policies and programmes that focus specifically on girls’ education and economic independence.

Others are targeted at preventing violence against girls and women, delaying early pregnancy and supporting safe childbirth.
But we still have to do more as a nation to advance the needs of women and this will require the assistance of the government, Church, civic society and women groups.

We are happy that there has been some movement towards eradicating early child marriages in girls as the law now requires that only those above 18 years can be married.

Girls who marry before they turn 18 are more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty, suffer domestic violence, become pregnant before they are ready, and die in childbirth. Marrying too young is a sure way to perpetuate poverty and inequality in a girl’s community.

Child marriage is more than a harmful practice that should be tackled in its own right; it is an entry point to all these other issues. If we want girls to stay in school, to be safe and healthy, to earn their own income and invest back into their families and communities, we must end child marriages.

But for that to happen we must first summon the resources needed to effectively and systematically prioritise and address gender-based violence in emergencies, and deliver services to protect sexual and reproductive health.

This requires increased commitment and funding to advance women’s health, empowerment and gender equality, to protect vulnerable populations from gender-based violence, and to provide a full range of services to survivors, with appropriate responses for all those who are targeted.

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