First Lady rewrites the gen­der nar­ra­tive

. . . as she com­mits to re­shape the girl child’s des­tiny

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Comment & Opinion - Ruth Bu­tau­mo­cho Manag­ing Edi­tor

By reaching out to this vul­ner­a­ble and yet im­por­tant de­mo­graphic group, Cde Mnan­gagwa will not only ad­dress the issue of the historical dis­ad­van­tage of women in gen­eral and the girl child in par­tic­u­lar but will also en­sure that em­pir­i­cally the num­ber of em­pow­ered women in­creases.

“. . . we all know that a man is the head of the fam­ily . . . A child be­longs to its fa­ther­land and not to his mother­land, and yet we say ‘Nneka’ —‘Mother is Supreme ‘!’

IWAS gen­tly re­minded of the above quote from the African renowned writer, Chinua Achebe from his book “Things Fall Apart” when the First Lady, Cde Aux­il­lia Mnan­gagwa, met stake­hold­ers at Zim­babwe House in Harare to find ways of en­sur­ing that girls at­tain their full po­ten­tial.

Dur­ing the meet­ing that was at­tended by sev­eral min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tives, civil so­ci­ety and the me­dia, the First Lady com­mit­ted her­self to up­lift the girl child through var­i­ous ini­tia­tives through­out the coun­try.

Cde Mnan­gagwa was per­turbed by the grow­ing chal­lenges young girls were fac­ing, trig­ger­ing her moth­erly in­stinct to in­ter­vene and put an end to ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties that threaten to heav­ily dec­i­mate the promis­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tion.

Her fo­cus would be on the girls from Grade 6 and Up­per Sixth, a de­mo­graphic group fac­ing a myr­iad of chal­lenges that in­clude all forms of abuse, ex­treme poverty, child mar­riages, and lack of health care and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties. Run­ning un­der the theme “Our girl, our pride, our fu­ture, let’s in­vest in her”, the pro­gramme will see the First Lady in­ter­face with thou­sands of girls across the coun­try’s 10 prov­inces, to ad­dress chal­lenges they face.

As Cde Mnan­gagwa was un­pack­ing the em­pow­er­ment pro­gramme for the girl child to en­sure that she ceases to be more as an ad­junct to men than an ex­is­ten­tial en­tity in her own right, many mir­rored her ef­forts to that of Achebe and mil­lions oth­ers who over the years have sought to un­shackle the girl child from a myr­iad of chal­lenges stalling her progress. Achebe’s sen­ti­ments of the supremacy of moth­ers ide­ally po­si­tion the First Lady to deal with the oner­ous task of bring­ing to an end the per­va­sive prob­lems fac­ing the girl child, across Zim­babwe. A United Na­tions Mil­len­nium re­port notes that: “Women are over half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, yet they do two-thirds of the world’s work, earn one-tenth of the world’s in­come, and own less than one-hun­dredth of the world’s prop­erty.”

De­spite their nu­mer­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance women, in­clud­ing girls, con­tinue to face all forms of abuse, teen preg­nan­cies, high re­ported in­ci­dences of HIV and Aids in­fec­tion, ex­treme poverty, and lack of health care and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Their role in child bear­ing, con­tri­bu­tion as moth­ers par­tic­u­larly in food pro­vi­sion­ing and house­hold man­age­ment, has been, to say the least, quite heavy and yet least ap­pre­ci­ated.

The same nar­ra­tive ap­pears to have been pushed down the throat of mul­ti­tudes of girls, who find them­selves at the mercy of per­va­sive so­cial in­jus­tices, where the ma­jor­ity bear bur­dens and en­dure treat­ment that reflects their un­equal sta­tus in terms of gen­der and sex­u­al­ity.

Such so­cial in­jus­tices are re­flected in the wor­ry­ing trend of child mar­riages, where young girls as young as 13 — par­tic­u­larly in Mashona­land Cen­tral prov­ince — are be­ing mar­ried off, while thou­sands of girls drop out of school an­nu­ally to pave way for the boys when re­sources are scarce.

And when such ad­verse sit­u­a­tions be­come a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence, the girl child has lit­tle prospects for voic­ing out her feel­ings and con­cerns, fur­ther di­min­ish­ing her prospects of pur­su­ing her per­sonal de­vel­op­ment goals.

Even the ex­is­tence of leg­is­la­tion that sup­ports the girl child, al­beit proper im­ple­men­ta­tion has not aided the course, hence the con­tin­ued vi­o­la­tion of this con­stituency, fur­ther whit­tling any chances they may har­bour of a bet­ter fu­ture.

It is against this back­ground that the decision by the First Lady to mag­nan­i­mously reach out to this con­stituency should be ap­plauded and en­cour­aged. It also comes at a time when the num­ber of girls drop­ping out of school has reached wor­ry­ing levels.

By reaching out to this vul­ner­a­ble and yet im­por­tant de­mo­graphic group, Cde Mnan­gagwa will not only ad­dress the issue of the historical dis­ad­van­tage of women in gen­eral and the girl child in par­tic­u­lar but will also en­sure that em­pir­i­cally the num­ber of em­pow­ered women in­creases.

And these em­pow­ered women be­come in turn units or ves­sels of love and kind­ness who in turn will, one day, be able to as­sist not only other fe­males but the gen­er­al­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing their male coun­ter­parts in na­tion build­ing. In that sense there is an in­built mul­ti­plier ef­fect in what the First Lady is do­ing; there are gains to be reaped and en­joyed for pos­ter­ity. Chang­ing the girl child nar­ra­tive should not be a tall order for Cde Mnan­gagwa, who has shown a pas­sion for up­lift­ing the marginalised through a num­ber of projects that have taken her across Zim­babwe.

Her trail-blaz­ing com­mit­ment to the up­lift­ment women and the girl child is un­ques­tion­able. It dates back to the 1990s, way be­fore she was elected the Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment of Chirumhanzu-Zibagwe.

Today she stands tall among First Ladies in the re­gion who are reaching out to marginalised com­mu­ni­ties to make a dif­fer­ence.

In ad­di­tion to her of­fi­cial and fam­ily com­mit­ments, Cde Mnan­gagwa is run­ning sev­eral phil­an­thropic ini­tia­tives, with An­gel of Hope Foun­da­tion be­ing the ma­jor one, fo­cus­ing on up­lift­ing the lives of dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren and other vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

Her pas­sion to bring trans­for­ma­tional change has also re­sulted in her in­volve­ment in ma­ter­nal and child health and women em­pow­er­ment, the plight of marginalised com­mu­ni­ties and vul­ner­a­ble seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion es­pe­cially or­phans and vic­tims of gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

For the bet­ter part of last year, the First Lady tra­versed the coun­try, pro­mot­ing the test­ing and screen­ing of women for can­cer in a mas­sive cam­paign where thou­sands of women ben­e­fited.

It was through her enor­mous ef­fort in bring­ing a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive to women and chil­dren that the Health and Child Care Min­istry ap­pointed the First Lady as am­bas­sador for child and ma­ter­nal health in recog­ni­tion of her work in ad­vo­cat­ing for ac­cess to health for women and chil­dren.

How­ever, mov­ing for­ward such an al­tru­is­tic pro­gramme with huge moral obli­ga­tions would need to be matched by re­sources and com­mit­ment from all stake­hold­ers.

The in­ten­sity of the pro­gramme re­quires all hands on the deck to en­sure that the ini­tia­tive is im­ple­mented holis­ti­cally, within a spec­i­fied pe­riod for its sus­te­nance

Like she rightly said when meet­ing the stake­hold­ers that there is need for a par­a­digm shift in the man­ner that the na­tion treats the girl child, that shift can be achieved if the na­tion ral­lies be­hind such a wor­thy cause.

The Gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to en­sure that Zim­babwe at­tains the mid­dle in­come econ­omy sta­tus by 2030 presents an op­por­tune time to cre­ate and pur­sue a new model of de­vel­op­ment in which gen­der equal­ity and so­cial in­clu­sion must be a key pri­or­ity.

First Lady Aux­il­lia Mnan­gagwa greets jour­nal­ist dur­ing a fe­male stake­hold­ers’ meet­ing at Zim­babwe House this week at which she un­veiled her girl child em­pow­er­ment pro­gramme. She is flanked by African Union Good­will Am­bas­sador on End­ing Child Mar­riages Mrs Nyaradzai Gum­bonz­vanda (right).— (Picture by Tawanda Mudimu)

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