Is the term sub-Saharan African fundamentally flawed? Tatenda argues that it is in this piece.
In this article Shantel breaks down stereotypes that Zimbabwean and other Africans face in the US.
Our country still has high teenage pregnancy rates with the poorer communities within the country being the most affected. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 20141 24.2 % of women between 15 and 19 years of age had begun child bearing with the rural communities having a higher percentage of 28.7 compared to 14.2% in urban settlements. Early sexual activity has many complications which include increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted illnesses and HIV and the long term complications from the various diseases for example high risk of cervical cancer in the case of Human Papilloma Virus infection (HPV). Early childbearing is also associated with birth related complications resulting in risk of both maternal and neonatal mortality. Stillbirths and death in the first week of life are 50% higher among babies born to mothers younger than 20 years than among babies born to mothers 20–29 years old.2
The government is trying to come up with a lot of measures and interventions to discourage early marriages and are working on laws which might arrest recipients of lobola for under eighteen women. Teenage pregnancy is a contributor to early marriages. What happens to an adolescent who falls pregnant? What options are available for them? Medical abortion is illegal in such circumstances, will this promote unsafe abortions? Adoption is an alternative but consider the number of children already in need of adoption. What if her family abandons her? At least the family now has to find ways of accepting their new reality which is a welcome development as long as it does not expose the survivor to exploitation. Progressive and usually privileged families have usually not forced their pregnant teens into marriage. They have been supportive and ensured their daughters became independent enough to care for their own children. Some young mothers have also not been deprived of an education or pursuit of their dreams.
However in majority of teen pregnancy cases, the girls are affected more than the boys. Both are expelled if they go to the same school. I consider expulsion to be unnecessary and might complicate affected people’s lives more. Expulsion disrupts their access to education and is retrogressive as far as empowering the young parent is concerned. In most cases the boy’s life continues as normal and the girl is pulled out of school. Even if she stays in school there is stigma associated with being pregnant. I am an advocate for comprehensive sexual and reproductive education and easier access to contraception for adolescents but it seems to be a very controversial topic in our community which will need a lengthy discussion on its own.
One of the many reasons pregnant women were forced to elope was to avoid raising a “bastard”, single parenthood and the associated stigma. Eloping also forced the father of the child to be responsible for his actions. In light of new developments which might prevent pregnant teenagers from forced marriages what measures will be there for the custody of the child? Traditionally in such cases the man responsible for the pregnancy had to pay a fine termed “damage” and lobola. How will the cultural practices complement, affect or be affected by a law banning receiving lobola for an under eighteen young girl? Will a case of a pregnant teen be exempted from the law and what will be the implications of such in preventing forced marriages? I hope all these questions will stimulate constructive dialogue.
Could stigma associated with single parenthood be an unintended consequence of such a law? “Single mothers” are victims of stigma associated with single parenthood. They are labelled promiscuous, prostitutes and the abused term “mvana”. Mvana is a term used to refer to unmarried women who has/had a child or children. I assume it was meant to be just a descriptive term but has now become a discriminatory label laden with stigma. Our society places a lot of focus on women virginity and sexual purity another flaw in the paternalistic gender story. The prejudice and stereotypes might negatively affect her future including marriage and expose her to discrimination.
We need to address the root causes and confront gender disparities that promote the above stigma. Getting pregnant should not destroy a young woman’s dream or be the beginning of an emotional turmoil. This is when family and community support is needed for the young mother to adjust to the changes instead of alienating her. Ideally we should empower young women to become parents when they choose and are ready through comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and easier access to contraception. 4 % of young men and 4.1 % of young women had sex before the age of 15. 58.7% of young women and 46.0 % of young men between the age of 15 and 24 years had ever had sex1. We should therefore change attitudes of contraception being for married people and address the need by sexually active unmarried young people. Young people should be allowed to make informed decisions and denying them access to information and contraception is violating their sexual rights.
- Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2014 Final Report March 2015
My hometown brings a lot of great memories and stimulates an irresistible urge for an adventure. I decided cycle on our old “hybrid” ram-shackled bicycle which can potentially attract all possible tickets and fines from the police, a Frankenstein of my brother’s reusing creativity. It’s a fusion of all the bicycles we ever had plus a few adopted parts. I packed my water bottle, camera and thick book then road to a nearby dam just outside the city.
As I came closer to the dam I met a lovely young woman in her late teens. She was carrying a dish full of laundry on her head with a baby on her back and two infants the younger tagging on her skirt .The oldest of about five years of age was chatting away leading the young family to a nearby farming settlement. At the dam more young women were doing laundry with a few infants running around. Were they teen parents? Men were fishing and some bathing or swimming on the opposite side of the dam. My intention was to enjoy the beautiful sounds of nature in a tranquil environment but my mind could not ignore what i was seeing. Such situations make me subconsciously introspect and consider my privilege and how i can fight any prejudice and stereotypes I might harbor.
I am against marrying off adolescent girls a practice commonly termed child marriages.it is a gross violation of the affected child’s rights and is form of sexual abuse. I have used any opportunity possible to speak out against it. Girls are the main victims of such a practice usually being married off to older men. It is a manifestation of a deep rooted infirmity in our society;poverty.
My sisters had the privilege of deciding when to get married partly because of their relatively well provided for backgrounds. Our parents considered education to be a right and priority and could afford to send us to school. School occupied at least more than sixteen years of our lives. After primary and secondary school the focus was on career or skills development for them to achieve a certain level of independence. Marriage was not deemed as the way out .There was no pressure from their respective parents to marry them off because the parents could provide for them. The same applied to most of my friends. They come from relatively privileged backgrounds and could afford to dream. However we seem not to realize how our privilege has cushioned us from some social problems.
I used to consider victims of child marriages to be from ignorant backgrounds because I could never think of my parents ever doing that to my sister. I always viewed such victims with pitiful eyes and had immense anger at their families. All I had was just a superficial assumption of their predicament. A glimpse of what seemed to be a victim’s life made me reconsider my ignorant uninformed prejudiced view. It was clear their quality of life was below most urban settlements ironically just a stone throw away. Each day their struggle was to make ends meet and education was a luxury with the daily priority being getting food on the table. The relatively more privileged envied males in their community could easily exploit such girls with a few gifts to the family which because of need were heartily welcome. The cycle of poverty continued.
Some girls deprived of an education are groomed to be brides and as soon a suitor comes along the family will accept the bride price for that temporary provision and relief. The real enemy here is poverty and the inequality it brings. It is the common thing you find in countries and communities with high rates of child marriages. We welcome recent developments in law and policy to fight such an evil practice but we know our country is not immune from partial law enforcement and corruption. This cannot guarantee protection of our girls from exploitation because many cases can still go unreported. What happens after arresting the parents or guardians ? Does it improve the socio-economic status of the family that pushed them to marry off their child? We need to actively fight poverty because this will address a lot of social problems stemming from it. It is sad how inequalities in our societies are worsening each day with the usually political elite getting richer and the poor masses, poorer.
Patriarchy is another important issue that needs to be focused on in curbing exploitation of the girl child because of its role in promoting gender related inequalities. Unfortunately extreme forms of patriarchy, religion and culture are dominant in poorer communities because of reduced access to education and information. Unequal access to resources, poor governance and other factors that contribute to poverty also contribute to exploitation of the girl child.
Teenage pregnancies need to be addressed. The girl child has to be informed and empowered. We need to write a new gender story for the contemporary dynamic society. I cherish and embrace progressive elements of our culture but we have to let go of retrogressive exploitative practices. This cannot be achieved in our air conditioned well lit and catered for offices or even behind our laptops and smart phone screens. We need to be part of the community and involve ourselves in participatory action research. Our privilege makes us fall in a different but equally retrogressive form of ignorance, one we constantly accuse the developed world of when they talk of developing countries.