Girl Child Network Celebrates its 10th Anniversary


Girl Child Network Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

March 19, 2009

Amidst a decade of turmoil for Zimbabwe, including a crippling HIV/AIDS pandemic, land loss, destruction and redistribution, currency shortage and subsequent hyperinflation, and political and electoral corruption, Girl Child Network has weathered the storm. An AJWS grantee for the past five years, GCN celebrates its tenth anniversary this month.

Girl Child Network (GCN) was founded in 1999 by Betty Makoni, a Zimbabwean woman who was then a secondary school teacher. Makoni met with girls to discuss the sensitive issues they were facing as females and adolescents in their communities and homes, especially those pertaining to violence. Out of the girls' self-determined needs, GCN was born.

The organization has since developed a pioneering model for reaching out to vulnerable girls. GCN created a network of "girls' clubs," where females under 18 meet to share their thoughts, dreams, stories and ideas. The girls' clubs provide solidarity and safety, and work to create a culture of problem-solving and community awareness. They serve as centers where girls can access peer and staff counseling; workshops on leadership, self-esteem and human rights; vocational skills and business training; sports and art programs; and advocacy regarding children's rights, sexual abuse and the enforcement of current laws to protect women and children.

One young girl joined a GCN girls' club after having been repeatedly abused by a relative. "I decided to take part in this project because I was abused by my uncle, whom I stayed with when I was still in primary school," she says. "[My] confidence was not as strong as it is now. But since I became a member of the GCN girls' club at Mahusekwa Secondary School, I feel whole again and ready to face the world again. I am the president of the girls' club at our school. I am very good at my subjects and I hope to make it to the university."

Recently, another member of a GCN girls' club, Lisa Bonongwe, received an international honor when she was asked to sit on the Child Jury for the World Children`s Prize for the Rights of the Child. "I first met Lisa when she was six years old," says a GCN staff member. "She is an eloquent and passionate speaker and rural advocate for girls' rights. I have seen her organize demonstrations at school to protest against a teacher who sexually abused girls. The teacher was arrested. But her activism did not end there. She organized a rescue mission for one orphaned girl abused by a stepmother. GCN supports Lisa's education and that of other girls who were sexually abused and are poor, and it is good to see that most of them are now beginning to walk in the fullness of their potential."

In the past ten years, GCN has created a network of more than 700 girls' clubs throughout the country, run by community volunteers and the girls themselves. There are also three "girls' empowerment villages," transitional safe houses for girls who have been abused or raped. Currently more than 20,000 girls throughout Zimbabwe are members of GCN girls' clubs.

Because of Zimbabwe's instability, in many emergency situations GCN must focus its attention on meeting the basic and immediate needs of its members and their families. In 2008, during a period of electoral violence followed by a crisis in public health, AJWS made two emergency grants to help GCN do this work. The first grant enabled GCN to provide basic necessities (food, transport, shelter and medical supplies) to girls and their families threatened by post-election political violence and displaced from their rural homes. The second provided food and medicine kits to at least 100 girls and women who were facing starvation and greater vulnerability due to a widespread cholera outbreak.

Betty Makoni, herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, says: "We need to focus on the girl child, reaching her while she's young. Girl Child Network gives girls a culture of empowerment, the opportunity to empower themselves."

Adds Makoni: "Young girls are women in the making,"

GCN has been acknowledged internationally for its success reaching out to young females, including the United Nations Development Program's Red Ribbon Award in 2006. Betty Makoni was recently awarded the 2008 Ginetta Sagan Amnesty International Human Rights Award and the 2007 World Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child.

AJWS congratulates GCN on 10 extraordinary years working to advance the rights of young girls in Zimbabwe.