Girl Child Network (GCN) protects the rights of girl children worldwide. Founded in 1998, “it is called Girl Child Network because a girl is affected by both gender and age,” says Betty Makoni, the founder.
“Gender because there are socially constructed roles she must play, but when we say that this child is a girl, we are trying to point to the gender role, in that what we are dealing with is what society expects of them, like being forced to marry. Boy children do not go through marriage at 10 years old.
“Also genital mutilation. Boy children do not go through that, and prostitution too; mostly girls are forced to do prostitution. So when we say Girl Child, we want to make an emphatic point that the child we are concerned about, whose situation is critical, is the girl who is also a child.”
Before Betty could build her centre which gives girls the opportunity to receive counselling and shelter from the horrors of abuse that they’d suffered in Zimbabwe, she faced a two-year battle from those who wanted to shut GCN down.
The males were not receptive to her plans, calling the girls names, labelling them and telling them that they were not going to get married. The harassment also came from their male classmates and teachers. The teachers were also not supportive of her plans because some of them were perpetrators. Other perpetrators of the abuse included fathers, government authorities, police officers and social workers.
“They felt that the more girls spoke out on the abuse, the more they were getting exposed about the system that was not working, and also about other cases that had been swept under the carpet, or had been corruptly dealt with. Many of the perpetrators were arrested and were sent to prison and that sent warnings to would-be-perpetrators. So people started getting the awareness that it is a crime, that it is punishable, and the sentences were really a deterrent.”
After working for 10 years in Zimbabwe, Betty found that there was a lot of potential in marginalised areas of Africa. So she set up many programs including The Girls Empowerment and Education Fund. Targeting girls all over the world, the fund supports informal groups of girls to develop into fully fledged organisations.
“Maybe she wants to enter into renewable sanitary care, or has an innovative idea to do with removing poverty or preventing HIV and AIDS. We give small grants to the girls to help them without us dictating what they should do,” says Betty.
Grants ranging from $50 to $500 are given to girls who write to the organisation through their networks in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone. “Sometimes it is little money that is holding them back. We’ve given money to girls that managed to get scholarships to America, and it was only the money that would have stopped the poor girls from writing in the examination that would get them the scholarship.”
To learn more about or support Girl Child Network, please log on to: www.girlchildnetworkworldwide.org.
By Chinwe Ojielo