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.

 

Review of School level Codes of Conduct

On the 12th and 13th of November 2020 FAWEZI  met with representatives from our Shamva and  Chitungwiza project schools to review their draft school level Codes of Conduct. This was in line with our project ‘School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) – A Whole School Approach – Pilot Initiative.’  We also invited representatives from Teacher’s Unions to support the schools in revising their drafts. The project schools in consultation with the relevant stakeholders managed to develop drafts that reflect School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) in order to promote positive and safe school environments.

Dialogues on SRHR and Radio talk shows on VAWG and SRHR.

FAWEZI conducted zoom dialogues on the 30th and 31st of July with adolescent girls in Chitungwiza and Shamva to  schools to discuss topics around menstrual hygiene management, Violence Against Women Girls (VAWG)  and Sexual Reproduction Health Reproductive (SRHR)  issues in light of the current COVID 19 lockdown. The girls outlined challenges they were facing which include, teenage pregnancies even among examination candidates, child marriages, lack of water and economic hardships which is combined with rising prices of sanitary pads. Most adolescent girls yearned on how they are facing economic hardships as they are no longer able to perform their income generating activities due to the imposed COVID 19 strict regulations like vending. Subsequently FAWEZI took up the conversation to national radio platform Issues Panenyaya . The aim was to engage more stakeholders whilst also targeting decision makers in the discussion on the issues affecting the girls.

FAWEZI Attends Education Leadership Workshop

The Chairperson for the Forum for African Women Educationalists-Zimbabwe Chapter Irene Mkondo attended an Education Leadership workshop at Troutbeck Inn, Nyanga from June 23 to 25.

The workshop was organised by VVOB Zimbabwe, which entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with FAWE in 2014. FAWEZI and VVOB country offices collaborate on areas of common interest in line with Article 7 of the MOU.
The workshop was aimed at equipping the participants with coaching skills for leadership development along with other motives. Mrs Mkondo gave a presentation on “The role of Gender Responsive Pedagogy (GRP) and its Implications to Teacher Education”.

Mrs Mkondo said GRP should be made a key feature in the learning process.
She emphasised on the need for a learning approach which calls teachers in all levels of the education system, be it formal or informal, to be gender sensitive in their planning, implementation and management of the teaching and learning process.

“GRP has thus become one of the necessary factors which improve the learning process for the benefit of the learners,” she said.

“The main thrust of the GRP model in teaching is to encourage teachers to be sensitive to the learning needs of learners particularly from a gender perspective.”

The 14 college principals present managed to appreciate the need for GRP and the need for all lecturers to be sensitised on issues of sexual maturation and its impact on both male and female learners through their Teacher Education curriculum.

College Principals also requested for the training of all lecturers on GRP and HIVAIDS as examinable areas and also cited the issue of learning environments in classrooms as a critical issue which is being overlooked in teacher education. Proposals were also made on the need to change the name Forum for African Women Educationalist (FAWEZI) to Forum for African Educationalists (FAEZI).

On this point Mrs Mkondo explained that it is an issue which women must spearhead and also highlighted that the organisations’ constitution says men are welcome as associate members.

The presentation inspired college principals to realise the need to ensure that their colleges participate in FAWEZI activities and that student teachers should be aware of FAWEZI and GRP.