It’s late February in Zambia. The sun breaks through the clouds providing a welcome reprieve from the rainy season’s relentless showers.
On the outskirts of a village in Livingstone, a group of African Impact staff, volunteers and community members gather. Today is a celebration, for the Grade 6 girls from our Girl Impact program are graduating. They have now completed the Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program (AGEP). A program set-up to empower through workshops, mentorship and support. The primary focus is in education, health, safety, early pregnancy, self-confidence and income generation.
Now, it will be their responsibility to act as mentors to the new girls entering the program. The shy, quiet girls who struggled to read and write English have transformed. Today they are confident and happy, if a little nervous at their growing audience.
“We are empowered!” they shout in unison as colorful graduation hats tumble down to the sound of our applause.
It’s a symbolic moment for all. For African Impact, it symbolizes the reward of two years of hard work. The Girl Impact program was set up in 2016 in a bid to narrow the gender equality gap. These girls were the pioneers and the hope for the future. Today is testament to its success.
One week later and I am walking through another Livingstone village. The roads have turned to mud after the recent deluge of rain. Donkey carts race by as we trudge down pot-holed streets. A group of curious children edge closer, building the courage to give us high-fives. My guides – Prisca and Nancy – talk us through the communities’ way of life. These women are part of our Village Tour initiative, proving an income and an understanding of the tourist industry. The end goal is for them to take complete ownership of the business, as we train them in finance and management.
“The village tour really motivates me that I can do something. I do not have to just stay at home, I can do something to provide for my family,” Nancy told African Impact.
“It empowers us financially,” added Prisca. “It is really beneficial to us, as a woman if you are just staying at home, you think the whole world is just in your house. But coming out here, meeting people from many different countries, it is an amazing experience we have.”
None of the above would have been possible if it had not been from the hard work and fundraising provided by both staff and volunteers.
Gender empowerment has come to the forefront of the western press. Hashtags such as #metoo and #timesup have seen huge global momentum. There is the potential for big change. But, for attitudes to alter, education is vital. And, for countries such as Zambia, where the education of females is seen as secondary, it is where we at African Impact step-in.
Be the Change
- Typically, the school drop-out age starts at 13 years old – this is due to teenage pregnancy, lack of money, or having to stay at home and look after family members.
- One-third of girls aged 10-14 years in Zambia are already off course with their schooling— meaning they have either never been in school, are not currently in school, or are more than two years behind grade-for-age.
- Just five percent of women have more than secondary school education.
But, things are improving. Since we started Girl Impact here, no girls who are part of the program have dropped out of school due to pregnancy.
Education plays a key role in combating violence and health issues, too.
- The proportion of women who agree that wife beating is justified has declined since 2007, when the number was at 62%. But, at 47%, more needs to be done. Statistics show that increasing education and wealth reduces this number further.
- Still, 24% of women agree that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife. The reasons include; if she burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children or refuses to have sexual intercourse.
- Since we began our gender workshops there has been a 65% increase in knowledge about gender roles.
- It is not just women that need educating, we need to focus on both sexes. In 2017, we implemented a boy’s club. At the start, test scores on gender empowerment were low at 10.70%. By the end of the course, this number had surged to 75.09%.
Women in Zambia are more likely than males to suffer from ill health, due to poor education.
- The country has a high HIV rate and, in Livingstone, one in four Zambians are living with the condition.
- HIV data shows there is a 2:1 female to male ratio, of which 11.8% of females aged 20-24 are living with HIV compared with 5% male.
- A lack of education, stigma and inaccurate information are key problems. We run regular health workshops to educate – last year we saw an improvement in knowledge of 25%.
Building on Our Success
It is now March and the rainy season shows no sign of relenting. Aside from making it difficult to get around, it plays havoc with our workshops.
A lack of funding has meant all our gender empowerment classes take place under a mango tree. In the rainy season this means the girls and women are sitting in the mud, or worse, workshops are rained-off altogether. Additionally, the mango tree does nothing for privacy. Often the workshops we cover are discussing difficult and personal topics. Imagine trying to talk confidentially about rape, sex, or vaginas while people walk past, and children play.
How open would you be in that environment?
My bet… not very!
We want to build a community center to allow the women and girls the privacy and dignity they deserve to discuss tough issues.
“When we talk about puberty we do not want the boys to listen,” one of the girls confides. While another said a center would mean there are “less distractions and noise”.
“A dedicated community centre will allow us to meet more often as there will be no noise, no children and this will allow us to concentrate,” Prisca added.
It is expected for the building to impact at least 350 community members in Livingstone. But, we can’t do it alone. We need your help. Please, if you would like to help empower and educate, donate to our fund by clicking on the link below.
It will be such a waste of their intelligence and potential should they become another statistic.