Threat of Rape Unites Young Girls
The power of the individual is indeed great. But the synergistic force of many minds, especially young female minds in Zimbabwe, is about to make waves!
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Not long ago, schoolgirls began meeting informally after school at the Zengeza I High School, about a half-hour drive from Harare. These meetings quickly became more organized and soon inspired similar meetings at nearby high schools. Less than one year after those initial meetings began, girls have formed an entire network of schools throughout the country, called the Girl Child Network (GCN).
In the meetings, the girls discuss just about anything that concerns young people of Zimbabwe today, especially topics that are of particular interest to girls. Coincidentally, two of the girls that I spoke with from the GCN share the first name Memory, which was easy enough for me to remember! Memory Bandera is the president of the GCN at Zengeza I, where Abeja and I were invited to attend one of their weekly meetings.
The other Memory, Memory Chizhande, led the meeting. The topic was rape, since that and AIDS are two of the most devastating problems affecting Zimbabwean women today. As in other countries, the majority of rape victims in Zimbabwe know their attackers, and are often victimized by male relatives. The concept of "marital rape" does not exist in Zimbabwean courts. This means that wives who are forced to have sex with their husbands against their will have no legal means to object. Most astonishingly, young women in Zimbabwe, and frequently very young girls, are often victimized due to the false belief that having sex with a virgin is a cure for AIDS!
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Memory began the meeting by throwing out many provocative questions, the result of hours of research she did in preparation.
- What exactly qualifies as rape?
- Why do you think men rape?
- What are the possible effects of rape?
- Who is to blame for rape?
- Why do women keep rape experiences to themselves?
- How should we treat rapists and rape victims?
Although Memory has many of her own answers to the above questions, she seemed determined to encourage responses from the rest of the girls (and the two Trekkers!) and thus opened the floor to everyone's thoughts.
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Hands shot up around the classroom, some rather timidly and others with greater confidence. I was surprised by the sophisticated views the girls had about this complex issue.
Why do Men Rape?
As to why men rape, the girls speculated that it's due to pure "lust and lack of self-control" or that the men are simply "sick upstairs". Others added that men may be "expressing their hostility toward women" or are "seeking to gain power or control over women". The girls shared their worst fears of the results of rape, such as: unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs and especially AIDS), losing their virginity, becoming fearful of men and society (that fails to comfort them as victims), and having reoccurring nightmares.
Is the Girl at Fault?
Whether or not the girl is at fault for a rape was also debated, especially in terms of clothing girls choose to wear. Most felt that girls should be free to wear clothing as they please, including the infamous mini-skirt. Others, although not placing the blame on the victims, noted that there are unavoidable dangers in wearing clothing that exposes one's self and that girls should be responsible for taking whatever necessary precautions they can to avoid unwanted incidents of harassment and even rape. They also acknowledged that what a girl wears may or may not be an important factor in each individual rape situation.
Why Don't All People Report Rape?
Marital traditions practiced in nearly all parts of Zimbabwe (to varying degrees) include the paying of a negotiated dowry to the bride's father by the groom's family. The bride is essentially purchased (not unlike property) by the trading of a cow, goat, or money and the bride's father often makes considerable money in the transaction. What do you think of this? Do you think women can be treated with the respect they deserve and, at the same time, maintain this tradition of the dowry?
While investigating the reasons why many victims don't tell anyone about a rape, they were quick to point out that rape "is a highly traumatic experience one would rather just put behind her," and that "people won't believe her," or that the "victim may feel guilty as though it were her fault." In the end, however, everyone agreed it is extremely important to treat rape victims with respect and to really try to help them in their time of need.
The primary goal of the GCN meetings is for the girls to come together and seek ways of combating problems before they occur. By discussing these issues, the girls are preparing themselves and can potentially promote awareness within their schools and the rest of the community. Judging by the rapid growth and seriousness of the Girl Child Network, these successful girls are only a few steps away from becoming successful women.
Abeja - Paradise Found... And Lost Again
Monica - Death of a Zimbabwean Hero
Shawn - A Taste of the Island Life
Team - Africa for Africans!
The Long, Painful Death of Rhodesia and Birth of Zimbabwe
Making a Difference -
Shouting from the Mountaintops to Raise Rape Awareness!
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