Oct 11, 2019

Soap Targets Child Marriage in Zimbabwe

WAP girls learn to make Clean Girl soap in Harare
WAP girls learn to make Clean Girl soap in Harare

This report is being sent to everyone who has supported the work of our partner in Zimbabwe, the Women Advocacy Project (WAP). So far, 36 donors have given $4,131. Thank you!

As we have pointed out in our previous report, one third of all girls in Zimbabwe marry under the age of 18, in violation of the law and at great risk to their health. WAP’s director, Constance, is determined to put an end to this, and she has selected several dynamic young women to serve as “girl ambassadors” against child marriage. Each ambassador is responsible for managing a club where girls learn about reproductive health and the risks of early marriage. Their efforts seem to be paying off: not one of the 150 participants has married since the trainings began last year.

Poverty is one of the driving forces behind early marriage, and early in September WAP launched a soap training program for 30 girls in the community of Chitungwiza. The goal was to provide their families with an economic incentive to resist the pressure to marry. Using your donations and a grant from Germany, WAP hired a professional trainer, Mr Paul, and purchased protective clothing, equipment, and material. The girls provided a snappy brand name for their soap – “Clean Girl.” Two ambassadors – Evelyn from Chitungwiza and Trish from Epworth – coordinated the training.

Over the past month, Mr Paul has given weekly trainings at the house of a WAP friend, as shown in the photo. Some of the girls, who have dropped out of school, have told WAP that they will use anything they may earn to enroll again.

Clean Girl is household soap and not of a particularly high quality. But these are early days and the program is off to a quick start. The trainees produced 180 liters during the first month. Each girl was asked to find 10 recycled bottles (most of which were provided by Pepsi) and this saved some money. In the end, each half-kilo bottle of soap sold for about $1.50.

This will not be enough to cover the production costs and produce a decent income after the donations run out, but that lies in the future. WAP’s priority at present is to lay a strong foundation by improving the quality of soap and putting an efficient and transparent process in place. The soap is sold by five confident girls who take the bottles to local “Tuck Shops” and make their sales pitch. Like any good businesswomen, they keep invoices and hand the money over to WAP for safe-keeping. (Banks charge $20 a month, which is beyond WAP’s means for the time being.) AP will visit in November and offer suggestions.

Meanwhile, on a separate but related note, we have been asked by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to exhibit advocacy quilts at a major international conference in Nairobi next month. The Conference (ICPD25) will mark the 25-year anniversary of the ground-breaking 1994 Cairo meeting on population and development.

Early marriage will be on the agenda, and we have commissioned a quilt on child marriage from the girls of WAP. Their embroidered squares are powerful, as you can see from the photos. One, by Kundai, shows an orphan girl being forced by her guardian to marry an old man to pay off the cost of her upbringing. The other squares are equally graphic. Constance will attend the conference and use the quilt to publicize WAP's work before an international audience.

Much of this success is due to the effforts of our two Peace Fellows who have worked at WAP - Alex (2018) and McLane (2019). This past summer McLane put up with endless power cuts and breakdowns to raise over $1,500, write proposals and coordinate the making of the embroidered squares. Like Alex she showed that graduate students can be extraordinarily effective at launching innovative startups for social change.

We’ll have more news from the Nairobi conference and the soap-making in Harare in our next report!

In gratitude

Iain and the AP team.

Clean Girl labels are attached to soap bottles
Clean Girl labels are attached to soap bottles
Constance from WAP with the finished product!
Constance from WAP with the finished product!
Kundai uses embroidery to denounce child marriage
Kundai uses embroidery to denounce child marriage
Domestic violence, depicted by Lynn
Domestic violence, depicted by Lynn
Mr Paul trains WAP girls to make soap
Mr Paul trains WAP girls to make soap
Sep 16, 2019

Memorial Quilts Are Displayed in Nepal and the US!

Sarita, hard at work on a new tiger bag
Sarita, hard at work on a new tiger bag

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015

In our last report, in May, we wrote to you about the visit of Bobbi, an American quilter, to the western district of Bardiya, Nepal. Bobbi worked with 25 members of the Bardiya cooperative, who all lost relatives during the conflict (1996-2006).

Bobbi’s main objective was to help the women turn their embroidered squares into two memorial quilts. As we wrote in our May report, she achieved this with flair and efficiency! We have tried to capture the flavor of Bobbi’s trip in a recent video film, A Quilter’s Journey, which describes how working with the women helped Bobbi to move past her own personal losses. We have also described the making of the quilts in new pages on our website. The Bardiya cooperative members are profiled here.

Of the two memorial quilts produced in Bardiya, one has remained in Nepal. It was shown on August 30 when hundreds of family members marked International Day of the Disappeared in Kathmandu. The second quilt was brought to the US around the same time by Prabal, our field officer in Nepal, when he made a presentation before the annual meeting of The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and the American Association of State and Local History in Philadelphia (photo). Prabal answered many questions about the quilt, and its importance as a tool of memorialization.

The purpose of advocacy quilts, of course, is to support advocacy. We hope to show one of the Bardiya quilts later this month when Iain from AP will give testimony to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva on behalf of family members in Nepal.

Our second objective this year has been to help the Bardiya cooperative produce tote bags for sale. We have written about this endeavor in past updates. After learning how to embroider memorial squares, the Bardiya ladies wanted to use their skills to earn money. They decided to produce bags in honor of the tigers who live in the nearby Bardiya National Park.

Their first samples were lively, but have failed to sell. As a result, Bobbi worked with Sarita, the head of the cooperative, to produce a new design that has met with wide approval. AP has commissioned 100 bags from the Bardiya cooperative and we hope to start selling them in early 2020. A percentage of the profit will go to a tiger conservation project, yet to be selected. If you would like to order a bag, please send an email to dcoffice@advocacynet.org.

We are pleased with the way this project is helping the Bardiya women achieve three important goals: commemorate their lost relatives; develop a bag-making business; and demand transitional justice that addresses their needs.

None of this is easy. As time passes most Nepalis want to put the conflict behind them, and move on. Not so these family members from Bardiya. They will continue to grieve until they know how their loved ones died and can lay them to rest. Having just observed another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US, we can sympathize. We are certainly in for the long haul.

In gratitude,

The AP Team.

Tough sell: The old tiger designs aren't selling
Tough sell: The old tiger designs aren't selling
Bobbi, Prabal and Sarita review new designs
Bobbi, Prabal and Sarita review new designs
Sarita with finished tiger bags
Sarita with finished tiger bags
Prabal shows the Bardiya quilt in Philadelphia
Prabal shows the Bardiya quilt in Philadelphia
Jun 28, 2019

Ending Child Marriage in Zimbabwe - The Ambassadors Start Work!

This report is being sent to friends who have donated to our two appeals on GlobalGiving on behalf of girls in Zimbabwe. The funds have been used by the Women Advocacy Project (WAP) in Zimbabwe and The Advocacy Project (AP) in Washington to test out a new pilot project to end child marriage. Up to this point, 18 generous individuals have donated $2,146 to the appeals – thank you!

WAP was launched in 2012 by Constance, an advocate for women’s rights in Zimbabwe who is well known for her opposition to early and child marriage. According to UNICEF 32% of all girls in Zimbabwe marry before their eighteenth birthdays. As we explain below, this causes enormous misery and distress.

Last summer, WAP asked us to send a Peace Fellow to help develop a new campaign. We selected Alexandra, a student at The School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. Alex had worked at Human Rights Watch and was an expert on child marriage, but her fellowship was anything but easy. Zimbabwe was in the middle of an election campaign, and was suffering from a severe economic crisis after years of isolation.

In spite of this, Alex and her hosts at WAP travelled widely and met with 136 women and girls, many of whom were profiled by Alex in excellent blogs and strong photos. By the end of the summer, WAP had come up with a completely new approach, which AP is happy to support. We have recruited another impressive graduate student – McLane from the Fletcher School at Tufts – to serve as a Peace Fellow at WAP this year.

The Challenge

Child marriage is by no means limited to the Global South. In the United States, no fewer than 167,000 girls under the age of 17 married between 2000 and 2010, and 49 states currently allow child marriage.

The law in Zimbabwe, in contrast, is explicit and uncompromising – no marriage below the age of 18. Unfortunately, as WAP and Alex found during their field trips last year, the law is not being enforced.

WAP has zeroed in on four main reasons.

First, many girls lack any understanding of reproductive health. One UN study found that only 4% of the girls between 10 and 19 understand pregnancy. This can have tragic results. Timotenda, from the neighborhood of Hopley, found out that she was pregnant at the age of 16 and was forced to marry her boyfriend after she was thrown out of the house by her father. Pregnancy at such an early age puts an end to school and poses severe medical risks.

The second driver of child marriage is poverty. Zimbabwe’s economy is in a freefall and 85% of the population is out of work. In this context, marriage seems to offer protection and security, particularly to young women like Anaisha, who married at the age of 17 after both of her parents died. Another young woman who talked to WAP, Sara, took up sex work to pay the bills.

The third cause of early marriage is cultural practices like Kuripa Ngozi, which allows families to offer their daughters in marriage to pay off debts.

Finally, there is religion. The Apostolic Church in Zimbabwe (also known as the White Garment church after its distinctive white robes) is powerful. As Alex wrote in one powerful blog, the church has also been accused of encouraging child marriage. WAP met one young woman, Rudo, whose father had six wives and 26 children: “My father was praying with the White Garment Church. That is the culture. When you are growing in the church, you have many wives to bring in more followers.”

The Response

WAP’s response to this multifaceted crisis centers around four tough-minded girls who serve as “ambassadors” against child marriage. If Constance has learned one thing it is that girls are the most effective advocates against child marriage. Her four ambassadors - Evelyn, Yeukai, Trish and Ashley - certainly have what it takes. Trish, 18, used to live in a village and had a boyfriend, but that has stopped: “When I moved here (to Harare) my Auntie grabbed me by the ears and warned me off boys saying, ‘this is Harare.’ Now I have no boyfriend.”

The four ambassadors are seen in the photo below with Constance from WAP and McLane, our 2019 Peace Fellow. Each girl manages a girl’s club for up to 40 other girls who meet each Saturday to discuss reproductive health, hand out sanitary pads and address other practical concerns. The ambassadors have also used these meetings to identify around 20 girls who are at risk from marriage, and Constance is now planning to intervene with their families. WAP hopes to halt at least 10 marriages by the end of this year. The good news is that not one of the 150 girls who have been attending clubs since last December have got married.

WAP is also offering an economic incentive in the form of soap-making. All-purpose soap sells well in Zimbabwe but the cost of materials is high and it requires specialized training. The first training will take place in Epworth for the four ambassadors and 26 vulnerable girls. WAP has set a target of 2,000 bars by the end of the year.

The final component in this imaginative program will be advocacy quilting. Helped by our Peace Fellow McLane, twelve girls will describe child marriage through embroidered squares which will be brought to the US, assembled by an expert American quilter, and used by WAP’s international friends to promote WAP's work abroad.

With your help, and grants from donors like the Rockflower Foundation which is dedicated to empowering community-based advocacy, WAP has laid the foundation for a bold new model. We’ll report back to you at the end of the summer and hope to show some impressive results by the end of the year.

Thank you once again!

Constance, Iain and the WAP/AP teams.

McLane and Constance (front) with the ambassadors
McLane and Constance (front) with the ambassadors
Irene dropped out of school at 14
Irene dropped out of school at 14
Marion wants to study, not get married
Marion wants to study, not get married
Ambassadors train girls in reproductive health
Ambassadors train girls in reproductive health
Constance spreads the word among families
Constance spreads the word among families
 
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