Many major obstacles to economic empowerment in the developing world originate from the lack of formal education, patriarchy systems that prioritize the boy child over the girl child, and the devastating effects of HIV & AIDS. The AIDS pandemic has left many households child-headed, with the girl child shouldering most of the work – leaving little opportunity for education or for a girl to choose her own future. The major effect of the patriarchal system in most developing societies is that most parents believe it is not necessary to enroll girls in formal education. This stems from the belief that a girl child’s destiny is marriage – therefore sending her to school is an unnecessary “waste of resources”. Although the government and other organizations have tried to raise awareness on the importance of sending ALL children to school, the enrollment of the girl child remains very low in the most marginalized communities of Zimbabwe. From a very tender age, the girl child is raised to be a mother, to take care of the home and concentrate on household chores.
If, for example, one parent is taken ill, the girl child is expected to miss school to take care of the sick parent. The same is not expected from the boy child. This scenario disadvantages the girl child, who misses school until the parent is better, so then when children are assessed at the end of an academic period, the girls’ grades understandably drop and boys will perform significantly better. Another issue is the lack of proper sanitary ware, for the same reason. Girls are forced to miss school for the duration of their monthly period, and the ultimate result is poorer academic grades. The social environment and harsh conditions under which girls learn makes it difficult for them to succeed academically.
Rafiki Girls Centre was established in 2002 to respond to the challenges young women face which have disadvantaged them from the outset, often leaving them orphaned and vulnerable. Economic empowerment is our main focus. The girls specialize in one of the following courses: hotel & catering, nurse aid (health care assistance) training, cutting & designing, pre-school teacher training, interior design and cosmetology. However, we believe in a holistic approach to a human being’s personal development, hence the inclusion of other life skills such as basic cookery & sewing, grooming & etiquette, First Aid, and lessons in HIV & AIDS. In order to achieve these aims, we run special events to develop these women holistically – such as Careers Days and HIV/AIDS Awareness Workshops.
Careers Day enlightens students about the many opportunities open to them, including teaching, nursing, health and beauty, hospitality and more. The event addresses negative attitudes held towards certain careers, and encourages the students to be successful in whichever field they choose. This is possible, they learn, as long as they follow their passion and work hard. We often see women who come to Rafiki as timid and apprehensive, leave as confident, competent young women.
The HIV/AIDS Awareness Workshop provides a safe space to share knowledge, provide accurate information, and for people living with a positive status to share their experiences. Following these sessions, our students feel empowered to make wiser choses, negotiate safer sexual practices, and volunteer for HIV testing and corresponding counselling and support.
Rafiki’s aim is to empower girls with the skills needed to alleviate poverty in their homes and the communities where they live. We hope that this training opens opportunities for them, and these girls gain a second chance to enter into education or employment should they so wish. We also hope that by training women to be self-sufficient and confident, they will be less vulnerable to situations which may expose them to HIV or unsafe sex. So far, Rafiki has supported over 700 young women, 85% of which have gone onto further education or employment, and we hope to continue training and tackling gender inequality in the future.
Written by Hildah Mahachi (Director at Rafiki Girls Centre)
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan (Operations Manager at Zimbabwe Educational Trust)
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