How young women once at risk of child marriage are leading the charge to keep girls in school
Posted Oct. 26, 2017
Fiona Mavhinga, Development Director for Camfed’s CAMA alumnae network, joined Camfed CEO Lucy Lake, Board Chair Miranda Curtis and guests at the Institute for Government on the International Day of the Girl. Fiona introduced Camfed’s unique solution to tackling child marriage and girls’ exclusion from school. In her address, she focused on the power of CAMA ‘GirlGuardians’ - young women once at risk of becoming child brides, who are now working together to help girls stay in school and out of child marriage.
“When a girl is excluded from the chance to go to school, then this in turn has a knock-on effect on her exclusion from other systems. It limits her opportunity to access healthcare, to access systems for justice. It quite literally locks down her future. She is invisible.” - Lucy Lake, CEO, Camfed
Camfed works in a context of extreme rural poverty, which severely limits families’ options. As a result, in some districts of Zambia, for example, 6 out of 10 girls are at risk of becoming child brides.
Many are orphaned, living with frail grandparents without the means to support them, who see early marriage as the only means to secure a girl’s future.Instead, child marriage increases the risk of girls being exposed to physical violence, HIV/AIDS, and serious health complications linked to early pregnancy and childbirth. It traps girls and their families in a cycle of poverty.
Along with the physical scars too often caused by early marriage comes the psychological trauma girls suffer.
The emotional scars of poverty, of losing family members and struggling for daily survival, are compounded by the impact of exclusion when girls see their peers going to school, with all their hopes and aspirations for the future ahead of them.
Child bride Mary (not her real name), a double orphan in Zambia, was married at age 14. Her husband left her before their child was even born. With Camfed’s support, she wants to start a small business and work to ensure that her son receives a quality education.
GirlGuardians’ powers come from their experience of breaking down the many barriers to girls’ education, their deep roots in their communities, and the respect they command from girls and families alike. We turn these role models from heroes to superheroes by equipping them with additional knowledge.” - Fiona Mavhinga
Camfed’s approach to tackling girls’ exclusion from education recognises the unrivalled expertise of those who can draw from lived experience. CAMA members know what it means to be invisible. They share with Camfed a commitment to action, and a shared set of values, and often take on parental responsibility for vulnerable girls.
Now Camfed aims to use the funds raised through its ‘Unlock Futures’ UK Aid Match Appeal (which sees the UK government doubling residents’ donations) to support the education of more marginalised girls, and arm CAMA members in places like Zambia with the additional knowledge and skills they need to keep girls out of child marriage as GirlGuardians. This includes training in delivering a life skills curriculum, which builds girls’ confidence.
It comprises sexual and reproductive health information, and guidance on where to turn if a girl is at risk of exploitation. It also includes training on delivering study skills, supporting marginalised girls and boys to do well in school, pass their exams, and complete their education.
Fiona Mavhinga was joined by distinguished guests from the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Parliament and the House of Lords, by leaders of charitable trusts and foundations, and by long-term supporters of Camfed on International Day of the Child. Together they launched Camfed’s UK Aid Match appeal.
GirlGuardians will not only support girls who are at risk of child marriage, but also those who are already young mothers, working with their families, their children, and their husbands to help these girls move forward, and even return to school.
Through their close association with Camfed, and the barriers they themselves have overcome, CAMA members command respect in their communities. As GirlGuardians, they will receive additional training to advocate against child marriage with local authorities and families, helping to close the gap between schools and communities. Chief Mutekedza, one of Camfed’s longstanding partners, expressed his realisation of the effects of girls’ exclusion like this: “I now understand that girls are like refugees in their own motherland.”
By working with local Chiefs, who can help dismantle traditional practices that put girls at risk, CAMA’s GirlGuardians can begin to bring about systemic change, breaking the vicious cycle that would otherwise perpetuate for generations.