By Michelle Chifamba
Teenagers in Zimbabwe’s low income and rural communities are faced with the challenges of transitioning into adulthood in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Young people find themselves gripped with a cloud of uncertainty and hopes of a better future being extinguished by months of lockdown restrictions that have kept schools closed for long periods.
Without access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health services, idle and out of the protection of schools, adolescent girls are now more vulnerable to teenage sexual exploitation.
Nearly 5,000 teenage girls became pregnant between January and February this year, while approximately 1,800 adolescent girls entered into early marriages, government data has shown.
To help young girls escape the vicious cycle, Shamwari Yemwanasikana, a community-based organisation, has been working towards empowering them to make informed decisions and avoid early marriages.
Florence Mutake, the Shamwari Yemwanasikana programmes coordinator, said the organisation has been working closely with teenage girls from rural and low-income communities to bridge the information gap.
Mutake said the programme will ensure that issues of gender-based violence, sexual reproductive health and protection of women’s rights remained critical during the pandemic.
The women’s organisation has created platforms on social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, to promote interactions between young girls and women’s rights experts.
This helps young women and girls to understand their rights while equipping them with information on making knowledgeable sexual and life decisions.
“Since the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place we have been relying on online interactions where girls have been coming together and remain in touch through social media platforms such as WhatsApp,” Mutake said.
“It is through those groups that we have remained in touch, bringing in reputable speakers to come and speak to the girls so that they know that their rights matter.”
As part of protecting the girls’ rights during the Covid-19 pandemic, Shamwari Yemwanasikana has been producing Covid-19 fact sheets that it distributes to communities to help parents and community leaders understand the risks that girls may face during a pandemic.
The Covid-19 fact sheets detail the need to protect and promote the rights of the girl child such as access to education and protecting them against sexual exploitation and gender-based violence as well as period poverty and ensuring access to sanitary wear.
“We do not want communities to forget that children’s rights matter even during a pandemic,” Mutake said.
“We have been producing Covid-19 pandemic fact-sheets to the communities so that parents and community leaders understand that girls face different challenges especially during a pandemic such as sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and early marriages.
“The Covid-19 fact-sheets are designed to give information on how the rights of the girl child can be protected so that they (girls) are preserved to become future leaders.”
As part of its initiatives to bridge the Covid-19 information gap, the women-led organisation has also created a platform, Dandaro Revasikana, which brings together girls who experience similar traumatic experiences such as survivors of child marriages, gender-based violence and those who have lost their caregivers.
Through the support group, girls can draw inspiration to deal with their personal issues.
“Through our interactions with the young girls, we seek to address the human rights violations against young girls in society as well as working towards the advancement of the rights of young girls to become empowered and driven to be future leaders,” Mutake said.