Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Girls Crucial to Education

Zimbabwe, like any other southern African country, has made strides in relation to girls’ access to education.

By Lazarus Sauti

However, uneven gender norms in and around schools continue to create hurdles to the sustained participation of girls at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

Lydia Madyirapanze, Forum for African Women Educationalists – Zimbabwe Chapter (Fawezi) director, believed insufficient teaching of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) issues, over and above poor choices about such matters compound the problems of girls and push them out of school.

“Poverty, child marriages, inadequate teaching of SRH issues and lack of sanitation facilities within and across southern Africa leave girls and young people exposed to negative health outcomes such as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies,” she said.

Madyirapanze added, “As per estimates, about 250 000 Zimbabwean girls, aged 13 to 18, remain out of school.”

True to her affirmations, teenage pregnancies are still high in Zimbabwe, a fact propped up by the latest Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS), which noted that “nearly one in 10 girls give birth every year.”

In South Africa, over 1 400 primary school girls from Grades 3 to 7 also fell pregnant in the past two years due to inadequate teaching of sexual and reproductive health, as validated by the country’s Annual School Survey (2017).

Early pregnancies put girls at a life-long disadvantage, according to a recent report by the International Business Times (IBT) on teenage pregnancy, which confirmed: “Children having babies lead to a myriad of health complications, even death; teenage mothers are estimated to be 40-60 percent more likely to die in childbirth.

“Their babies are 50 percent more likely to be stillborn or die shortly after birth than babies born to mothers in their 20s.”

Frightening estimates aside, teen pregnancy can be disturbing socio-economically for adolescent mothers, avowed gender expert, Gladys Cleo Phiri.

She added that girls are not only dying from unsafe abortions, but are more affected by early pregnancy than boys as a result of our patriarchal societies.

“Boys are less affected educationally since they are not distressed by stigmatisation, but are also able to continue with schooling,” added Phiri.

Nevertheless, Fawezi, an affiliate to Forum for Women Educationalists, a Pan-African organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya and represented in more than 30 countries in Africa, is implementing a project on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for adolescent girls in Mabvuku-Tafara and Epworth Districts of Harare in direct response to SRH challenges faced by these girls.

“This project seeks to raise awareness among girls, boys, parents and allies on the need to support girls to have access to education,” Madyirapanze said.

“This is in line with Article 26 (Health, Sexual Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights) of the revised Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which provides for the development, implementation and promotion of programmes that support and address sexual and reproductive health needs of girls.”

She said to effectively address the sexual and reproductive needs of girls in their targeted districts, Fawezi is capacitating girls in and out of school with leadership and advocacy skills.

Mabvuku High School student, Hilda Chidzidzi, approved the project, saying: “Our parents are not teaching us about sexuality and this leaves us exposed to wrong and risky information from other sources.

“As a result, the coming on board of Fawezi as well as the provision of sexual right education in our schools, in line with the updated curricular, is most welcome.”

Development practitioner, Praise Mugobheri, added: “Many girls in and out of school are sexually harassed and violated in each and every second, but some are not even aware what sexual harassment is.

“This project is, therefore, empowering them to know what to do or who to approach after being sexually stalked and infringed.”

Recently, Fawezi convened a meeting with its partners to find ways of effectively addressing sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls in the country.

Speaking during the engagement meeting, Disabled Women’s Support Organisation executive director, Rejoice Timire, encouraged more support for children with disabilities.

According to the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT), 90 percent of children with disabilities do not attend school and over 50 percent are lost in the transition between primary and secondary education.

“This means more resources should be channeled towards bringing SRH ideas, resources, knowledge and experiences together in pursuit of positive health outcomes for these children,” she said.

“Since girls and women constitute 52 percent of the total population in Zimbabwe,” added Simbarashe Deremeti of Padare Enkundleni Men’s Forum on Gender, “a holistic approach is required to liberate them from all forms of violence, as well as to fulfil the provision of Section 17 of the Constitution, which provides for gender balance.”

Munyaradzi Nhengo, also of Padare Men’s Forum, encouraged men to join hands in promoting, protecting and fulfilling comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“This project by Fawezi is not only keeping girls in schools or empowering those outside school, but is challenging social norms that hinder social progress,” he said. “However, allies like families, schools and churches need to create spaces where girls can interact and exchange SRH knowledge.”

Nhengo also said traditional chiefs and village heads should be empowered with knowledge as they play a pivotal role in ensuring that their subjects enjoy wide-ranging sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Plan International’s Gender Advisor, Nobesuthu Mgutshini, also encouraged the adoption of a multimedia and interactive campaign to raise awareness and education on sexual and reproductive health towards adolescents and young people not only in Mabvuku-Tafara and Epworth, but in all parts of the country.

“In line with Article 11 (The Girl and Boy Child) of the revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, governments, regional entities, health providers and other relevant entities in southern Africa should ensure that both girls and boys, especially those in marginalised areas, have equal access to information, education, services and facilities on sexual and reproductive health and rights,” she added.