By Marcus Mushonga
Harare — You cannot do anything for a girl without the girl’s active involvement.
With their baby faces and young ages belying their maturity, Zimbabwe’s budding female politicians have made this resounding statement that is likely to change the way the country protects and empowers its girls.
The symbolic sentiments on the need to empower girls to make decisions, assume leadership roles, and live and thrive in a gender equal society coincides with the just-commemorated International Day of the Girl Child.
Sentiments by girls selected from the Junior Parliament of Zimbabwe highlighted the importance of government and stakeholders tapping onto the input of youngsters on seeking solutions to prevailing issues such as gender-based violence and marginalisation of women.
“Addressing violence and discrimination against women and girls is essential to ensure that no one is left behind in the development agenda,” said Naledi Green, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative for the day.
There is also concern over the women and girls living with disabilities being at a excessively higher risk of experiencing gender-based violence and harmful practice.
“There is urgent need to address the issues of girls living with disabilities,” junior parliamentarian, Caroline Muwonda, said.
She was the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative on the International Day of the Girl Child.
Green and Muwonda were among some young women that participated at the #ZimGirlsTakeover, organised by the UN Mission in Zimbabwe during the International Day of the Girl Child.
Other UN agencies “taken over” as part of the Spotlight Initiative programme to eliminate violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe include International Labour Organisation (ILO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and UN Women.
Kelina Mutate, who took over UNESCO, believes the lax implementation of laws is worsening the scourge of child marriages.
“I am determined to ensure that there are strict laws guarding the girl child from early marriages in Zimbabwe,” she emphasised.
Celebrated yearly on October 11 since 2012, the day supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide based upon their gender.
This inequality includes areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence against women and forced child marriage.
Sandra Munhundarima, a judge in the Junior Parliament of Zimbabwe, who spent the day as the head of UN Women, said the day was a platform to break the barriers of discrimination and prejudice against girls.
“I will make sure that girls occupy spaces and know that they have a right to be heard,” Munhundarima said.
Vimbai Jukwa, Senator of the Junior Parliament, who took up the role as the head of ILO, encouraged women and girls to take up leadership roles to achieve gender parity in all spheres of decision-making, including in political, economic, social and public life.
Her fellow legislator, Elinah Moyo, taking up the position of the head of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said women’s rights and empowerment were key contributing factors to economic growth, social development, political stability and environmental sustainability.
“There is no better way to show commitment to improving the life of the girl child than to involve girls in such initiatives. You cannot do anything for a girl without the girl’s active involvement,” Moyo said.
Gender-based violence is a concern in Zimbabwe, as it is in the rest of the world.
In Zimbabwe, according to research, at least one in every three women (aged 15 – 49) have experienced physical violence while one in every five women have experienced sexual violence.
In most cases, perpetrators are the intimate partners.
Other harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages exacerbate matters.
Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, the Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, said the empowerment of girls and women was key in attaining Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030.
“It will be foolhardy to believe that Vision 2030 will be realized without embracing the elimination of violence against women and girls as one of the key national development priorities,” Nyoni said.