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Celebrate Solutions: Making Schools in Zambia Safer Spaces for Girls

By: Harshi Hettige, Women Deliver

Over 600 Zambian girls have been empowered to stand up against violence as a result of the Tisunge Ana Athu Akazi (Lets Protect Our Girl Children) Coalition (TAAAC). The Coalition took action in a country where one-third of girls surveyed reported that they knew of girls who had been sexually harassed by a teacher, and half reported knowing girls who had been exploited by a family member.

Led by Equality Now and with a grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, TAAAC unites Zambian organizations to take action against gender-based violence. Together, the Coalition members initiated a school-based program for young girls in Lusaka, Zambia. The program’s aims are focused around creating safer environments for adolescent girls and zero tolerance for sexual violence against girls.

TAAAC works to create coordinated, clear response systems that support and build upon existing government and community mechanisms for reporting sexual violence.

The program also aims to reform the legal system by training lawyers, conducting relevant research, engaging partners, and conducting strategic litigation so that there are stronger legal responses to sexual violence. In addition, the program is increasing awareness and shifting attitudes on gender-based violence by advocating through popular media and training journalists to report on the issue.

A significant aspect of this work focuses on girls’ empowerment, which involves teaching them their rights and encouraging them to identify, report, and act against sexual violence. Girls attend weekly group meetings where either young women from the school or respected female community leaders openly discuss sexual violence and broader sexual education, as well as life skills. As of June 2011, over 60 mentors had been trained to help adolescent girls.

TAAAC is forming girl-only spaces at schools, where health and legal services are actively provided to them. It is also including boys and men in the discussion to sensitize them to the issues and engage them in ending sexual violence against girls. The Boys’ Network, a group of boys from various schools, joined together under the Zambian National Women’s Lobby to speak out against sexual violence.

A participating teacher, Mr. Kalombo Longwa, stated, “Many women are not participating in development because they have been subjected to stay indoors and this calls for strict laws to protect the girl child. Current laws allow for punishment to defilers but forget the need to protect the girl child.”

Despite Equality Now’s involvement in Zambia since 2007, sexual violence persists on a large scale.  In June 2012, a TAAAC member, the Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia, recommended legal protection for children during a constitutional review. The aim of the Ministry of Education, Science and Vocational Training Secretary Christine Mayondi was to enable Zambia to fulfill the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which states, “The child shall enjoy special protection and shall be given opportunities and facilities by law and by other means to enable him or her to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.” Population Council, which is conducting an evaluation of the intervention, also explains that gender based violence drives high and unwanted fertility, maternal mortality, and HIV. It is crucial that preventing sexual violence against girls and women remains in the forefront of Zambia’s development.

Learn more about Coalition members and their work to find solutions: Zambia Media Women Association, Zambia Association for Research and Development, Women and Law in Southern Africa, Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, Young Women Christian Association, and Campaign on Female Education.

Flickr photograph via Dietmar Temps.

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