Creating safe spaces for girls during COVID-19

By Michele Munatswa, Information and Communications Officer, Forum for African Women Educationalists Zimbabwe (FAWEZI) Chapter

“I had lost all hope as I witnessed my parents fight physically and verbally daily during the COVID19 induced National lockdown with no one to talk to.  I started having nightmares and suffered from depression and to escape my reality l started smoking drugs.  These are the words of sixteen-year-old Natasha (not real name) from a Secondary School in Shamvaistrict.


“I am glad schools reopened in August 2021 and I started attending the Tuseme/ Speak out club at our school supported by the Forum for African Women Educationalists Zimbabwe (FAWEZI) Chapter where I got to discover that I was not the only one going through cases of domestic violence in my society,” continued Natasha.


Natasha is among many girls who have normalized taking drugs as there are many drug selling points in the mining community she is from and there are no restrictions even to children.  People from nearby towns come to sell drugs to the miners thus exposing the children to bad behavior.


“It’s easy to access the bronco, glue and what we call mutoriro in my community as drug dealers are flooding the mining community.  Most adults get intoxicated before going to the mine site to work as they say it makes them forget their troubles and gives them a little extra strength to dig as they look for gold,” Narrated Natasha.


Natasha said she too would forget her problems soon after talking the drugs.  “The drugs weighed off my problems after taking them, but stress came back again the moment will be sobber,” she added.

Through attending the TUSEME club sessions, Natasha realised that drugs did not provide a permanent solution and she said she has since stopped taking them.


During the Tuseme club meetings, girls and boys take time to discuss issues affecting them at home, in the community and even at school.  They try to come up with innovative ideas to solve the problems on their own.  In terms of challenges that the TUSEME club members cannot solve by themselves, the teacher mentors always come in to support the plan of action.


“I learnt that if you share with others your problem will be solved.  I have since stopped taking drugs and have resorted to concentrating on my schoolwork.  Through referral to the Department of Social warfare my family received counselling and my father and mother no longer fight in front of us,” stated Natasha.


The Tuseme club has served as a safe space for over 350 adolescent girls and boys in 10 project schools in Shamva and Chitungwiza District where issues of confidentiality are prioritized.

The Tuseme club members use theatre-based approaches to express and to take action for gender equality and academic development in their schools and communities. It encourages the development of life skills, self-confidence and leadership skills in all the club members.ost teachers at the project schools applaud the clubs saying they have been helpful in helping learners speak out against challenges they are facing at school.


“There has been an increase in reports on violence, and referrals for further assistance at our school, due to the influence of the Tuseme club members,” said Ms. Ernet Tini, a teacher and Tuseme/Speak Out club mentor at Madziwa Mine Secondary School.


Tuseme (‘Let Us Speak Out’in Kiswahili) enables female youth empowerment and gender awareness by enhancing girls’ self-esteem, leadership, social and life skills, and promotes a positive attitude amongst boys towards girls’ education.  The model has proven to  Improve girls’ self-esteem and, in their leadership, social and life skills, creates positive teachers’ attitude towards girls and significantly reduce sexual harassment.

he “Towards Resilient Communities with Health, Equity  and Safety for all ( TORCHES) project which is being implemented by FAWEZI in partnership with Action Aid Zimbabwe (AAZ), Family Aids Counselling Trust (FACT) and Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe (LCDZ).  It is  aimed  at creating communities where women and girls are free from violence and have amplified voices and agency.


The TORCHES programme is using a whole community approach to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG) and amplify girls’ voices.  This approach is using a gender-power analysis through school-based initiatives like Tuseme and community mobilisation activities to challenge the root causes of inequality for women and girls and high rates of VAWG.


Reduced gender-based violence as men participate in the redistribution of chores in the home

By Michele Munatswa, Information and Communication Officer – Forum for African Women Educationalists Zimbabwe (FAWEZI) Chapter

“When everyone understands that we all have power within, then it will be easy to achieve gender equality and equity. It becomes easy to share chores at home so that the burden of unpaid care work is not mostly affecting women,” says a 39-year-old man, Graster Ngandu from Shamva District in Zimbabwe.


Although Ngandu is a Village head and highly respected in his community, he helps his wife with household chores and looks after their two children when she is away. Since he works close to their homestead compared to the wife who works further from his home, Ngandu is usually the one who prepares the children for their next day of school. He makes sure they have clean uniforms and have done their homework.


According to the local societal gender stereotypes, a village head is a respected traditional leader in Zimbabwe who should not do household chores, usually delegated to women.


“Things where never like this before, I used to think house chores were meant for a woman and helping a woman meant I was not man enough. However, since I was trained as a SASA Together leader under the Towards Resilient Communities with Health, Equity  and Safety for all ( TORCHES) project in Zimbabwe in June 2021 my perceptions have since changed,” said Ngandu.


The SASA! Together is a community mobilisation approach being used in  preventing Violence Against women and Girls (VAWG) and  it is based on the analysis and understanding of power imbalances as the root cause of VAWG.

“I now know my wife needs my support to positively contribute to the development of our family and that violence does not solve anything. I am now cascading the SASA Together model to the rest of the community members,” continued Ngandu.


“SASA! Together means NOW, meaning now is the time to address issues of unpaid carework,VAWG, gender equality and equity in the community. It is time to challenge the root causes of inequality for women and girls  for safer commuinities,” said Ngandu.

Ngandu is one of the twenty-four community champions and leaders who have been trained under the SASA Together methodology in Shamva. These individuals conduct regular activities among family, friends and neighbours and others to spark reflection, dialogue, and action as well as commit to working on themselves- balancing power in their own relationships and lives.


Ngandu is currently facing resistance from his family and community for doing chores which are meant for women. Some of the men in his community say he has been bewitched by his wife. A few question his leadership and say he has grown soft however Ngandu is determined to break the gender stereotype in his community and restore balance of power between men and women.


“As I conduct my sessions, I have realised that both men and women have power within them. However, there is need for individuals to exercises their power positively without taking advantage of it.”


“With the knowledge I have, I want to reach everyone in my community so that everyone despite their sex, race and age are aware of their rights and how to exercise their power within without violating other’s rights. This will help in reducing cases of VAWG in the household and the community as everyone will be an equal partner with rights to be upheld,” said Ngandu.


The TORCHES project which is being implemented by the Forum for African Women Educationalists Zimbabwe Chapter  (FAWEZ) in partnership with Action Aid Zimbabwe (AAZ), Family Aids Counselling Trust (FACT) and Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe (LCDZ) is using two methodologies of the Tuseme/ Speak out and the SASA! Together. The project is funded by the Peoples Postcode Lottery through Action Aid Zimbabwe and is being implemented in Shamva, Chitungwiza and Nyanga Districts.