They say that education is the key to success. However, education in Zambia is not easy for anyone, particularly young women.
Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate achievement from women in all walks of life, from business to education. But IWD is also a day to recognise that actually, progress has slowed recently in many places around the world and to raise awareness about what’s left to be done to achieve parity. With this in mind we spoke to Bakashana, one of the youth-led organisations supported by MTV Staying Alive, about education for women in Zambia. Here they are celebrating International Women’s Day back in 2014:
My name is Ceciliah Lesho, and I work for the grassroots organisation Bakashana, which supports girls in northern Zambia by educating them about HIV, life skills and entrepreneurship. As a young woman who has completed my education, I can tell you about the challenges we face that prevent too many of us from reaching our goals.
Most families in Zambia face financial limitations, and those that can afford school fees usually choose to educate boys before girls. Numerous young women live a significant distance from school, and cannot manage walking many kilometres every day. Those who manage may struggle to focus because they often have not eaten. Cultural and Gender Norms pose a great problem. In my community a typical young woman is required do all of the house chores before and after school, while schoolboys have few responsibilities.
Though education is compulsory, there are many who still believe that a woman is not to be educated but to be married and do everything for a man – this promotes early marriage and makes women’s education a low priority. Thankfully, with the help of Non-Governmental Organizations and community organisations like ours who provide sensitisations about the importance of education, ideas about women in education are changing, and people are learning the truth.
The truth is, providing educational opportunities is crucial for young women. An educated woman is more likely to find employment and be financially responsible, wait to marry and have children, seek medical treatment for her sick children, and to properly medicate and treat those children. Early pregnancy is a great problem in my community, but girls who are enrolled in school are less likely to become pregnant at a young age.
One example of the difference our program is making is the story of Ruth Mulenga. When Ruth was seven, her father was put into prison for theft, leaving Ruth’s mother to raise four children on her own. Ruth grew up in a crowded one-room housing unit with no windows and no electricity, sharing a toilet with her family and their 20+ neighbours. This was a rough environment for Ruth, and she quickly developed a fear of interacting with others, her self-esteem was low and she was painfully shy.
Ruth’s mother often travelled 30km to farm food for her family. In her mother’s absence 14-year-old Ruth had to take care of three siblings under the age of 10 just as she started secondary school.
Despite this adversity, Ruth was accepted into grade 8 at one of the best schools in Northern Province. Bakashana started providing educational resources and tuition for Ruth and often provided food supplements for her family. We found a way for Ruth’s siblings to be cared for by an Aunt. Ruth was free to go to school without the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings.
Ruth has gained confidence through the Girls Leadership and Life-skills workshops that we conduct every school holiday. Her performance in school has improved through our weekly sessions in which we offer tutoring and lessons in literature, entrepreneurship and sexual health. The personalized attention we offer Ruth and other pupils gives them room to grow and gain a sense of self-worth.
Ruth is not the shy girl we met years ago. She is always happy now. When we arrive at school she runs over to us laughing, and she smiles and talks to everyone freely – despite what she has been through. Ruth dreams of being a nurse, I believe with the love and support from people around her and all of us at Bakashana program, her dreams will come true.
The MTV Staying Alive Foundation is supporting youth-led organisations such as Bakashana that educate girls about their sexual health, condom use and negotiation skills and help them to take control of their own lives. If you’re interested in helping us, you can find out more here.