In today’s globalized world, a stable job and a good quality of life go hand in hand. However, most girls in Zimbabwe do not get to reap the benefits of a better life by investing in their education. Currently, 31 million girls of primary school age are denied access to education. However, the situation is improving as UNICEF and its partners are trying to change the status quo by increasing awareness about girls’ education in Zimbabwe.
Factors Hindering Girls’ Education in Zimbabwe
The largest barrier to girls’ education in Zimbabwe is poverty. Having dealt with political turmoil, economic stagnation, several droughts and an AIDS epidemic, the country is rife with despair and impoverishment. Girls are seen as a source of income through early marriages, and so parents prefer not to invest in their education. If families are not able to find appropriate suitors for their young daughters, they send them to neighboring cities or villages to work in unskilled jobs or as housemaids. Parents also have to pay a high cost for education that is inadequate from schools that are too far from their homes or in unsafe locations, so they often prioritize their sons’ education over their daughters’. These factors create unique obstacles for young girls seeking an education.
A complete education is one of the most important factors in alleviating poverty. According to UNICEF, even a single year of secondary schooling can boost a girl’s earning potential by 25 percent. More importantly, education empowers women and makes them independent. The exposure and knowledge gained in those years set them up to no longer be marginalized by men, whose only advantage over them was their access to education.
A Ray of Hope for Girls in Zimbabwe
The nonprofit Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) is responsible for carrying out UNICEF’s mission of improving the state of girls’ education in Zimbabwe. CAMFED was initiated in 1993 and started by helping 32 girls get an education in their rural hometowns. The organization has since grown and supports the education of 97,166 girls all over Zimbabwe. Concerns regarding the cost and safety of pursuing an education are also addressed by CAMFED, as the fees and uniform costs are paid for and security is enforced at all times to ensure that the girls are safe during their commute to school and on the school grounds. Additionally, there are also measures taken in schools to educate girls on sanitation, safe sex and HIV prevention.
Girls who were taken out of school before they could sign up for CAMFED’s services will also have a chance to go back to school through the new Second Chance Education program. It caters to girls who have missed out on crucial years of schooling and helps them catch up to others in their age group. The main goal of the program is to improve the literacy of its students and expose them to the basics of math. However the program also offers a technical training course in agriculture, conducted in partnership with the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, that is offered for girls unable to join the regular curriculum.
Keeping Girls in School
To ensure that girls go to school and remain there until they graduate, CAMFED launched a Learner Guide programin conjunction with Pearson, a leading textbook company based in the United Kingdom. This program trains women who have graduated from school to become Learner Guides and teach valuable skills and lessons to girls and boys coming from poor households. The Learner Guide program has succeeded immensely in persuading parents to keep their children in school because the guides come from the same background and understand the intricacies of poverty and sociocultural norms in Zimbabwe. Pearson is also recognizing their efforts by awarding a bachelor’s degree in technology to all the Learner Guides, providing more incentive for women to continue their training even after completing their regular education.
CAMFED also conducts workshops with parents to explain the benefits of both boys and girls receiving an education. This has been successful in fostering parent support groups, who supervise school hostels and have even initiated a meal program for students. These groups are also responsible for raising funds to support the education of more children in their communities and providing materials, uniforms and food for them. With their support and the work of CAMFED, Zimbabwe’s female literacy rate reached a high of 88.28 percent in 2014, almost matching the male literacy rate in the same year of 89.19 percent.
A Multifaceted Education Like No Other
To expand its range of educational opportunities, the Zimbabwean government has launched an Educational Development Fund with the help of UNICEF, which is currently supporting the Zim-Science project. The project was initiated due to the lack of scientific equipment in schools and a poor emphasis on science in the curriculum. By providing more scientific tools and bringing in staff with knowledge of the right teaching methods, the Zim-Science project is trying to eradicate the distaste for science and technology that girls in Zimbabwe have. Currently, females make up only 4.5 percent of the students pursuing STEM fields in universities, and even fewer women find employment in science fields after earning their degree because of gender discrimination. The Zim-Science project recognizes these challenges and is playing a role in deconstructing gender norms so that women and girls can have more opportunities.
Through advocacy and awareness, girls’ education in Zimbabwe has become a national priority. With more time and money being invested by the government, and more international organizations pooling their efforts, the state of girls’ education has come a long way. As the financial barriers to education are being overcome, only social and religious perceptions stand in the way. While these may take time to dissolve, the situation is still much better than it was a decade ago. In the meantime, it is important to appreciate that as girls find better jobs and more stable incomes after completing their education, these efforts stand as a testament not only to eradicating poverty but to freeing people from social stigmas.