The mini skirt march almost didn’t happen. The police thought the girls were “indecently dressed.” Ironically, they had to change into jeans and longer skirts. Doubly ironic considering the barely-there “cultural” attire at the Reed Dance!
As tomorrow is the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign, I thought I’d tally up the week’s awareness-raising accomplishments. On Tuesday, I accompanied Doreen, the Girls Empowerment Club co-coordinator, to the Swaziland Broadcasting station (SBIS) where she did a terrific phone-in radio show. Some of the callers wanted to know why men aren’t targeted during the campaign. They are, but with 77% of the survivors being women, well, they get the lion’s share of attention. We did have one man come and speak at the launch about the financial abuse he suffered at the hands of his wife’s family, who cleared out his home when she died. Nomthandazo, SWAGAA’s child counselor, did three radio shows on Voice of Church, talking about child, adult and youth sexual abuse. I wrote a half page advertorial that ran in the Times about the link between gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. I also had an article on the same topic published by The Nation magazine. Wednesday I spoke at the Girls Empowerment Club stakeholders’ meeting, with 50 girls club members, about why we were wearing the white ribbon on our chests and what wonderful ambassadors the girls are 365 days of the year, helping to report cases of abuse and spreading the word on how to prevent it. Friday was the mini-skirt march and the UN Women’s Ride On, Men Speak Out campaign, where bikers from eight countries rode through Manzini in support of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign. I personally got to pin white ribbons on all these tough, burly and hugely supportive fellows!
Tomorrow is the last day of the campaign. There’s going to be a media breakfast at Mountain Inn. The Deputy Prime Minister’s office will make remarks, as will the executive director of SWAGAA. Ntombi Nyoni, the SWAGAA legal officer, will discuss the Gender Protocol Barometer, a monitoring of gender policies throughout Southern Africa. There will also be a media Q&A session. Newspapers, radio and TV have been very influential in getting the message out this year and the Gender Consortium, (I’m on the Media Committee), is very thankful.
Even though tomorrow is the end of the campaign, the work will continue to roll forward. Behaviour change is the most difficult kind of change. The message may have been dispersed, but now we have to see it put into action.
On October 11, 2012, the Swazi Observer printed the essays of the winners of the national essay competition commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child. I wanted to share a couple of them with you…
STOP TEEN PREGNANCY
Swazi girls are very important. By taking care of them, yongsters will also become better citizens like our parents. We need to repect our elders’ advice because they are helping us lead exemplary lives. Everyone is the master of her destiny. Teenage pregnancy must come to an end. Imagine a nine-year-old pretty girl pregnant. Who will take care of the little angel and the baby? They are all young and need love and care as they grow up. Seeing teenagers pregnant is very painful and it increases the population of the world. This causes the babies to be victims and this is not fair at all. Education must come first. In a nutshell, let us play our role as girls by taking care of ourselves and focus on education which will make us proud and special in future. Teenage pregnancy is on the increase worldwide and we need to decrease it. Everyone is special — let us be heroes. The future is in our hands. Let us all fight teenage pregnancy! — ZIYANDA DLAMINI, Grade 5A, 10 years old, Lusoti Primary School.
STOP SEXUAL ABUSE
Sexual abuse can be stopped by not leaving young ones with people you don’t trust. Abuse could be avoided by the law which much put strong fires to abusers. Sexual abuse could be stopped by giving lessons to the public, teaching them about the consequences of abuse. Children who have no parents should be protected by government through building them homes so that they don’t fall in bad hands as they are orphans. Sexual abuse could be stopped by isolating the offenders from the the public, putting them in jail. Sexual abuse can also be stopped by preventing children from going alone at night as bad things occur during such ungodly hours. Relatives should not protect abusers claiming that they are family members instead of reporting them to the police so that justice is done. — Neliswa Magongo, Grade 4, 10 years old.
DELAY SEXUAL DEBUT
From faux love to early loss of virginity, to helplessness of the heart, to sickness and unfortunately to unplanned pregnancy. Sadly , it is girls that are mostly affected by this. Delaying sexual debut is being advocated in the world as a means to reduce HIV infection in young women. Early sexual involvement makes teen girls vulnerable to multiple relationships, reproductive health problems like cervical cancer that largely derail young girls’ lives, scarring them psychologically and emotionally. “Later is safer,” I strongly believe. There is no hurry in Swaziland, as Swazis would say, and indeed it is true. Avoiding sexual relationships before marriage or rather maturity may be one of the solutions. Thus, preventing unplanned pregnancy, pychologoical and emotional pain or problems, which are unnecessary. Being a mother at 15? A single mother, unemployed and homeless because your parents have chucked you out. No girl deserves such burden, pain, agony and distress. In conclusion, media campaigns encouraging delayed sexual debut as part of a comprehensive sexual education programme and abstinence messages is how I would make this dream come true for Swazi girls. LATER IS SAFER. — Nosimilo Simelane, 16 years old, Sitembiso Sebunye Bahai High School
Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku with winners of the essay competion at International Day of the Girl Child festivities on Oct. 11, 2012.
After two months of planning, the Swaziland International Day of the Girl Child was a smash success! Three weeks of media were a great lead up to the actual day. Representatives from SWAGAA (including me) and various NGOs spoke on radio and TV about the dangers of teen pregnancy, early sexual debut and the reality of sexual abuse in this country. The statistics are shocking, but at least there are prevention measures such as education and awareness campaigns in place.
On the actual day, Oct. 11th, there was a commemorative event at Happy Valley Casino and resort, where the winners of the essay contest were able to read their essays. It was enlightening, upsetting and heartwarming all at the same time. Beautiful 10-year-old girl children telling their stories and warning perpetrators to stop abusing girls. I cried, and I laughed with joy watching them do dances, songs and poems that blew the rest of the house away as well. Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku attended, as did U.S. Ambassador Makila James, and top represetatives from the UNFPA and the UNDP offices.
Having attended all the planning meetings, and having coordinated the essay contest, it was a big day for me and all the girl children of Swaziland.
CONGRATULATIONS! WE GOT THE WORD OUT!! SWAZILAND GIRLS DESERVE TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL. LET THEM REACH FOR THE SKY!!
1st place essay competion winner in the 14-18-year-old category.
The DPM presents the winner in the under-13 category with her prize.
A beautiful song from the Lusoti Primary School girls.
Members of the Girls Empowerment Club, Swazi National High School with SWAGAA's Doreen Ngwenya (lower, centre), co-ordinator of the clubs, and a teacher from the school (r).
An article I wrote that appeared in The Times of Swaziland…..
The first International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 is an exciting event for the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) as it marks a culmination of a several efforts and initiatives aimed at supporting the Girl Child worldwide and in the country.
A prime example, which is the pride and joy of SWAGAA, is the Girls Empowerment Clubs programme. This initiative is modeled after a programme in Zimbabwe and was born out of a belief that all girls have a right to a safe space where they can freely and openly learn about their human rights, share their experiences, and their hopes for the future. SWAGAA started the program in 2008 with the support from Canada’s Crossroads International as a way to encourage the development of a positive self-concept among young girls while providing comprehensive education about sexual and gender-based violence, HIV and AIDS and healthy life choices. The establishment of the school-based clubs was in response to the disturbing findings of a UNICEF 2007 study on Violence Against Children which showed one in three females in Swaziland have experienced sexual violence as a child.
Currently there are 12 clubs, five in primary schools and seven in high schools in both rural and urban areas in the country. On an annual basis, more than 400 young girls benefit from these safe spaces and begin to realize their strength and potential. To date, more than 2,000 Swazi girls have gained the skills that will prepare them to become dynamic women in leadership and agents of change for society.
Assessments of the program show some very positive results, which among others include: reported decrease in school drop-out rate due to teenage pregnancy, reported increase in club members’ academic achievement despite poor performance prior to club establishment – some have even ranked in the top five achievers.
One of the most effective tools used in the club is a personal journal, which every club member receives. When permitted by the girls, club leaders read through the journals to identify and report challenges in the girls’ lives. This exercise allows the girls to speak out about their life experiences and enables the club leaders to assist them, whether through identifying and referring cases of abuse to SWAGAA, or to connect the girl with other relevant structures within the community such as child protection committees for other support needs. The examples are many. One leader recalled a nine-year-old girl in a rural area who drew a house with no windows, roof or doors. It was empty. She also drew a picture of herself and two younger siblings looking very lonely, playing outside. After reading through the journal, the leader asked her about the picture. The girl said she wanted to become a better person tomorrow, so she could finish the house her deceased parents left to them. This further enabled the club leader to identify the abject poverty the children were living in and connect them to other agencies (including Crossroads International, which provided them with school uniforms) and community structures which monitored their situation and ensured the children attended school and had a healthy living situation.
Through working with trained mentors, SWAGAA ensures that the girls also develop a strong sense of responsibility toward the development of their communities. Girls are encouraged to do community outreach programs to get buy-in from the community, while raising awareness about the Girls Empowerment Clubs and the activities they engage in.
SWAGAA appreciates the importance of empowering the boy child too, particularly in the area of human rights and gender. It is important to challenge and deconstruct status quo notions of masculinity starting at an early age and it is for this reason that SWAGAA has developed a program for engaging men and boys as agents in promoting Human Rights and Gender Justice in Swaziland.
On October 11th, the world celebrates the girl child because globally, where there is poverty, disease, lack, exploitation, discrimination, unemployment, illiteracy, mortality, and hunger — the most vulnerable to these social ills is the girl child. There is a need to champion the girl child, to break the divide and ensure that girls and boys, men and women, can have equal opportunities and be celebrated equally.
August 1, 2012
Started my new job as Communications Officer with the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) on Monday. The office is on Esser Road in downtown Manzini. With a population of around 70,000 it is the centre of activity in Swaziland. We are in the tail-end of winter, so the temperature ranges from 6 degrees C in the morning and rises to around 25 degrees C in the afternoon. I wrap myself in a shawl to get through those chilly am moments. So far, I am getting to know my colleagues and finding out about all the amazing work that SWAGAA does. The organization has 6 offices throughout the country and there are four core departments: Care and Support, Prevention Education, Access to Justice and Court Watch. The organization’s mandate is to eradicate gender-based violence – clients are primarily women who have been abused by spouses or boyfriends. Some powerful initiatives the organization has undertaken are community outreach programs such as Girls Empowerment Clubs and Male Involvement forums. The girls clubs are in schools throughout the country and provide a safe space for girls to learn about their rights, how to respond to sexual and gender-based violence, HIV/AIDs, livelihood skills, and assertiveness. The men’s programs include communication workshops and the goal is to recognize men as change agents. It’s all powerful stuff in a country that has rampant HIV/AIDS (1/3 of the 1.1 million population) and sexual abuse (1 in three girls have been sexually abused according to a recent survey). SWAGAA not only helps victims of abuse, but works to advocate change on the government policy level. There are consciousness raising events throughout the year that I’ll be working on, including 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence which starts in November. As I learn more about SWAGAA’s efforts, I’ll be blogging about them here. Onward!
First day outside the SWAGAA office in Manzini.