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Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe

by The Advocacy Project
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Help Girls to Fight Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Civic duty: WAP girls make face masks in Harare
Civic duty: WAP girls make face masks in Harare

This report is being sent to friends who have generously supported the efforts of our partner in Zimbabwe, the Women Advocacy Project (WAP), to combat early marriage through income generation. We have launched three appeals for WAP on GlobalGiving since 2018 and raised almost $5,000 from 45 donors.

Since our last report in March, the world has turned upside down. Zimbabwe is very much on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 as we will shortly explain. But the main takeaway from this report will be entirely positive. The girls in Harare who have benefitted from your generosity have risen to the challenge of the pandemic like true heroes.

First, Zimbabwe. So far, the country has registered 1,820 cases of COVID-19, with 26 deaths. This may seem low, but Zimbabwe’s medical services are in tatters and the fear has always been that if the virus gets into the crowded communities of Harare, it will be unstoppable.

As a result, the government has enforced the lockdown with severity, and even violence. We hear that the police and soldiers are raiding communities, and arresting and fining people who are not wearing masks in public. Locked down in cramped houses, often without electricity or access to food, people are scared.

We first asked for your support in 2018 to help WAP train two teams of girls in the communities of Epworth and Chitungwiza to produce and sell soap. Our hope was that with some money in their pocket, the girls and their parents would find it easier to resist early marriage.

The launch was a rousing success and the soap-making was really taking off in March. Between them the two teams had produced and sold over 1,000 bottles of Clean Girl soap and were on a roll!

Then COVID-19 descended and priorities changed. Faced by the threat of infection, food shortages, closed schools, and restricted movement, WAP mobilized the girls to serve their immediate communities.

Soap-making was of course suspended, but over 200 bottles of Clean Girl remained unsold. These were shared out among the girls, to be used by their families and neighbors. WAP then launched a small emergency appeal that yielded $4,500 from several close friends - Action for World Solidarity in Berlin, the Pollination Project, Rockflower and AP.

This allowed Constance, the head of WAP, to produce face-masks and train six girls to make masks. Dickson, the WAP program manager, made 1,250 bottles of soap at home with left-over material from the soap trainings. Wearing masks and observing social distancing at all times, Constance and Dickson then worked with the girls to assemble emergency kits comprising cooking oil, maize flour, face masks and soap.

WAP gave kits to four clinics that were running dangerously short of essential material. Constance then turned to Chitungwiza and Epworth. Trish and Evelyn, WAP’s two “ambassadors” against child marriage, led teams of girls out into the communities to distribute the kits to over a hundred highly vulnerable families. With each visit they dispensed advice about social distancing, hygiene and nutrition. As you can see from the photos, their advice was generally well heeded!

This contribution by WAP, at very little cost, has helped to stabilize these two distressed communities and ease some of the pressure. Throughout it all, WAP has managed the project effectively and transparently, in spite of the challenges. They have kept us informed about expenditures and monitored results. And Constance is the first to agree that she has learned a lot, often by trial and error. This gives us great confidence that any future invstment in WAP will be very well used.

Here at AP we have not recruited a Peace Fellow to work with WAP this summer, but we have an active team of undergraduate assistants supporting our partners and they are keen to meet Evelyn and Trish remotely, much as Claire did in April. We hope that WhatsApp will oblige! There is nothing like personal contact to remind us that we are all in this pandemic together, rich or poor.

We have taken other steps to encourage WAP through this difficult period. We featured Constance in a recent news bulletin honoring mask-makers, and are acting as fiscal sponsor for an ambitious 2-year soap-making proposal by WAP. Constance has also started to blog directly to our website, which helps us all to better understand the pressures on Zimbabweans.

Finally we are embarking on a new quilt project that will allow the WAP girls to describe their lives through embroidery. The girls produced spectacular squares for the Zimbabwe Child Marriage Quilt last year and they want to return to stitching! We think it's a great idea. Anything that feeds the energy and creativity of these young women will help to keep the pandemic at bay!

Thank you again for your generous support. Please stay safe.

Iain, Constance and the teams from AP and WAP.

Before: Evelyn makes the case for face masks
Before: Evelyn makes the case for face masks
After: Success - another family is safer!
After: Success - another family is safer!
Constance from WAP makes masks, inspire girls
Constance from WAP makes masks, inspire girls
Delivering emergency kits to the clinic
Delivering emergency kits to the clinic
Dickson has made 1,250 bottles of soap at home
Dickson has made 1,250 bottles of soap at home

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Evelyn from Chitungwiza
Evelyn from Chitungwiza

This report is being sent to friends who have generously supported the efforts of our partner in Zimbabwe, the Women Advocacy Project (WAP) to combat early marriage. We have launched three appeals for WAP on GlobalGiving since the summer of 2018 and raised $4,692 from 45 donors. In total, we have transferred $10,499.30 to WAP since the startup begun.

This report is, of course, coming to you at a very difficult time. But WAP’s work is a reminder that communities and families are the first line of defense when a crisis strikes. Early marriage may lack the drama of COVID19 but it is certainly a slow-burning emergency for girls across Africa. One third of all girls in Zimbabwe are thought to marry before the legal age of 18.

With this in mind, we would like to introduce you to Evelyn, 21, a leader in WAP’s campaign. Evelyn, seen in the top photo, is one of two girl “ambassadors” who have been selected by WAP to lead teams of girls in the under-served communities of Epworth and Chitungwiza, Harare.

WAP’s hope is that the two ambassadors will work with their teams to educate girls about early marriage, identify girls who are vulnerable to marriage, and enable WAP to intervene.

WAP’s second goal is to train girls to make and sell liquid soap and so relieve the economic pressure on their families to marry their daughters off to older, richer, men. After years of economic mismanagement and neglect, the pressure is brutal. Zimbabwe is in an economic freefall, and the value of the Zimbabwe bond against the dollar has fallen by 50% in the last six months. This falls most heavily on poor families.

But Evelyn also shows that there is enormous resiliency in these communities. We have told Evelyn’s story in a recent video – The Soap-maker of Chitungwiza. Evelyn's parents earn between 1 and 2 dollars a day. Her two younger sisters often go to school hungry and there are holes in their shoes. But the family is loving and they can fall back on a tightly-knit community, in which neighbors share precious resources like water.

Evelyn herself handles it all with grace and humor, and never loses sight of her core message: "Even (as) girls we can be someone in life. You can be a lawyer, you can be a doctor, you can be anything you want in life rather than getting married while still under the age of 18."

Evelyn also uses the movie to describe WAP’s soap startup, launched last summer with help from McLane, an AP Peace Fellow, and by donations from Rockflower and Action for World Solidarity in Berlin. By the time AP visited in November last year, the two teams had produced and sold over 900 bottles of their own brand of Clean Girl soap. While the soap only sells for a dollar a bottle, WAP reports that some girls are earning enough to contribute towards school fees.

As the movie shows, these productions are a source of entertainment and companionship for the girls and admiring parents. Clean Girl soap is “taking the girls away from child marriage and unnecessary bad things like rape, prostitution and drug abuse,” according to Molene, a WAP program officer.

WAP has also used advocacy quilting to spread the word. In the summer of 2019 eleven girls, including Evelyn, told the story of child marriage through embroidered squares which were then brought back to the US by McLane and assembled into the Zimbabwe Child Marriage quilt in Rhode Island. Evelyn’s disturbing square shows a 13-year old girl married to a much older man who already has three wives. His young wife is already pregnant. As Evelyn explains on camera, she has known of such cases in Chitungwiza.

In November 2019, WAP used the quilt to take its message to the international community when Constance joined AP’s delegation to the UN summit on women and girls in Nairobi (ICPD25). Constance spent three busy days using the quilt to denounce child marriage to delegates and followed up by visiting the UN on her return to Zimbabwe.

WAP’s work will no doubt be affected by COVID19, but the fight against poverty and injustice will go on. And in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere, it will be led by communities that are on the frontlines.

Thank you again for your generous support.

Iain, Constance and the teams from AP and WAP.

Michelle, 19, makes soap at WAP
Michelle, 19, makes soap at WAP
Soap-making builds community and sells soap!
Soap-making builds community and sells soap!
Trish tells her story for the child marriage quilt
Trish tells her story for the child marriage quilt
Constance from WAP supervises soap-making
Constance from WAP supervises soap-making
Constance shows her quilt at ICPD25 in Nairobi
Constance shows her quilt at ICPD25 in Nairobi

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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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The Advocacy Project

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @AdvocacyProject
Project Leader:
Iain Guest
Washington, DC United States
$1,311 raised of $5,000 goal
 
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