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.