Rising soccer and swimming star, Maka Chikowero, is on a mission to transform the lives of rural girls through sports and her target is touching the lives of one marginalized girl at a time.
The 16-year-old sports star believes rural girls deserve more than what the community is offering them and is of the view that they are more susceptible to early marriages as compared to their urban peers.
According to her, girls who marry early are at a disadvantage because of their social isolation, poverty, and poor education.
These factors result in the limitation of knowledge and skills needed to negotiate the adult role.
Through her MakaT. Chikowero (MTC) Educate A Girl Foundation, the teen athlete is using sports and education to spread the gospel that sport and adequate education can make a girl conscious physically and mentally aware about her sexual and educational rights, resultantly, a physically and mentally conscious girl cannot be accepting of child marriage.
“I use soccer as a vehicle to promote the message of ending child marriages while simultaneously breaking stereotypes through women and girls avid participation at the weekly games.
“MTC has hundreds of girls in the soccer programs that happen weekly. At these weekly programs, the girls are able to come to play and receive career guidance and psychological support from local health care providers and the police,” Maka says.
Through consented efforts and partnerships, she says sports can change millions of girls’ lives around the world.
“Soccer brings together both men and women. We need male allies if we are to end child marriages by 2030,” she told this publication from her United States base.
She, notably, believes that sport also raises a girl’s confidence level and makes her aware of her future.
Moreover, Maka says, when a girl is engaged in sports after overcoming all barriers, the people who have the mentality to marry children do not want to marry such an open-minded girl who has already got a taste of freedom.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Zimbabwe is a signatory to, recognizes the critical role of sport and physical play in children’s lives.
According to the Convention, playing soccer gives girls a chance to feel how powerful they can be, set free from harmful gender norms that dictate whether they attend and complete school, their right to play sports, to access health services or earn a living.
Maka, however, is of the view that more needs to be done to promote sports in children. Her MTC Foundation has helped girls to secure scholarships in the US.
“Soccer can be a source of income if funded and promoted. Currently, we have a few girls who have since moved to the US on full soccer scholarships to study and get an education from a local club that I follow closely.
“There are many women worldwide who are able to create a living off of sports participation. So we need to resource sports even in marginalized communities because there is so much talent there,” she said.
Child marriage is a global issue and an important component in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
650 million women alive today married as a child and 12 million girls marry each year under the age of 18
Economic hardships often drive parents to marry off their daughters while they are still children, with the reasoning that marriage is their eventual endgame anyway and doing so means one less mouth to feed.
For Maka, sport is not the only measure to curtail the spread of child marriages. The MTC Foundation also supports girls from challenging educational backgrounds with scholarships
“I’m happy to say we now have MTC Educate A Girl Foundation Scholars. Since the MTC Foundation was created, we have 20 girls on full scholarships in Chimanimani. We provide these with tuition, school uniforms, schools supplies and more,” Maka said.
As the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals continue to be implemented, Maka is leaving no one behind.
“Like I have always been saying the future is young and the future is female. We need to give opportunities to girls from challenging backgrounds because it is not just a right, but it is the right thing to do. I am happy to be playing a role in my small way to promote and help achieve SDG 4 and 5,” she said.
Recently, she donated soccer kits, schools uniforms and four educational scholarships to pupils at Gavhunga Secondary School in Mhondoro-Ngezi, 130 kilometres outside the capital, Harare.
In support of the work being done by Maka, the deputy headmaster of the school, Evans Makora, lauded the efforts being made to empower the girl child.
“It is very important for us because looking at the background of our girl children they’re somehow disadvantaged because of the lack of resources that might hinder them from going further with education
“So the coming in of this organization will help them in a long way to try and make sure that they go to school properly in order for them to achieve their goals in life. We are very thankful that MTC could help them,” he noted.
For her efforts, Maka has been receiving rave global reviews. Recently, together with other influential women from around the world, she attended the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)where she echoed her voice on child marriages and the part she is playing in ending it.
“In March I attended many meetings at the United Nations CSW. During that week I also got to present on issues surrounding child marriages and the importance of sports participation with many awesome people.
“I presented on the voices of young women, amplifying the voices of the girls I work with all the time on the global stage. I am part of the UN Generation equality adolescent leaders and I was fortunate to be chosen to speak with the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Jane Mohammed. I spoke strongly about access to education for girls in rural communities,” she said.
The outcome of the Commission’s consideration of the priority theme during its 65th session takes the form of agreed conclusions, to be negotiated by all Member States.
The CSW adopted agreed conclusions on “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”
In many parts of the world, child marriage is still a common practice. It is estimated that 650 million girls and women alive today are married before they turn 18.
Child marriage disproportionally affects girls. This is reinforced by social norms and stereotypes that value girls in different ways than boys and perpetuate marital practices that are prejudicial to girls in the belief that marriage will provide security to the girls.
Programs that elevate girls’ visibility and status in their families and communities, and build their skills and knowledge, have been shown to delay marriage in different parts of the world.
However, in Zimbabwe, where efforts to prevent child marriage have focused on the enforcement of laws and policies, little research exists on what approaches work best to delay marriage and why hence Maka’s sports and education approach.
Norms and beliefs may support and be supported by poor access to positive alternatives, such as schooling and work for young girls.