Every year, the 11th of October is International Day of the Girl Child. This year’s celebrations were marked under the theme ‘Girls’ Progress= Goals ‘Progress’ and Plan International implemented a takeover initiative. The initiative was aimed at empowering girls to shift their mindset as they will step into the shoes of prominent people in Zimbabwe for a day. Women are not often seen in positions of power and influence, and this initiative is a push to ensure that governments keep pushing for equal access to such opportunities for genders.
Angela Machonesa, Communications Manager at Plan International communicated that among the positions to be taken over were the ZRP Spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba’s and editors from The Herald, Newsday and H- Metro.
“The girls are taking over from prominent figures because by doing so we would like to empower them to understand that they are capable.”
Child Spokesperson, Masline Gaipiko an 18 year old Zimbabwean girl who stepped into Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba’s office said such a position is an opportunity for her to stand for other girls who have been victims of all manners of violence.
“I am standing in for girls so that they know the police is there for them and the law and justice are not only for the powerful but for everyone. Communities must support girls in cases where their rights are infringed.”
The protection of girls’ rights is one of he roles of the police. Gaipiko highlighted that the abuse of young girls has far reaching implications because it negatively affects their physical, emotional and social development.
“The abuse of girls destroys families and communities and this concerns us as police because children who are brought up in an unstable environment are susceptible to criminality.”
Public spaces are increasingly becoming unsafe environments for young girls and they no longer feel protected to walk freely. Cases of sexual harassment have been happening even in communities where girls are brought up. Gaipiko said the police are ensuring that communities are aware of, observe and protect the rights of girls. She also emphasised that social, religious and cultural practices perpetuating child marriages are not permissible.
“We are encouraging traditional and church leaders to ensure that their followers are educated against some primitive practices that allow children to be married off.
If girls are given enough space, encouragement, support, information and role modelling that is aligned with their evolving capacities, they can contribute to their own protection,” said Gaipiko.
The police have put in structures such as the Victim Friendly Unit at all police stations where cases of abuse can be swiftly dealt with in privacy, and girls are encouraged to freely to articulate their experiences and concerns without fear of victimisation. Gaipiko said girls need to be encouraged to exercise self control and restraint to have the ability to say no.
In the same vein, Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba added that despite urban and rural disparities in terms of accessing police stations, it does not mean that police are absent in rural areas since Victim Friendly Units where people can go and report can also be found in rural areas.
“The victim friendly unit officers together with our public relations officers conduct public awareness campaigns especially on issues of rape, at times we conduct preventive shows by giving out information meant to empower those girls in the rural areas,” said Charamba.
Statistics show that rape cases have increased since 2015. According to Charamba, between January and August 2016, 2 251 cases have been reported compared to 2 200 between the same period in 2015. She added that at least ten rape cases are reported on a daily basis.
“The rape statistics are not good so we are appealing to everyone to always report . However, the increase in number of cases is at times an indicator that people are reporting. If everyone is empowered they will report without fear,” said Charamba.
She stressed that there is nothing that can hinder girls from becoming future leaders in the ZRP or any other organisation and hence, the need to promote the participation of young girls in school at all levels. The ZRP has female commanders who have excelled in the police force and have been entrusted with the leadership of strategic departments by the Commissioner General of Police. This shows that if women are given the platform, they can do the same task as men.
“We have one Deputy Commissioner General, three Commissioners, eleven Senior Assistant Commissioners and 17 Assistant Commissioners. These women perform the same duties as their male counterparts and were promoted after competing at the same level with male officers,” said Charamba.
As part of the girls’ takeover, Masline Gaipiko had the opportunity to spend a week in Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba’s office where she was offered one on one mentorship. She managed to share personal interactions with Charamba where she was taught how to interact with media personnel, writing press statements, and also learnt about the Assistant Commissioner’s career journey. The other girls also spent time at Plan International’s communications desk where they were mentored on how to present themselves at news desks as editors. Other girls also sat in news diaries where they informed journalists on how news articles should be written from a girl’s perspective.
If communities commit to empowering girls and protecting their rights, they will be able to become agents of change. It is everyone’s duty to ensure safety for young girls by reporting cases of abuse so that perpetrators are severely punished.
Main image ZRP spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba (left) with Angela Machonesa (right) and one of the participants.
All images provided by Angela Machonesa