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Trials and tribulations of Girls’ rights’ defender in Zimbabwe

8 years ago | 5387 Views

1.    Nubia is proud to include this short article written for us personally by Betty Makoni , a leading activist in the fight to protect girls from abuse  and sexual exploitation . Last year Betty was nominated as a CNN Hero  of the Year, which recognises ‘the world’s citizen philanthropists, ordinary people  who do extraordinary things’. She was the only the only British resident to be so honoured.  So far  she has received in all a total of 18 Global and local awards for innovation, passion and commitment to work in the charity sector including the World’s Children’s Prize and the Global Friend Award  for the Rights of the Child 2007 ,the Amnesty International Ginetta Sagan Award for Women and Children 2008 and the WIFTS Foundation International Visionary Humanitarian Award 2009   From 1999 to date, Betty has built four Girls’ Empowerment villages in Zimbabwe , a unique model that provides safe shelter, healing and a future to sexually abused girls. Girl Child Network, which she founded  to champion  the rights of the girl child now, has 689 girls’clubs in ten provinces which run proactive and preventative girl child empowerment programmes. Betty too  has designed strategies that directly eliminate gender-based violence such as harmful cultural practices that fuel the spread of HIV and Aids among girls. Forced to leave her homeland in Zimbabwe because of growing intimidation, Betty now lives with her engineer husband and their two sons in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex where she has resumed her work.

2.     See also www. www.independent.co.uk/.../cnn-heroes-award-nominees-announced-1820309.html for an excellent profile on Betty and her work.

Trials and tribulations of Girls’ rights’ defender in Zimbabwe

In 1999  I launched a Girls` Empowerment  Club at a high school in Chitungwiza . I started off with a group of ten students in my  A Level class. In the girls I saw myself and each story of forced marriage ,rape ,drop out of school ,repeated my personal story that I knew would keep haunting me  unless I acted.It was a tough journey  to get to the launch day because we spent a lot of time convincing male teachers and a male school head that this had to be done for gender equality and to afford girls a platform and a space where it was safe to speak out as this was not the case in class  . When we reached  this stage ,everyone felt we had to move on fast and establish other  girls’ empowerment clubs  round the country .The club concept spread like wild fire and it seemed every girl  was coming out to join our empowerment programmes . On 21 March 1999 ,Girl Child Network was launched with the sole purpose of supporting the empowerment of girls and ensuring that girls were protected from abuse and  that they were fully supported  in school

In June 2000 we had fifty girls’ clubs and we embarked on a seventeen day March against Sexual Abuse of Girls in the Home ,School and Community .There were 500 of us and we  walked through villages and farming communities , urging girls to come out and speak to us. We spent alternate days walking and making stopovers in villages that were so closed one would think no girl lived there. Girls were kept in the home  ,many living like sex slaves . The most painful stories we heard on this march were about some of the  thousands of girls who failed to come out and join us at the meeting  points where we performed our  plays ,this being because they were married . This was especially sowhere there was a connection to  some of the apostolic churches . By the end of the march though we had had an overwhelming response as   over 2000 rape victims  had spoken to us.The silence was broken and we had abundant confirmation  that girls’ lives were at risk .We listened to a chilling story of a girl raped at six months by her father because he was desperate for an HIV and AIDS cure

My diary of rescuing girls from abusive situations is full of pain because the abuse is so rampant  and many girls may be dying before they reach 18 .The HIV and AIDS prevalence for girls is 60% compared to 10% boys .No wonder the life expectancy for women dropped from 58 years  in 1996 to 34 in 2008 .The stories I listened to made me feel pain inside . I saw myself in the girls because I too had fallen victim to the myth that raping a girl can make someone rich .The perpetrator ,who owned a tuckshop and lived in our neighbourhood, raped many girls of my age who did street vending at night . Out of ten or so girls who suffered similarly, I am the only who made it to school and bounced back in my community to break silence .By 2009 I had attended to some 70 000 cases of rape and daily at least 10 girls managed to escape to report rape . The youngest girl to be raped in Zimbabwe was a day old baby .I received cases of three girls aged 3 ,6  and 9 all raped by their father who later died of HIV and AIDS .Another case involved a father who raped his daughter aged seven and sexually enslaved her for a year.  In her own words , this girl said,`I always wondered why my father raped me ,because I cared for him and did all I could to support him’ .`The worst case I was involved in was when I persuaded a whole community to condemn a witch doctor who had sexually enslaved his granddaughter from age 8 to 12 .Because he was feared ,no one challenged him .Near the Chitsotso Girls’ Empowerment Club where I had set up a refuge for girls recovering from the trauma of sexual abuse  , we conducted a traditional community hearing .After this incident the witch doctor went home and set himself on fire.  This terrified the villagers and  many felt the pressure the community court had put on him caused him to do this .Another case involved a pastor turned politician, Obadiah Musindo, who harassed me for challenging why he had not been jailed given that there was overwhelming evidence he had raped a girl he had taken from rural areas as a domestic worker .I think this one case is the one that put my life in danger and daily the threats were so many that I remember fleeing the country at some stage and then coming back .Following this case and many related ones,  I was branded an enemy and later  arrested on false charges .Later I was doing hide and seek with high level rapists who used every means  to victimise me . The worst thing was to be labelled a liar and fraudster with my whole organisation  denigrated .Many times I ended up the victim myself .But all the time my determination to save girls never stopped

In March 2008 I thought I would make peace and leave those who were terrorising me . I left Zimbabwe and lived in Botswana where I got a residence permit .My husband wanted to be away from all this and opted to take a job with a UK based company .That’s when I found myself in the UK . Leaving Zimbabwe - and Africa ,I thought I would be finished   with work  but then I found myself starting Girl Child Network Worldwide and setting up an office in Southend

Working in Zimbabwe as an activist is not easy at all .There are trials and tribulations for those trying to serve their own communities .I never realised how many enemies I had created in the country by just protecting young girls .I was called all names and I am first victim of all rapists especially high profile rapists who evade justice by using their economic and political muscle .Today I am doing all I can to continue with my work . I fundraise for thousands of girls who appeal to me daily to help .I organise events around the world where I speak and where girls speak against abuse .Such forums have made leaders and encourage everyone to move on with speed  to ensure girls are protected .I left home at a time when I felt I could have continued giving young women and girls  what I learnt in my field of work as a defender of girls ‘rights .  I have found now that my work has no borders. . The problems in Zimbabwe are a world wide problem  and I have the experience to help   The work is not easy but it must  be done to stop the silent genocide of girls in  homes ,schools and communities

 

My contact details

Hazviperi Betty Makoni (Muzvare) 
CEO and Founder 
Girl Child Network Worldwide 
4 West Road 
Westcliff on Sea 
Essex 
SS0 9DA 
United Kingdom
Mobile:00 44(0)7866154860
Telephones work:00 44 1702 302333 
Fax: 00 44 1702 300 063 

Email:info@girlchildnetworkworldwide.org
Website:
www.girlchildnetworkworldwide.org 

 

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