Did you know that, in Zimbabwe, women constitute 60% of the illiterate adult population?
Although most girls who do attend school complete Grade 7 (around the age of 11 or 12), there’s a sharp drop in attendance from female students once they move into secondary education.
Severe poverty, particularly in rural areas, means that parents are often unable to send all of their children to school. In fact, approximately 63% of Zimbabwean families are unable to afford their children’s education.
Where there is some money available, boys are almost always prioritised to stay at school, while girls are forced out of education into low paid domestic jobs, forced labour (i.e. modern day slavery) or even sex trafficking.
Currently, 34% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18 and 5% are married before their 15th birthday. These figures are higher in rural areas of the country.
The grim reality is that girls who marry or cohabit as if married before the age of 18 are more likely to have early pregnancies, experience dangerous complications in pregnancy and child birth, acquire HIV, and experience domestic violence.
Poverty drives the trade in child brides.
As explained by the campaign organisation Girls Not Brides, many communities see little value in educating girls due to the lack of economic opportunities. Instead, girls are expected to fulfil the role of a wife or mother while they are still children themselves. Dowries given to a girl’s family can sometimes offer their parents and siblings temporary relief from daily economic struggles.
The child brides are likely to remain in a state of privation due to their lack of education or independence from husbands who are usually much older than them.
I became aware of these facts recently within the context of an incredible charitable organisation called SHE.
SHE – standing for “Secure, Hope, Empowered” – was founded by Mayda Mapondera whom I first met through her involvement with The Catalyst Care Group and my role as an expert by experience for Leaf Complex Care.
Coincidentally, it’s also the charity that my lovely Women Mean Biz networking group supports.
Around 2012, Mayda was visiting her mother-in-law in Zimbabwe when she met a 13-year-old girl called Jaya.
Jaya was an orphan who had been repeatedly moved from one family member to another because no-one could afford to support her long-term. She had come to the realisation that her only option was to move away from her village and become a cleaner for a large Zimbabwean institution. This would give her food and shelter but also make her more vulnerable to exploitation, physical and sexual abuse.
Mayda was horrified by the prospect of this young girl fending for herself.
She learned that Jaya’s experience is not an isolated one and that many girls fall out of the education system in Zimbabwe because there simply isn’t the money to pay for their school fees, legal registration, textbooks, health checks, uniforms, food or accommodation.
In addition, pupils often live in remote areas, many kilometres away from the nearest school. Often, their families and communities believe that it would be more practical for girls to bring in an income - either through work or marriage - than to travel to school every day.
Founding SHE to support girls in rural areas of Zimbabwe
As a result of that chance meeting with Jaya, Mayda found the girl somewhere to live and supported her with all of her financial expenses for school, health and life so that she could continue with her education.
Now age 22, Jaya has recently finished her A-levels and wants to go to university to practice law.
Mayda became committed to working collaboratively with Zimbabwean girls, their families, teachers and local support services to break down the barriers that prevent girls from accessing their full education.
SHE is the result.
The organisation aims to equip at least 25 girls to go to school in 2021, safe in the knowledge that their fees have been paid.
To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, SHE is encouraging people to take part in the SHE WALKS campaign (#shewalks).
Participants make a donation of £15 (or more if they can afford it) before walking 15km, or whatever they can manage, between Friday 5th and Sunday 14th March. Fifteen kilometres is the same distance that a young Zimbabwean girl, Mary, walks to school (and back) every single day.
How you can help me support SHE
I’ve been thinking about what I can do to support the amazing work done by SHE, not just now but in the future too.
As many of you know, I’m a Herbalife consultant and I love selling the fantastic skincare products because I’m a fan of them for my own skin.
I’ve decided that from now on, I will donate 25% of every Herbalife Skincare order I fulfil to SHE. This way, my customers can give to a great cause while looking after their skin. This will be an ongoing commitment to support the vital work Mayda and her team are doing to keep Zimbabwean girls in school and empowered to fulfil their potential.
As it’s Mother’s Day this weekend, how about treating the special mum in your life to some gorgeous Herbalife skincare products? It doesn’t have to be your mum. It could be your partner, sister, aunt, niece, best friend or anyone else in your life who deserves a bit of pampering.
To place an order, you can email me at [email protected] and let me know what you would like.
By pledging 25% of every skincare product sale, I am excited about supporting this fantastic cause.