Ruth Butaumocho Managing Editor
“. . . we all know that a man is the head of the family . . . A child belongs to its fatherland and not to his motherland, and yet we say ‘Nneka’ —‘Mother is Supreme ‘!’
I was gently reminded of the above quote from the African renowned writer, Chinua Achebe from his book “Things Fall Apart” when the First Lady, Cde Auxillia Mnangagwa, met stakeholders at Zimbabwe House in Harare to find ways of ensuring that girls attain their full potential.
During the meeting that was attended by several ministry representatives, civil society and the media, the First Lady committed herself to uplift the girl child through various initiatives throughout the country.
Cde Mnangagwa was perturbed by the growing challenges young girls were facing, triggering her motherly instinct to intervene and put an end to nefarious activities that threaten to heavily decimate the promising future generation.
Her focus would be on the girls from Grade 6 and Upper Sixth, a demographic group facing a myriad of challenges that include all forms of abuse, extreme poverty, child marriages, and lack of health care and educational opportunities.
Running under the theme “Our girl, our pride, our future, let’s invest in her”, the programme will see the First Lady interface with thousands of girls across the country’s 10 provinces, to address challenges they face.
As Cde Mnangagwa was unpacking the empowerment programme for the girl child to ensure that she ceases to be more as an adjunct to men than an existential entity in her own right, many mirrored her efforts to that of Achebe and millions others who over the years have sought to unshackle the girl child from a myriad of challenges stalling her progress.
Achebe’s sentiments of the supremacy of mothers ideally position the First Lady to deal with the onerous task of bringing to an end the pervasive problems facing the girl child, across Zimbabwe.
A United Nations Millennium report notes that: “Women are over half of the world’s population, yet they do two-thirds of the world’s work, earn one-tenth of the world’s income, and own less than one-hundredth of the world’s property.”
Despite their numerical significance women, including girls, continue to face all forms of abuse, teen pregnancies, high reported incidences of HIV and Aids infection, extreme poverty, and lack of health care and educational opportunities.
Their role in child bearing, contribution as mothers particularly in food provisioning and household management, has been, to say the least, quite heavy and yet least appreciated.
The same narrative appears to have been pushed down the throat of multitudes of girls, who find themselves at the mercy of pervasive social injustices, where the majority bear burdens and endure treatment that reflects their unequal status in terms of gender and sexuality.
Such social injustices are reflected in the worrying trend of child marriages, where young girls as young as 13 — particularly in Mashonaland Central province — are being married off, while thousands of girls drop out of school annually to pave way for the boys when resources are scarce.
And when such adverse situations become a regular occurrence, the girl child has little prospects for voicing out her feelings and concerns, further diminishing her prospects of pursuing her personal development goals.
Even the existence of legislation that supports the girl child, albeit proper implementation has not aided the course, hence the continued violation of this constituency, further whittling any chances they may harbour of a better future.
It is against this background that the decision by the First Lady to magnanimously reach out to this constituency should be applauded and encouraged. It also comes at a time when the number of girls dropping out of school has reached worrying levels.
By reaching out to this vulnerable and yet important demographic group, Cde Mnangagwa will not only address the issue of the historical disadvantage of women in general and the girl child in particular but will also ensure that empirically the number of empowered women increases.
And these empowered women become in turn units or vessels of love and kindness who in turn will, one day, be able to assist not only other females but the generality of the population, including their male counterparts in nation building.
In that sense there is an inbuilt multiplier effect in what the First Lady is doing; there are gains to be reaped and enjoyed for posterity.
Changing the girl child narrative should not be a tall order for Cde Mnangagwa, who has shown a passion for uplifting the marginalised through a number of projects that have taken her across Zimbabwe.
Her trail-blazing commitment to the upliftment women and the girl child is unquestionable. It dates back to the 1990s, way before she was elected the Member of Parliament of Chirumhanzu-Zibagwe.
Today she stands tall among First Ladies in the region who are reaching out to marginalised communities to make a difference.
In addition to her official and family commitments, Cde Mnangagwa is running several philanthropic initiatives, with Angel of Hope Foundation being the major one, focusing on uplifting the lives of disadvantaged children and other vulnerable members of society.
Her passion to bring transformational change has also resulted in her involvement in maternal and child health and women empowerment, the plight of marginalised communities and vulnerable segments of the population especially orphans and victims of gender-based violence.
For the better part of last year, the First Lady traversed the country, promoting the testing and screening of women for cancer in a massive campaign where thousands of women benefited.
It was through her enormous effort in bringing a different narrative to women and children that the Health and Child Care Ministry appointed the First Lady as ambassador for child and maternal health in recognition of her work in advocating for access to health for women and children.
However, moving forward such an altruistic programme with huge moral obligations would need to be matched by resources and commitment from all stakeholders.
The intensity of the programme requires all hands on the deck to ensure that the initiative is implemented holistically, within a specified period for its sustenance
Like she rightly said when meeting the stakeholders that there is need for a paradigm shift in the manner that the nation treats the girl child, that shift can be achieved if the nation rallies behind such a worthy cause.
The Government’s commitment to ensure that Zimbabwe attains the middle income economy status by 2030 presents an opportune time to create and pursue a new model of development in which gender equality and social inclusion must be a key priority.