Harare, 15 July 2015 – Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Population Day (WPD) through a number of advocacy events aimed at bringing more attention to the need for greater investment in young people, especially teenage girls.
On the back of a successful media briefing on the 11th of July 2016, UNFPA Zimbabwe continued to observe the day by holding an intergenerational dialogue titled “Teen Talk” at the National Art Gallery in Harare on Friday 15 July. On this day, 150 young girls from UNFPA’s Sista2Sista Clubs and schools, met and dialogued with seven prominent and successful women from the health, education, economic, arts and governance sectors.
Zimbabwean Gender Activist, Human Rights Lawyer and African Union (AU) Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda gave the key note address. She was joined by Charity Charamba (Assistant Commissioner and Zimbabwe Republic Police Spokesperson), Beatrice Tonhodzayi (Award-winning Journalists and Public Relations and Corporate Affairs Manager for Zimpapers Group), Joyce Chimanye, (Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur), Chipo Mutasa (CEO Telone, Telcoms Company) Revai Makanje-Albaek (Deputy Country Representative, UN Women Zimbabwe) and Abbigail Msemburi (Assistant Country Representative, UNFPA Zimbabwe).
Motivated by the global theme: “Investing in Teenage Girls”, the dialogue gave teenage girls space to discuss relatable issues and interact with and learn from the older women as they map the course of their lives. For the prominent women it was an opportunity to counsel the girls by sharing their life journey in their chosen careers and how they dealt with challenges of growing up.
As they sat in groups, chatting, they spoke at length about communicating with parents, peer pressure, accessing information, going to school, puberty, self-awareness, dreams and aspirations as well as opportunities. Rumbidzai Moyo (17), was keen to know if Nyaradzayi always knew she would be an outspoken gender activist and the journey she undertook to get there.
“I come from a big rural family where resources were scarce. I may have not been able to go to school at all were it not for the fact that I recognized quite early that education would get me far. I sought help from my teachers and others in the community. I was proactive in ensuring I got the help I needed,” recounted Nyaradzayi.
In the plenary session, girls repeatedly made a plea to parents, for more open conversations especially on sexual reproductive and health matters.
"Our parents believe they are protecting us by not giving us information. Perhaps they want to wait till such time when they think we are old enough. But by then it will be too late for some. If they start early, we'll be prepared. There will be less teen pregnancies, less HIV and more youths will finish school and more into adulthood with less problems," said Edith Banda (19), a Sista2Sista Club member from Richmond in the rural district of Makonde.
“Our parents believe they are protecting us by not giving us information. Perhaps they want to wait till such a time when they think we are old enough. But by then it will be too late for some." Edith Banda
In her remarks, UNFPA "Assistant Representative, and Mentor, Abbigail Msemburi, gave some perspective on issues facing young girls by sharing some key findings from the Zimbabwe Demographic and Heath Survey (ZDHS 2015). “The fertility rate in the country remains high, with one in ten girls giving birth every year,” she pointed out to an astonished audience of girls.
“In response, UNFPA has and continues to work with partners in supporting in and out of school comprehensive sexuality education, mentorship programs such as Sista2Sista, youth friendly corners, parent to child communication programs such as Let’s Chat, mobilizing community leadership as well as research and advocacy.”
Shamiso Nyamutamba (15), a Kodzero Sista2Sista Club member from Mbire, whose story of overcoming challenges has been shared in a documentary titled Shamiso's Story, as well as other girls, shared stories of triumph, ranging from escaping child marriage, being saved from possible sexual abuse, returning to or staying in school, discovering entrepreneurship skills, being self-aware or confident and finding a community of sisterly support.
"At one point I thought I had no chance at life. I've been lucky to find support in my community and have inherited a big family. My life is as it should be now for a young person and I am happy. When I complete school, I look forward to joining the police force so I can protect other girls."
I’ve been lucky to find support in my community and have inherited a big family. My life is as it should be now for a young person and I am happy." Shamiso Nyamutamba (15)
Felistas Gondo, a Sista2Sista mentor who has been with the programme since it started in Hurungwe Rural District, spoke about the impact of the programme in her area.
“The community, including traditional leadership are rallying behind us and giving the programme their full support. We have seen positive change in young women’s lives that our status in the community is rising. Often I an invited to attend traditional leadership meetings or am consulted. Through self-improvement we as girls are being recognized as community builders. Our voices are being heard.”
These stories of courage and agency were compiled into a booklet and shared with stakeholders as part of the WPD 2016 celebrations.
Addressing the girls, keynote speaker, Nyaradzayi pledged to work with UNFPA to grow the Sisat2Sista initiative, which she sees as a best practice programme on empowering girls. “I propose to make Sista2Sista a nationwide programme. I have read about it and have been listening to all the positive feedback from all stakeholders. I think it’s an amazing programme that can benefit so many other girls.”
I propose to make Sista2Sista a nationwide programme. It is an amazing programme that can benefit so many other girls." Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Gender Rights Activist
To further highlight the girls’ stories, UNFPA launched, on the same day, a photo exhibition showcasing shots from the lives of the triumphant girls from the documented stories of overcoming challenges. The exhibition which was also housed at the National Art Gallery, ran for a week, was open to the public and received considerable public and media attention.
UNFPA Zimbabwe Deputy Country Representative, Mr. Yu Yu, said that he was pleased to see that the girls have found their voices and are becoming advocates for others as they become more empowered.
"It is always good for us as UNFPA and for those who generously support this work, to see the impact of an initiative, as shown here, in your own voices. I believe by supporting and investing in teenage girls through interventions such as Sista2Sista and other, Zimbabwe is prepositioning itself to reap a demographic dividend when the time comes."
“By supporting and investing in teenage girls through interventions such as Sista2Sista and others, Zimbabwe is prepositioning itself to reap a demographic dividend when the time comes,” Mr. Yu Yu
The WPD 2016 “Teen Talk” was organized jointly by UNFPA and Students and Youth Working on Reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT), an implementing partner under the Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health (ASRH) Programme.
By Margret Masanga