Ending Violence Against Women and Girls in Zimbabwe

25 November 2017
Chipo Mapfumo, a brave survivor of sexual gender-based violence © UNFPA Zimbabwe/Nikita Little

12 year old Chipo Mapfumo [name changed] was lead into a sordid life of sex work by a relative at the tender age of 11 years old. However thanks to the UNFPA's Sista2Sista Club girls’ empowerment programme in her district in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province, Chipo has been saved from this sexual gender based violence and is now protected.

Chipo was left with her grandmother at a young age while her parents moved to Gweru, a town in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe, in search of work. At the age of 11, Chipo’s grandmother noticed that she had started misbehaving. She was not taking her education seriously and she was hanging around with boys in the local area.

Chipo’s grandmother sent her to live with her aunt, a common cultural practice as the aunt is seen as the family member to discipline and teach younger family members life skills including sexuality issues.

Unfortunately, Chipo’s aunt was involved in sex work. Instead of disciplining her niece and encouraging her to stay in school, Chipo’s aunt forced her into engaging in transactional sex with men. “I used to go to the local bar with my aunty. She would organise men to have sex with me and kept the money for herself”

“I used to go to the local bar with my aunty. She would organise men to have sex with me and kept the money for herself”

A neighbour witnessed what was happening to Chipo and reported this to her grandmother and the deputy headmaster of her school Mr. Matare, who referred Chipo to the district’s Sista2Sista Club run by mentor Betty Wadiya.

Launched in September 2013, UNFPA's Sista2Sista girls’ only clubs create safe spaces for mentoring vulnerable adolescent girls, a space where they can speak with mentors and each other about their problems and receive information, counselling and support. Female mentors manage the clubs targeting girls vulnerable to negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes and bring the girls through a 40 session program covering issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, financial literacy, and how to navigate difficult social situations, including coercive relationships, with the goal of increasing their personal agency to make good reproductive health choices and act on them. The programme also aims to give girls the confidence and self-esteem to stand up for themselves.

Betty took Chipo through the Sista2Sista Club risk assessment tool, finding she was at risk of sexual abuse, gender-based violence and a number of sexual and reproductive health risks such as HIV and STIs due to her engagement in sex work.

Chipo’s case was immediately reported to Child Care Welfare and the police in Murereka. When her aunt heard that a report had been made, she ran away to South Africa and has not returned since. The police are currently looking for the men who abused Chipo.

Mentor Betty also referred Chipo to the local clinic to seek medical assistance and undergo HIV testing and STI screening. Chipo was also given PEP at the clinic. Her results were negative for HIV and STIs.

Chipo has returned to stay with her grandmother and is receiving counselling from the Sista2Sista club mentor Betty for the awful ordeal she has experienced. She is still a member of the Sista2Sista club and says she has gained knowledge and awareness about her body and protecting herself.

“During the session on ‘Let’s Communicate’ I learned a lot about delaying and refusing sex. I learned to respect my body. My life is now completely different.”

Deputy Headmaster Mr. Matare said that he sees a major improvement in the girls of Sista2Sista club. “They are growing as individuals and together as a group, we can really see the benefits of this programme. They are now more self-aware, and self-defensive.”

“I am so happy to be in the Sista2Sista club, it saved my life,” concludes Chipo as she walks away head help up high to play with the rest of her ‘sisters’ in the school yard.

“I am so happy to be in the Sista2Sista club, it saved my life"

To date, over 13,000 girls have been recruited into the Sista2Sista Clubs in Zimbabwe under the Health Development Fund supported by the governments of Britain, Ireland and Sweden.

By Victoria Walshe