Let's Talk: Creating safe spaces for young women in Zimbabwe

7 April 2017
22 year old Marvellous overcame her depression and is now living a happy life with high hopes for her future thanks to the intervention of UNFPA's Sista2Sista Club girls' empowerment programme. ©UNFPA Zimbabwe/Nikita Little

Marvellous Zendera (22) was at risk of taking her own life through depression and despair following an abusive polygamous marriage, finding herself alone with a young baby to care for in her rural village of Richmond, Makonde in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province. However with counselling and support from her peers and mentor in UNFPA’s Sista2Sista Club, Marvellous has regained her self-esteem and lust for life, now running a thriving business with great hopes for her future.  

As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Health Day 2017, we focus on this year’s theme of “Depression: Let’s Talk.” Depression is one of the leading causes of ill health and disability globally. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Lack of support for people with mental health issues, coupled with fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the support and treatment they need to live healthy productive lives.

Many girls in Zimbabwe like Marvellous suffer depression due to abuse within their relationships and the isolation and dire poverty they find themselves in after leaving. However, through talking to her Sista2Sista Club mentor and peers and learning about self-awareness through UNFPA girls’ empowerment programme under the Health Development Fund, supported by Irish Aid, UK Aid and the government of Sweden, Marvellous is now living a happy life.

Road to despair


Marvellous got married at the age of 19. “It was just one of those things you do. You know how boys are, they tell you they can offer you the world and convince you to get married,” said Marvellous shaking her head as she recalls her naivety.

Marvellous fell pregnant shortly after marrying and within two months her husband became abusive and married another wife. Polygamous marriages are a common traditional practice in her community of Richmond in Makonde district in north-western Zimbabwe.

“I stayed in the marriage because I was told that’s how marriage is.” It wasn’t until her husband eventually married three more wives that Marvellous decided she had had enough. “At that point I asked myself why am I hanging on? I might catch HIV and I might die. What for? Let me just leave.”

Marvellous left her husband, taking herself and her son, now 2 years old, back to her father’s house, also in the Richmond area. Life became really tough for Marvellous back at home. Her mother died when she was still young and she had no one at home to talk to or advise her.

“I had no idea how to care for a child. At that point I seriously thought of taking my own life. I was thinking if I can’t take care of myself, how can I take care of the baby?”

At that point I seriously thought of taking my own life

A life line 

It is around this time of despair that Marvellous met Makaite Maoyise, mentor of the Richmond Sista2Sista Club. Initially, Makaite took Marvellous through a counselling session where she was free to talk about her problems and how she had been feeling. She then brought her to the local clinic for STI and HIV screening considering the possible negative sexual and reproductive health risks following the polygamous marriage. “The results were negative. I was also screened for cancer and everything was okay.”


After visiting the clinic, Marvellous joined the Sista2Sista Club where she went through sessions on self-awareness as well as social, sexual and financial awareness.  In particular, Marvellous learned how to take care of herself and her baby and how to plan her future.

With encouragement from the Sista2Sista Club, Marvellous is now running a successful market gardening business and people buy “truckloads of her tomatoes”.

That’s when I realised I could have killed myself for nothing. The Sista2Sista Club made me see that I actually can take care of myself and my baby and I can have a great life. I feel very empowered now!

Although her market gardening project is thriving, Marvellous is looking to diversify from vegetables to garment sewing and sees a business opportunity in dress making.
“My future now looks bright, I see myself eventually running a business that employs other people who can also earn an income from me. I am really keen to have a sewing company that makes school uniforms for children in the area and other clothes too.”

Her ultimate goal is to be able to provide for her family. “Then I can do everything I’ve ever wanted to do and take care of my child, my father and my younger siblings to make sure they go to school."

By Victoria Walshe