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From a classroom to global level-The achievements of Girl Child Network inspirational

11 years ago | 3469 Views

realize many people were not there when Girl Child Network and so I take time to raise awareness what it is like to start an organisation from scratch and take it to global level. Hoping this will help those who are keen to write about us 

Why Girl Child Network Was Formed

 As an organization, GCN was born out of the helplessness and hopelessness of the girl child with a view to be a willing tool for use by the girl child in her quest for emancipation. When we tell our story as an organization, it is not a story of luxury and neither is it one of tears and dejection. It is a story of what has been and what is to be.


 Our story is about the reality the girls in Zimbabwe find themselves in struggles in their determination to arrive to the ultimate destination of a world accommodative of the girl child and with gender equality and equity. The Girl Child Empowerment Strategy which is the foundation stage for all future women has and continues to score a first in breeding a new breed of future women who are not victims but victors in all social, political and economic spheres of life. 

Below is a summarized historical background with a brief chronology of events on the formation and institutional development of Girl Child Network from 1998 to 2011 

Chronology of events

1998 Vision to start girls` clubs mooted at a high density school of Chitungwiza


In 1998 a high school graduate teacher Betty Makoni at Zengeza 1 which is in the high density suburb of Chitungwiza (with a population of over one million people and unemployment of 80% and where criminal cases of rape, murder and robbery are rife)

 noticed that during the beginning of the term she would start off with 50 girls in her class but as the year ended she would have only half the number. Betty Makoni then initiated an informal discussion group where she probed further reasons to  why girls dropped out of school especially around the age of 14.Much to her horror what came out of the discussions was the grim reality of the difficult path the girl child takes in pursuit of her educational goals. The discussions also brought out the grim reality of deprivation and insecurity the girl child has to grapple with from birth to womanhood until her death. Many dropped out of school because; 


ü  There were so many girls who got sexually abused and such horrendous criminal cases were buried under the carpet and perpetrators offered to “marry” the girls

ü  Due to HIV and AIDS there were so many girl child headed families and girls ended up vending or in commercial sex work in order to fend for their siblings

ü  Male teachers sexually abused them in school storerooms and older boys jeered at them whenever they tried to give answers in class.  The current Director who by then was a teacher at Zengeza 1 High School was horrified when one male teacher pointed at a group of 20 or so girls and boasted that they were his” wives “meaning he had forcibly had sex with them

ü   Parents preferred boys to continue with education in the event the family had economic hardships

ü  Many girls stayed at home doing home based care with no basic training and protective clothing and they risked contracting HIV and AIDS


After listening to all these horrifying stories, ten high school students and their teacher felt that something had to be done as a matter of urgency.  This informal discussion group became the first space for girls to meet and feel free to talk and it was agreed that starting November 1998 girls would meet as a girls club to come up with some practical solutions to the problems they had raised. Up until end of 1998 the girls and their lady teacher met frequently and strengthened their club which became a formidable force in the school resulting in boy students and male teachers victimizing girls who attended the club – they were labeled “feminists” and were threatened that they risked not getting married in the future as the teacher taught them to be stubborn.


It was concluded and generally felt that something especially to support girls to speak out had to be done. 


1999 – A network of girls clubs called Girl Child Network initiated and launched


When other lady teachers and girls from neighboring schools picked on the idea of the girls club, Girl child clubs subsequently sprouted in Chitungwiza, the driving force being the subjectivity and suffering of the girl child.  There was need to coordinate the activities of these growing clubs and thus the idea of a network was propagated for girls to effectively address their problems and challenges.  On March 1999 the organization was formally established with a specific mandate to be a voice for voiceless young girls aged 0 – 16 years.  It set out not only to speak on their behalf but also to empower the girls and together with the organization act in the face of violation of their sacred rights.  The beginning of its formal existence in 1999 marked the beginning of great things to come.  The forgotten girl child found a channel to highlight her plight, interest, voice out sensitive issues like rape, HIV and AIDS, forced marriages and premarital sex and communicate in an effective manner her aspirations and hopes.  By end of 1999 there were at least 10 active clubs in Chitungwiza with Zengeza 1 High formally launched.


2000 – 2002 Girl Child Network established and office set up to coordinate Girls` activities in clubs


The organization instantly developed into a significant fortress of hope.  The current Director and her two high school graduates volunteered to set up a center to coordinate all girls’ clubs activities in Chitungwiza high density suburb.  With an old typewriter that typed all letters except letter “e” , great passion and a spirit of volunteerism the first office was set up and the organization instantly developed into a significant fortress of hope as campaigns on gender equality and equity intensified. Campaigns against child sexual abuse (one march against child sexual abuse took 500 girls and lady teachers 17 days from Chitungwiza to Mutare and went through villages 250 Kilometers) equally evoked girls to come out massively to unearth rape cases swept under the carpet and safe houses for abused girls or potential victims of abuse were set up  and thus the girl child  eventually found a source of information, advice and advocacy in the face of abuse.


In 2000 Global Fund for Women approved seed money for GCN to set up an office cum safe house for girls.  Firelight Foundation, Idex and many other funders approved grants for setting up Girls Empowerment Villages which went a long way in establishing GCN in most disadvantaged and remote parts of the country where patriarchy and all its oppressive systems were deep rooted.  Novib gave a big boost and trebled the fortunes of GCN leading to institutional development of the organization and GCN rapidly grew to alarming levels.  The organization developed from just a grassroots organization with no visibility into a professionally run development activist girls rights movement, which by now is a household name in Zimbabwe


2003 – 2005 GCN becomes locally, nationally, regionally and acclaimed organization in championing the rights of the girl child


GCN is now strategically positioned and it is now the talk of the town not only in Chitungwiza but also world wide.  GCN is firmly established in 16 areas of Zimbabwe and cover nearly 32 out of 58 of Zimbabwe’s districts. It is apparent that the girl child empowerment strategy is the most effective in dealing with gender inequality and violence against girls in all spheres of home, school and community.  This is the peak of the campaign for girls’ rights in Zimbabwe. GCN has been conferred with Global activist for girls worldwide through its founder who has also used her personal story of abuse to inspire women and girls to also tell her story. GCN has two international awards leads some national campaigns in various coalitions and networks.

The whole of Zimbabwe is agreed that issues affecting the girl child need to be prioritized and effectively dealt with in all spheres of life.  Most importantly this era brings a new breed of empowered girls who are in change and control of their destiny because GCN has facilitated creation of their spaces, voices and choices.  It is evident from numerous reports and comments nationally and globally that GCN is a unique model that should be shared more widely so that as many girls as possible benefit from this strategy.  Twenty thousand girls are members of GCN and from as young as two years girls already walk in the fullness of their potential as future women leaders vision and mission accomplished and girls have spaces where they can enjoy their rights.



The above is the journey (just in brief) that GCN has taken during its 8 years of formal existence.  It is a story about one woman and ten girls who fought against all odds and defied patriarchy through various strategies to ensure that girls grow to their full potential.  The club remains the epicenter of the organization, making it the only truly grassroots organization in Zimbabwe and GCN clubs have spread like veld fire and patriarchy is overtaken to extinguish it.


2006 – 2009 GCN embarks on  yet another journey


Based on recommendations from both external and internal evaluation reports that assessed the 2003 – 2005 programme impact ,GCN takes yet another important step to ensure that in the words of GCN Director, “We catch them young and that the same does not happen to women and girls again”.  Through a personal story of childhood abuse, GCN Director continues to inspire more women and girls to open up and gender based violence and gender inequality definitely will be the thing of the past if GCN maintains the same momentum.





In March 2009, GCN commemorated its 10th Anniversary amid nationwide celebrations by girls, staff, board, key stakeholders and friends of the organisation worldwide. On 1 October 2009, following a long leadership transitional period, Nyasha Blessing Mazango took over as Executive Director as Betty Makoni assumed an international role as President and Founder of ‘GCN Worldwide’. 2010 was marked by a successful leadership transition with a new Executive Director, Nyasha Mazango, appointed in October 2009 to continue championing the organization’s vision in its second decade (2010-2020). This transition succeeded because of the immense commitment, passion, and support of the GCN Board, Founder and members of staff. With support from friends and partners, GCNZ managed to rescues many girls, reunify some with their loved ones, this the organisation greatly respects. Facilitating girls’ empowerment, rescuing and offering rehabilitation support to girls who were at risk of abuse remained integral to the organisation’s work. Such work provided the girls with a platform to claim their rights and to regain their confidence and self esteem. GCN has also seen empowered girls reunified in communities with some standing up and speaking out against abuse. Communities have also spoken out about abuse in their communities and they continue to be actively involved in our programmes, something that goes a long way in promoting our goal to achieve zero tolerance of abuse. It is gratifying to note that most of the organisation’s efforts to attain holistic empowerment of girls in society have been supported by communities themselves. 


During the current decade, GCN continues to believe that facilitating girls’ empowerment and providing space for their successful social uplifment will eventually engender an empowered nation. Such success is hidden in the little girls’ potential, which we must all protect and nurture.


 The organisation growing from a classroom to a world champion of girls rights at a global level.



ü  The organization has significantly transformed itself from just a grassroots organization with no visible structure into a professionally run organization. GCN activities are coordinated through the Headquarters in Chitungwiza and three Girls Empowerment Villages strategically positioned in Hwange, Rusape and Chihota.  Over just three years through sheer hard work and determination GCN has managed to put together these unique and internationally acclaimed Girls Empowerment Villages with minimal external funding.

ü  Since inception GCN has churned out a new breed of empowered young women leaders through close collaboration with local, regional and international Colleges and Universities.  Annually, at least 200 girls from GCN make it into male dominated fields like Science.  Besides, GCN runs a Women as Role Models; We Are All Leaders program which is now a more sustainable and visionary way of grooming effective young leaders to be in charge and control of GCN in the event the current leaders exit for one reason or the other.


ü  GCN enjoys worldwide acclaim with awards and prizes on innovative and best preventative strategies in child abuse. Notable amongst these is the  Prize Betty Makoni for best innovative and preventative strategies against child abuse awarded by the Women World Summit Foundation of Switzerland  .This award is celebrated annually world wide and this has earned GCN honour of Global advocate for girls rights leading to many organisations in Zimbabwe replicating the girl child empowerment model


ü  GCN remains the lifeline and lifesaver for many orphaned, economically disadvantaged and sexually abused girls in Zimbabwe.  From 1998 – 2004 GCN intervened and directly assisted over 20,000 sexually abused girls in Zimbabwe only in reported cases.  Most of the girls rehabilitated and reinstated in school are almost through with their tertiary education.  For a law degree and another for a Medical degree.


ü  GCN successfully ran awareness campaigns on child sexual abuse in between 1998 -2005, which brought all stakeholders in government, churches, NGO’s, and various communities to address the issue as one united force.  As a result of GCN activism there is ZERO TOLERANCE to girl child sexual abuse in Zimbabwe and more and more girls are being saved from rape.  The Zimbabwean cabinet now discusses child sexual abuse weekly at cabinet meetings. 


ü  At least 300 000 girls belonging to GCN show indicators of empowerment and communities have been fully mobilized to address some challenges (harmful cultural practices, attitudes and beliefs) the girl child has to deal with until she becomes a woman.  Whole communities i.e. chiefs, kraal heads, politicians, men, boys and women are in the campaigns against child sexual abuse. In some communities like Chivhu and Rusape no girl child rape cases were reported in 2004 onwards after GCN activism


ü   Seven hundred girls  clubs are vibrant and active in the remotest parts of the country and are manned by the girls themselves and it is evident that GCN has struck a first in ensuring that the most marginalized and deprived target beneficiaries are not just passengers of development processes but are that they are the drivers and active participants. Girls aged 16 and below who are members of the National Girls Committee constitute the highest decision making body in GCN


ü  GCN pays price for activism; staff and girls are victimized in the home, school and community time and again for breaking silence on rape but have remained unshaken. 350 lady teachers and area coordinators also have managed to remain stationed on the ground ensuring all cases of child sexual abuse are reported. On different occasions they are victimised for assisting girls to open up but they have remained strong which is a clear indicator of GCN quality of training in leadership and empowerment of women. There is a huge difference between empowered lady teachers and those who are not especially in the village and school systems. The empowered lady teachers are feared in their communities which is a total reversal from the previous situation where male teachers bullied them and even raped them in silence


ü  Girl Child Empowerment Training materials have been developed with at least 30 Area Coordinators taken through the Training of the Trainers programme which has gone a long way in imparting skills and knowledge to various communities.  


ü  A three-year Girl Child Empowerment strategy with programs, indicators of empowerment and expected results successfully implemented (2003 – 2005) giving great results and presenting best practices.  All results fully attained for the girls.  A draft impact evaluation report is out and has so far confirmed GCN success story


ü  GCN is an organisation that has dismantled and disbanded particularly through directly involving chiefs from all over the country. GCN successfully blended the human rights concept with traditional Princess / VaZvare concept in Makoni area which has gone a long way in inspiring gender equality and equity in at least 3 provinces of Zimbabwe


ü  The political and economic situation is very volatile and unpredictable and GCN has managed to work closely with people of different political and religious affiliation and successfully managed to mobilise everyone to bury political differences and focus on children’s issues for they are the future


ü  GCN is a lead champion in information documentation and dissemination and has scored a first in sharing the strategy with other community based organisations like New Hope Zimbabwe in Epworth. There are two audio cassettes, a documentary video, website, educational materials in the form of flyers, short stories, poems on gender based violence , Action research, a desk study on violence against girls, media reports on girls and all these documents assist other organisations to learn from GCN


ü  GCN is a lead in grooming young girls to be future leaders. To date there are seven members of GCN who joined at age 15 to 17 in 1998 who have been successfully incorporated into the secretariat and now work as programme officers. This clearly shows the great value GCN attaches to sustainability of the organisation through grooming of future leaders.


ü  GCN has also led to formation of so many girls initiatives by UNICEF, New hope Zimbabwe and Young Women and Arts Empowerment Network in rural Manicaland. GCN`s model is being replicated even in Zimbabwe National Plan of Action for Orphans and other Vulnerable Children being run by Government and UNICEF and the coordinator is a former intern of GCN


ü  GCN has built a very strong coalition of 13 local and international funding partners who have remained consistent in their financial support to GCN. There is also great success that has been recently scored in building up a network of individual Women Role Models  to fund girls education in line with the Millennium Development Goals where GCN in Zimbabwe is lead for thematic GOAL 2.All donors GCN is currently working with are long time funding partners who have so much faith and confidence in GCN  know that GCN is very effective and efficient in program delivery. All audits so far conducted have shown that funds have been utilised effectively with one or two areas needing improvement .The fact that donors have all bounced back and sometimes doubled funding or even extended project cycles is a clear vote of confidence in GCN


ü  Under such difficult and challenging economic and political environment where staff turnover is very high in most NGOs, GCN has maintained its well trained and motivated staff who are passionate and committed to work. One great advantage GCN has in terms of staffing is that GCN has carefully selected staff and the right people to do activism and work in a movement and has avoided everyone being an armchair office programme manager. Staff carries out work diligently and there are effective monitoring and evaluation tools and strategies to ensure quality delivery of programs which is reason why the 2003 –2005 program has had great impact right on the ground. GCN staff is made up of the country` strongest activists, visionaries and innovators who can control and deal with any situation. Even with very minimum resources GCN staff have been very innovative and assisted communities to come up with even programs that do not need money but passion and innovation


ü  GCN has maintained a systematic and consistent communication with all key stakeholders, girls, donors, board and other NGOs through various news letters and this has guaranteed a strong link with everyone and ensured active participation by all stakeholders at various levels. GCN has ensured that other coalitions and networks fully participate in various programs. The reason why GCN was recently elected to chair of the Women's Coalition is that it has remained steadfast in gender based violence activism and many NGOs takes it to be a role model


ü  Sustainability of GCN Programs in communities is fully guaranteed for the programs are designed in such a way that the community is developed and educated to support the empowerment of girls. Traditional leaders, who are all males, have taken to the centre stage acknowledging that rape in particular is condoned. Every chief who stands up to address does so with stick hitting the ground symbolizing authority and the seriousness of the issue at hand


ü  A culmination of all activities resultantly brought GCN face to face with the Ministry of  Justice who after submissions have agreed to put forward proposal for a strictly Child Sexual Offences Bill   and attach urgency to this issue  given the magnitude of the problem   where at least three girls report  rape in Chitungwiza only. It was felt that initially the Sexual Offences Act had not taken girls and children as an especially endangered group and put special provisions for their protection.


ü  According to Hope Chigudu, an independent consultant and gender activist, `Passion in most organisations seems to be a rare commodity these days. Within its short life, the Girl Child Network has succeeded in raising awareness about issues related to girl children, especially the issue of being able to identify and name the abuser, an element that is pertinent to the issue of abuse in a context where silences around abuse are normalized. The Girl Child Network has always ensured that girls participate in gender sensitization programs at an early age, and girls have been equipped with information for survival skills. The most important thing is that the organization was able to do this resounding work with very little funding at the beginning. Instead of crying for bigger budgets from the donors, the Girl Child Network placed so much emphasis on practical activities such as marches, activities that the girls themselves had to engage in with very little financial support. At one time they organized a march from Harare to Rusape, passing through and stopping over in farms and rural villages, conscientizing women, men and children on the ills of child abuse. The success of their marches lay in that they also involved gender-sensitive men, who acted as role models to other men on how important it is for the whole nation to team up against abuse. Stopping over in farms and rural areas was a powerful strategy since such areas are often neglected and deprived of information, yet these are the places where most of the abuse occurs. This programme was an eye opener to many women and girls, some of whom were able to come out during the march and report cases of abuse. If a single march could yield such wonderful results, what kind of results would similar marches in all districts of Zimbabwe yield if women could just value the importance of coming together and committing for a common cause without having to wait for budget approvals from the donors.


Girl Child Network tries to uplift the image and esteem of children in the realization that children who feel positive and confident are more likely to be able to accurately recognize and then respond appropriately to potentially abusive situations. Thus they have developed material and programmes that enhance and develop self-esteem and a positive self-concept. Their role model programme which started in 2 000 aims at connecting young survivors of abuse to successful female role models that the girls could look up to and aspire to emulate.


If Girl Child Network works in an area, the masses will know that the Girl child Network is here. Ordinary people, medical staff, chiefs, teachers, district administrators, church people, police and significant others. Different social groups or individuals may all not be supportive and some have not been but its presence will be felt. Girl Child Network has got its own supporters, people who will cry, kick and fight if it was threatened.  Some of the girls testify that they have been empowered by the organization, so its outputs are clear. In the same vain, its enemies are also clear, those who would rejoice if it died. Most important is that it is rooted in the communities, has a power base. At the same time, it is part of the women’s movement and had been rather vocal at the national level. It has tried to create a mass movement at least at community level.


For Girl Child Network to be effective, it has created room for activism in its plans. It has budgeted for it emotionally and financially.  There are many times when the Director has had to wake up in the middle of the night to rescue an abused girl 400 km away. Imagine if she had to consult the operational plan or call the chair of the board at 2 am to ask for permission. Would she really manage to rescue abused girls? Some of the girls have stayed with members of staff without counting the cost. Abusers have ambushed staff and some have invaded the organization.  This is the price an activist pays for passion. It cannot be budgeted for, and it might not be easy to include in a strategic plan. This is not to say that strategic plans are not useful.





We envision a society where girls enjoy their economic, social and political rights and walk in their full potential as future women.  



The holistic and total empowerment of the girl child as well as the eradication of all forms of abuse and practices that in part or in whole, directly or indirectly impede the full physical, emotional and spiritual or otherwise the growth and development of the girl child.



We are an organization that supports the empowerment of the girl child in all spheres of home, school and community



ü  To engage all stakeholders including communities, schools, governments and policymakers in advocacy and lobbying for eradication of practices, which impede the girl child’s full physical, emotional, spiritual growth and development.

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