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Question: In light of your experience as a head teacher in a remote rural district, what do you feel are the main challenges faced by girls in your area in getting an education?
Answer: The major challenge facing girls is poverty. Children are forced to drop out of school as a result of family poverty; when a family in this situation has two children, they would rather send the boy to school. The girl is more likely to be seen as a source of cheap labour or of revenue through early marriage. It is poverty which is forcing parents to see their daughters in this light.
The current drought is making girls even more vulnerable to abuse. Girl children are being manipulated by men they may exchange sex for cash to raise money for their fees. They or their parents may even see marriage as a way of getting themselves out of this situation. It is denying girls their basic human rights.
Q: Do you feel that the fact that parents give preference to sending their sons to school is an issue of culture?
A: Culture is indeed a factor, but if cash is available then all children in the family go to school. Culture doesnt really have a role to play in preventing girls from going to school. I believe poverty is the main force behind girls exclusion.
Q: In light of the challenges youve mentioned, what have you set in place in your school to ensure girls can access school and retain their hold on education?
A: Im an important role model as a female head of a secondary school. This is in itself a challenge to the community. When I first arrived at the school, people came in large numbers to the first parents meeting I called in order to set eyes on "a woman head". I believe this in itself inspired a lot of women in our area. Some of them came to ask me what magic had brought me to these heights.
Other measures I have introduced include setting up a disciplinary committee to ensure the protection of girls when they are in school. I liaise with civil organisations such as Social Welfare to tackle the issue of abuse of girls. The police liaison officer is also regularly invited to the school to raise awareness on abuse. I liaise with the local traditional leadership Chiefs, at local forums and discuss the dangers associated with early marriage and abuse of girls.
I invite parents to the school and talk to them about the dangers of withdrawing their daughters from school and the risks of marrying off their daughters at a young age, particularly to older men who are more likely to be infected with the HIV virus.
I also help spearhead investigations to ensure girls welfare is looked into. Im aware that many parents dont have the confidence to approach authorities themselves, so I take it upon myself to assist and accompany them.
Q: Who else do you work with to support girls?
A: I dont only work as the head of a school, Im working closely with other members of civil society. Right now, Im Chairperson of the local CAMFED District Committee which administers support to girls in the district. I was elected to this position by head teachers and representatives of local authorities. This is itself an important challenge to me to have been elected to a position of leadership in a patriarchal society. I also sit as a representative of women teachers for the Ministry of Education in Matabeleland North Province. I believe this gives me an important opportunity to advocate with other organisations to champion the cause of the girl-child.
Q: What is your advice to other women in positions of leadership?
A: Id like to encourage other women to take up the challenge of supporting under-privileged girls and women. We need to reach out to those who are most marginalised and be good listeners in order to understand their plight with a view to assisting them. Its our duty to ensure they have a voice and the opportunity to join us in the position were in. However, "making it" shouldnt be seen as reaching the "bright lights big city". We should really acknowledge those women who have stayed in rural areas to make a difference. There is one girl in my school who has just completed Form 6 with the support of CAMFED. She came out with top marks in the whole district and is proof to everyone that girls in rural areas in every corner of the world can shine.
Q: As someone who is working with under-privileged rural girls, what do you envision is the future for the girls whove been lucky to be in contact with you?
A: I hope they will have a brighter future and a better sense of what it is possible for them to achieve. Their potential can be used wherever they are and can be used to uplift their communities. I also hope they will get acknowledgement for all that they achieve.
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Last revised December 1, 2002
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