Most Zimbabwean girls living along the periphery of the country’s borders with South Africa and Botswana treasure working in those countries as domestic workers or doing other menial jobs.
They consider going to foreign lands because they have been sidelined by parents when it comes to education.
The girls have been discriminated against as parents or guardians would send boys to school at their expense, leaving them vulnerable.
Due to the prejudice, the girls end up risking their lives, crossing illegally into South Africa or Botswana where most of them are employed as housemaids or do other jobs.
According to a recent Unicef report, globally, around 132 million girls are out of school.
Duduzile Moyo*, a Grade 7 pupil at Khahlu Primary School in Mangwe district, said unlike her peers, she wants to proceed to secondary school, but her parents think otherwise.
“My father told me that he will not pay for my school fees for secondary education,” Moyo said.
“He said I should go to Botswana and look for a job just like other girls from the neighbourhood.”
Moyo said despite her desire to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse, her father reckons paying fees for her two brothers already in secondary is the best option.
Her dilemma is being faced by many girls of her age in Zimbabwe, who have been denied the opportunity to learn at the expense of the boy child.
Despite increasing international recognition that the education of girls is one of the most powerful tools for progress, girls suffer from discrimination when it comes to getting an education.
Issues of gender equality and discrimination of women and girls are brought to the fore as Zimbabwe joins the global community during a 16-day campaign meant to raise awareness on gender-based violence.
The United Nations system’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence kicked off on November 25 and ends on December 10.
This year’s campaigns run under the theme Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), of the 72 million primary school-
age children out of school, 44 million are girls.
Zimbabwe’s adult literacy rate of 96% makes it the highest in the region. However, women constitute 60% of the illiterate adult population and the school dropout rate, particularly among female students, still remains high.
Enrolment at secondary school level and tertiary institutions is also significantly lower for females than for males.
An official in the Education ministry in Matabeleland South province noted that most girls drop out when they reach secondary school with the majority of them migrating to either South Africa or Botswana, while a handful get married.
“We have recorded high girls dropouts at secondary school and we attribute this to a number of factors,” the official said.
“Some of these girls are forced out of school because parents would have failed to pay fees, while the majority choose to move across the borders.”
In most communities, traditional practices coupled with poverty are the key drivers of gender inequalities, which result in families selecting boys over girls when it comes to further education.
Theresa Zhou (26), from Chiwenga village in Muzarabani North, was married off after completing Grade 7 of which she passed resoundingly.
She said all her brothers and male relatives managed to go to secondary school with her uncle paying for their fees and none of them passed at O’ Level.
“I could have done better if I had been given the opportunity,” Zhou said.
Denying the girl child access to education is in violation of human rights instruments, particularly those on the principle of equality and discrimination.
Girls’ right to education is also protected by a number of international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that “everyone has the right to education”.
In these conventions, the status of education as a basic human right has been reaffirmed highlighting the view that the right to education applies to both girls and women and is critical to combat discrimination in all its forms.
Today, over two-thirds of the world’s 860 million illiterates are women. The ILO says failure to educate girls is costing developing countries US$92 million.
Women and girl rights activist Lorraine Ndlovu-Sibanda said she saw nothing wrong in educating the girl child.
“For those that sideline girls when it comes to education, it’s retrogressive. At the end of the day, we don’t know who would have done better, a boy or a girl, for we are created equally before God,” Ndlovu-Sibanda said.
“There is nothing wrong in investing in both girls and boys’ education.”
She said there was need to raise awareness on such issues.
“There is need to go out there and hold gender sensitisation programmes, especially in rural areas where the practice is widespread,” Ndlovu-Sibanda said.
Zimbabwe has reinforced its legal frameworks to ensure gender equality and equity while at the same time adopting measures to make the education system inclusive of girls.
In the constitution, the provisions of the Unesco Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) are guaranteed in various legislative pieces, including the Education Act, which articulate on children’s fundamental right to education.
The country has also ratified various international conventions and declarations on discrimination and gender equality, notably the 1979 Convention against the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) as well as the Dakar Education for All Framework for Action.
Cedaw requires all states “to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise.”
The Beijing Platform for Action made specific reference to ensuring the right of women and girls to education, while the Dakar Education for All Framework for Action’s Goal 5 aims at eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education.
On the migration of young girls to work as housemaids in South Africa and Botswana, sociologist Yotamu Chirwa said: “These migrations started long ago and today these families consider working in foreign lands to economically empower themselves while at the same time it brings pride to the family back home.”
Zimbabwe Gender Commission CEO and gender activist Virginia Muwanigwa said Zimbabwe is intensifying advocacy for girls’ right to education and the eradication of gender-based discrimination in communities.