Girls empowered through education in Zambia

Medina Rahman | Oct 11, 2016
5 graduates from the Girls' Leadership Club, with Medina and Zulekha
On Day of the Girl, 17-year-old Medina blogs about her experience meeting the Girls' Leadership Clubs run by our partner Zambia National Women's Lobby (ZNWL). Medina is the daughter of Womankind Ambassador, Zulekha Rahman. 

I went to Zambia with my family over the summer and my mother and I were lucky enough to visit some of the projects run by Womankind’s partner, Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL). We went to a few schools that ran Girls' Leadership Clubs, such as Mukamambo School for Girls. 

We experienced small workshops with the girls, which encouraged them in their development and opened a discussion about women’s rights. Every girl that I met was extremely enthusiastic when it came to learning about their rights.

By the end of the session, everyone was speaking freely and sharing their views and ideas, particularly on domestic violence and the treatment of women. They were shocked to find that it did not only happen in Zambia but all over the world, including in Europe, and that it happened to men as well as women.

Leaders of the future

I met with a smaller group of young women who had graduated from the Girls’ Leadership Clubs and they shared their stories with us.

A woman named Selina spoke of how sending her to school was seen as an investment by her family and village. In her grandparents’ village, girls as young as 12 were sold to men as wives and this was accepted as the norm. Selina had been an exception and only because her family had been persuaded that if she went to school she could get a job and support them financially. Now Selina is at university and is studying adult education and teaching.

Another young woman, called Nilla, had to put herself through school by finding sponsors because she struggled financially and, in Zambia, school is not compulsory. Although Nilla's is a success story, and she is now in university as well (studying business adminstration), girls are too often not educated, and are simply left to do household chores, from the time they can walk until they are married off. Although many boys are similarly kept away from school, if a family has a boy and a girl, the boy will go to school and the girl will stay home to work. 

Nilla said that “when the girls’ leadership club came in, it really helped us develop self-esteem, to know that you can do it even if you are a woman, whatever situation you are in you can still do it. You’ve been given that right as a girl, it’s a pathway to a beautiful heaven for you.” 

A third woman, named Angelina, was abandoned by her father because she was a girl. Her mother did not have any sons, and so, when Angelina was born, her father just left. Angelina expressed her feelings by saying “Being raised by a single parent, being deserted by a father at five just because mum could not have a boy, has not been easy. It is the father who has to raise the hero in you. So I have grown up knowing someone doesn’t love me, by virtue of being a girl.” Angelina wants to go to university to study music and then go on to be a music teacher.

Overcoming the daily struggle

All of the girls said they saw the Girls’ Leadership Club run by ZNWL as a family and as the only thing that helped them through school, which was a daily struggle. The girls all helped each other, whether it was to pass exams or to get though family crises, and they all had the utmost respect and love for Aunt Mercy who ran the club. 
Nilla said: “For me, this group has helped me to realise some things about myself. There was a time when I lost hope, when I thought this education thing is really hard. I don’t know if I am going to manage. But then when I joined the Girls’ Leadership Club I became a leader there. I started learning a lot of things and I saw the bright light of the future.” 

Gender should not be an obstacle

All the young women went on to say that they were the lucky ones and were grateful to have ever been given the opportunities they were given, and that they would not be who or where they are today without the programme. 

Before we said our goodbyes, Selina passionately said: “We want to make our country a better place to live in, especially for girls. I want them to know that their gender is not an obstacle. It should be something that should motivate them to aim high.” 

Speaking to them was a truly eye-opening experience and although this kind of blatant sexism has not impacted me personally, I feel like I can identify with them and their stories because we share a gender, and that could have been me in their shoes. The experience has made me realise how much I take my education for granted. 

It is so important to support women’s rights organisations like ZNWL to continue and grow their work. We can make a difference because, as Angelina told us, “it’s at the darkest point that dawn comes.”

Find out how you can support us to give more young girls a future. 

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