At the end of 2013, Tag a Life International Trust (TaLI), a girls and young women’s rights organization received a grant from the United States State Department to implement a PEPFAR project to address gender based violence in pre-adolescent and adolescent girls in the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe over a two-year period; 2014 to 2016. Addressing gender based violence in girls and young women meant targeting negative religious and cultural practices that expose girls to HIV and AIDS, and those practices include rape and child marriages. It also meant not only working with girls, but working also with boys, men, women, communities and community leaders in addressing the issues that kept girls out of school and exposed them to poor health such as HIV, unwanted pregnancies, rape among others. All this was under the mantra that ‘it takes a village to raise empowered girls’, therefore everyone had to be involved.
Implementing the training of the trainer model to work with girls, boys and their teachers in schools and in communities, TaLI trained 76 schools in Shurugwi District who in turn launched empowerment clubs in each of the schools in 2014. Issues that the organization sort to address in these trainings ranged from equipping girls with knowledge of their reproductive health rights, understanding the issues of gender and sexuality, which often expose them to gender based violence, abuse, HIV, rape and child marriages. TaLI provided learning materials which the organization developed as well as that which UNICEF in collaboration with the government of Zimbabwe developed for empowerment clubs in schools.
Boys are part of these empowerment clubs to remove them from a place of potential abusers to become champions of the rights of girls within their homes and communities. While the empowerment clubs include both girls and boys, there are moments in each club where they split into two to allow girls on their own and boys on their own to deal with their sensitive issues separately. In these clubs, working with their teachers, many students reported cases of abuse for the first time to their teachers. Many were reporting for the first time owing to threats that they had received from their abusers but only found confidence after going through the clubs and trainings. The Teacher club facilitators that TaLI Trained began to identify the children in their schools who had either become outcasts because of the after effects of abuse. The teachers received support from TaLI secretariat to be able to provide these post trauma and psycho social support services to survivors such as basic counselling, health access, linking with the police and the courts. Over 100 girls were linked with services to either obtain post exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV in the children, and for those who had went through rape at a distant past, to be tested for their CD count and some of the children managed to be put under Anti-retro viral (ARV) as they were linked with hospitals.
TaLI also trained more than forty Community Peer Educators (CPE) in this district consisting of women and men ages 25 to 55. These would convene community dialogues amongst adults in their villages who would be sensitized and educated about the harmful religious and cultural practices that expose girls and young women to gender based violence which in turn expose them to HIV and other vulnerabilities. The trained CPEs also brought and continue to bring cases of violence against girls and young women in their communities which had never been reported, and they are able to identify children who might be under threat and at risk of abuse or children who are not going to school.
For Zvishavane, Gweru and Kwekwe, TaLI reached girls, boys and their communities through training them to run youth led community dialogues owing to the changes in the Ministry of Education which disallowed Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) from operating in schools. While the organization leant that it costed more money to work with youths in communities, the biggest positive lesson was that there was more impact working in communities because this reached the most at risk youths who are out of school and are vulnerable to abuse and without information. or adult led community dialogues. In these three districts, adults were also targeted and trained both women and men ages 25 to 55 to lead community dialogue where they would set the tone for the girls to claim their rights when they come back home from school. In these three districts, atleast 263 adults were trained making the total of 375 including Shurugwi CPE and teachers. The total number of young people that were trained in the 3 districts were 240 to making a total of 392 with Shurugwi included. For the four districts, TaLI reached out to atleast 50 councilors; 10 in Shurugwi, 20 in Zvishavane, 10 in Gweru and another 10 in Kwekwe making them a total of 50 leaders.
The project reached over 850 direct beneficiaries which include girls, boys, men and local leaders. The intended reach was 1 060 at the beginning of the project including girls, boys, men and women. This shows that the project achieved its goals at 80%. More than 85 000 secondary beneficiaries were reached in the form of edutainment through school assemblies where the student members of the empowerment clubs would perform poems and dramas of what they had learnt in their clubs and community meetings led by the CPEs. A total number of over 93 abuse cases were reported in the period of 2014-2015 under the PEPFAR project from Midlands Province, and over 100 including from across the country.
In a poignant time where the world is fashioned with HIV and AIDS, Gender Inequalities, Gender Based Violence and other heartbreaking state of affairs, an organization set on changing the lives of the Girl Child, one girl at a time exists in Zimbabwe. Tag a Life International (TaLI) is a Girls and Young Women’s Rights organization driven by a mandate ‘To make the World a Safe Place for The Girls and Young Women’. This project would not have been a success had the organization not received the support from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development both in the Midlands Province and the Head Office. The National AIDS council played a critical role in being a partner in facilitating some of our programmes in various districts regarding HIV and AIDS issues. The Ministry of Health provided knowledge on referrals for opportunistic infections and other information regarding health services for girls and young women during our trainings.
The Republic Police partnered with us in facilitating on issues of understanding the laws empowering the volunteers to be bold to deal with human rights violations against girls and young women in their communities. The Ministry of Labor and Child Welfare was and continues to be instrumental in dealing with cases of abuse in partnership with TaLI. The Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe and other NGOs provided critical organising and support in different communities for different moments in this project life line. The project would not have been a success without the wonderful support from the United States Stated Department, The United States Embassy in Zimbabwe. TaLI’s ability to respond to cases of violence which came out as a result of implementing this project in communities would not have been possible without the gracious support of HIVOS, which gladly provided Institutional support, a vehicle and resources to follow up cases of abuse that came out of our communities. This project was made possible by the selfless dedication and commitment of the TaLI staff members who worked on this project.