Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe

A microproject by The Advocacy Project
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help 5 Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Trish, Constance and the Epworth team sell soap
Trish, Constance and the Epworth team sell soap

This report is being sent to 67 friends who have donated $5,698 to our partner Women Advocacy Project (WAP) in Zimbabwe since 2019. Thank you!

Your donations have helped 80 girls to make and sell soap, and in so doing resist the pressure to marry early. This remains WAP's primary goal. But the pandemic has also reshaped WAP’s work and taken it in directions that we never expected. This report explains how it happened and where it could lead.

2019 - Clean Girl soap makes an entry

WAP’s program rests on a slippery foundation of thick, gooey liquid soap which comes in green plastic bottles and carries the bold name (chosen by the girls) of Clean Girl.

The project started in 2019 when McLane, a graduate student at the Fletcher School (Tufts), volunteered at WAP as a Peace Fellow. McLane accompanied Constance, WAP’s dynamic founder, to underserved neighborhoods of Harare and met with girls who had sacrificed their education – and sometimes even their health – to marry young. One third of all girls in Zimbabwe marry before the legal age of 18.

The biggest problem was poverty, which forced parents to seek out a wealthy husband for their daughters. Constance and McLane concluded that the best way to halt this was to empower girls and put some money in their pockets.

They turned to soap for help. WAP had already established clubs for girls in several poor neighborhoods, headed by girl “ambassadors.” Constance started soap training for two of the clubs in Chitungwiza and Epworth that were led by dynamic ambassadors, Evelyn and Trish.

During the second half of 2019, WAP sold around 6,000 liters of soap for $4,365. Half went to the girls and the rest was invested in WAP's soap program. Almost as important as the money was the girls' sense of accomplishment. Nothing is quite so empowering as selling your own products!

2020-2021 – The years of pandemic

Soap production came to a grinding halt in March 2021 when the pandemic struck. But WAP had stockpiled soap and materials and Dickson (WAP’s program manager) continued producing soap at home. Constance made over 1,000 facemasks.

WAP’s international friends, including AP and Rockflower, offered emergency funding which Constance and Dickson used to assemble care packages with masks, cooking oil and soap. These were distributed to health centers and poor families by the girls, along with a strong message about hand-washing and social distancing.

This impressive response to the pandemic persuaded two major donors, Action for World Solidarity in Berlin and the US-based Together Women Rise, to fund WAP to the end of 2022. WAP’s budget this year stands at $44,000 and this has enabled WAP to train 40 more girls in two new neighborhoods, Mbare and Waterfalls. It has also strengthened WAP’s planning, monitoring, money management, website, and photography. One result: a delightful video film that captures the high spirits of the young soap-makers (attached).

Soap-making got off to a slow start this year because of the continuing lockdown, and the need to train the new girls. But they learned quickly and were producing high quality soap within 2 weeks. As of May 1, WAP has sold 5,022 bottles and is confident of meeting their target of 16,000 bottles by year’s end.

All of the elements of a strong business are in place: a quality product; a well-known brand; a motivated team; and strong demand from consumers and retail outlets. This comes across in the video, where Mr Example, the owner of the Example Trading store in Epworth, tells the WAP team that their soap smells “almost like sunlight.” WAP has also received a government certification to use a bar-code and sell in supermarkets.

Meanwhile, the main goal is being met. If they can indeed sell 16,000 bottles the girls will share $8,000 this year and that would make a difference. “It has really helped,” says Miriam, one of the soap-makers from Chitungwiza. “We are now managing our own pocket money, buying our needs like sanitation and even helping our parents to pay school fees.” None of the girls has married since the program began.

Telling the story of COVID – and building friendships in the US

WAP’s program is proving its worth in other ways, by helping girls in the US and Zimbabwe to cope with the pandemic.

In the summer of 2020 we offered the WAP girls a creative outlet for their frustration. Several had enjoyed telling the story of child marriage through an advocacy quilt in 2019, so we suggested that they turn their skills to stitching the story of COVID. They responded with 12 powerful squares. One of the strongest designs, from Vimbai, described how domestic violence has increased during the lockdown. (Photo)

After the squares reached us, we sent them to Colleen, a skilled quilter in Wisconsin, to be assembled into an advocacy quilt. Colleen’s quilt was recently exhibited in public for the first time in Wilmington, North Carolina, where it was much admired.

Meanwhile, others have followed the example set by Vimbai and the other WAP artists. They include nine students at the Wakefield High School in Virginia who had originally hoped to make their own Clean Girl soap and send the proceeds to WAP in Zimbabwe. When this fell through in March 2020, they decided that they too would tell their COVID stories through embroidery.

Headed by two coordinators, Layla and Stephanie, the Wakefield team have made nine beautifully crafted squares about their COVID fears and explained their designs in podcasts. Early in 2021, their squares were assembled into a quilt by Beth, a well-known quilter, and exhibited alongside the WAP quilt in Wilmington on April 22. Four of the young artists attended. (Photo)

Layla and Stephanie tell us that this whole experience has been profoundly empowering. It has also brought them closer to the WAP girls in Zimbabwe. The two groups meet by Zoom every Saturday morning, and this has led to some hilarious encounters. (Photo) Zimbabweans have never seen snow, and the WAP girls watched with amazement as the Arlington team showed video footage of a recent snowstorm in Washington. Layla and her friends were equally surprised to see video of Constance and the girls singing and dancing before meals.

The two teams plan to bring their mothers into the next Zoom call, rounding off a remarkable crosscultural conversation.

Reaching out to American women

WAP's grant from Together Women Rise stipulated that WAP would meet with TWR chapters in the US throughout March. The time difference made it impossible for Constance to meet in person, so AP took on the task. We were joined by Stephanie, Layla and Kate from the Arlington group, who are close to the Zimbabwe girls in age and have done so much to expand WAP’s horizons internationally.

These stimulating discussions have produced plenty of good ideas. For example, several TWR groups expressed concern at the amount of plastic that is used to make Clean Girl soap in Zimbabwe. We put this to Constance, who agreed that customers should get the chance to refill their bottles. That would be a win-win for consumers, for WAP and for the environment – and another example of how this project is building fruitful partnerships between women and girls.

Looking ahead

While these unexpected outcomes are exciting, it is important to remember that goal #1 is to put money in the pockets of girls in Zimbabwe. This is happening, and there is every reason to expect that it will continue through 2022.

The question is what happens after 2022, when current funding comes to an end. WAP will have to find new money from increased sales or new donors, and that could be difficult if the pandemic persists and the economy remains stagnant. But Constance and her team have shown great resourcefulness during this difficult period so far. If anyone can adapt to new challenges, they can.

Here in the US, a new Peace Fellow will join AP next month to help coordinate our work with WAP. We will continue to promote WAP, look for new funds, and explore new ways to encourage the girls.

We have every reason to be optimistic. If this project has taught us anything, it is that new opportunities lie around every corner!

Thank you for making it possible!

The AP team

(PS. Our apologies for any cross-posting)

Making soap in Epworth during the pandemic
Making soap in Epworth during the pandemic
Constance sells Clean Girl soap in Chitungwiza
Constance sells Clean Girl soap in Chitungwiza
Sketching out a COVID story for the quilt
Sketching out a COVID story for the quilt
Vimbai describes a spike in domestic violence
Vimbai describes a spike in domestic violence
Stephanie and friends with their COVID quilt
Stephanie and friends with their COVID quilt
Saturday Zooms unite girls in US and Zimbabwe
Saturday Zooms unite girls in US and Zimbabwe

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Jubilation in Epworth after a soap sale
Jubilation in Epworth after a soap sale

This report is going to 58 friends who have donated through GlobalGiving to our appeals for the Women Advocacy Project (WAP) in Zimbabwe. These appeals have raised $5,052 for WAP since 2018. Thank you!

When we last reported to you in July the pandemic was on the rise in East Africa. In the weeks since, the threat has somewhat receded. As of writing, Zimbabwe has recorded 9,950 cases of infection and 276 deaths, which is well below what was predicted. But a price has been paid in the poorer communities of Harare where the lockdown has been harshly enforced. We’ll have more on that in a moment.

Background: Poverty and Early Marriage

This project was launched in 2018 to address the crippling poverty that forces families in Zimbabwe to marry their daughters off to older men. Fully one third of all girls in Zimbabwe marry before the legal age of 18.

Helped by Alex, an AP Peace Fellow from Columbia University, WAP hit on the idea of asking several girls to serve as “ambassadors against child marriage.” Evelyn was elected as ambassador for the community of Chitungwiza, and Trish was chosen to head the team from Epworth. WAP established girls’ clubs in both communities and began to reach out to girls who were at risk from early marriage.

In the summer of 2019 the program moved from outreach to income-generation. We deployed a second Peace Fellow – McLane from the Fletcher School at Tufts – to help WAP train 40 girls to produce soap. The girls came up with their own brand name – Clean Girl – and began to sell their soap at stores, known as Tuck Shops. By year’s end they had sold 6,041 liters for $4,365. We captured some of the excitement in this video profile of Evelyn. They were off to a good start!

COVID-19 Strikes

We described the challenge from COVID-19, and WAP’s response, in our July report. Desperate to keep the virus at bay, the Zimbabwean authorities imposed a harsh lockdown on inner-city neighborhoods. Small traders, like Evelyn’s father, were prevented from selling in the usual places. Families were barred from markets. People were fined for not wearing masks. Food ran short and tempers rose.

WAP responded heroically. Dickson, WAP’s program manager, produced 1,500 bottles of soap from his home. Constance, the founder and director of WAP, made almost 1,900 facemasks on her sewing machine, in between multiple power cuts.

The girls bundled up the soap and masks into emergency packages and added maize and cooking oil (also purchased with your donations). Heavily masked, they then distributed the packages to vulnerable families and medical clinics. WAP photos show the girls knocking on doors, urging families to wear masks and use soap. They are some of the most inspiring images to reach us this year.

Depicting The Pandemic Through Embroidery

In July, during the height of the pandemic, we asked Constance if the girls would like to describe the impact of COVID-19 through embroidery. They had learned to stitch the previous year and produced a wonderful quilt about early marriage that was exhibited at the ICPD25 UN summit in Nairobi (November 2019). We thought they would welcome the chance to put their skills to use again.

The girls jumped at the idea and attended several carefully controlled, masked, stitching sessions. Their finished blocks describe a society under siege. In one scene, thieves loot a store. In another, police prevent women from collecting water. Vimbai’s block depicts domestic violence. The prize for best design went to Bybit, whose block showed people being arrested for not wearing a mask.

One thing is clear from their art: if the impact of COVID-19 has been savage, the same can be said of the response.

Resuming Soap Production, Building A Business

As the threat from COVID-19 has receded, WAP has resumed making Clean Girl soap. Between September and December the project expects to produce 4,500 liters of soap. Half of the earnings goes to the girls, who are taking home around $22 a month. (This may not seem much but it is equivalent to half the monthly income of some families.) None of the girls has married since 2018. Simply put, the project is meeting its goals under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

Looking further ahead, what began as an inspiring startup in 2018 is evolving into a sustained business. This has been made possible by the motivation of the girls, by the professionalism of the WAP team, by your donations and by generous grants from Action for World Solidarity in Berlin and Rockflower.

Production: WAP has invested in a solar-powered generator, which will allow for uninterrupted production, and a mechanical stirring machine, which has increased the amount of soap being made.

Marketing: The soap is now packaged and sold in six-packs, at a small discount. The number of stores buying Clean Girl soap is growing and orders are coming in from outside Harare. WAP has received government authorization to add a bar code to the label, which will allow the soap to be sold at supermarkets. Expanding the market is priority #1 for 2021.

Professionalism: WAP’s management and communications skills have improved dramatically. Dickson updates the WAP website and has become an accomplished videographer. In October, he produced two hours of video footage which was edited by our team in the US into a delightful film that shows WAP girls haggling with good-humored shopkeepers. “(Your soap) smells good!” says Mr. Example, owner of the Example Trading Store. “It is almost like sunlight!”

Donor support: WAP has been rewarded for this good work with a major grant from Dining for Women (DFW), the US-based network of women’s clubs. WAP will be the featured grantee in March 2021 and hopes to meet plenty of DFW chapters on Zoom!

More beneficiaries: With this new grant from DFW, WAP’s budget has grown from around $5,000 in 2018 to over $40,000 in 2021. This will allow WAP to expand the soap program to two more communities, Waterfalls and Mbare, and benefit 40 more girls and their families.

Your investment has certainly paid off!

With profound thanks and best wishes for a safe and enjoyable holiday.

The WAP and AP teams

Mixing soap is hard work!
Mixing soap is hard work!
Tanatswa, right, is a skilled soap-maker
Tanatswa, right, is a skilled soap-maker
Trish supplies a tuck shop with Clean Girl soap
Trish supplies a tuck shop with Clean Girl soap
WAP girls describe the pandemic through embroidery
WAP girls describe the pandemic through embroidery
Lisa's square shows looters during the lockdown
Lisa's square shows looters during the lockdown

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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
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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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Organization Information

The Advocacy Project

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @AdvocacyProject
Project Leader:
Iain Guest
Washington, DC United States

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