Shamwari yeMwanasikana challenges the Gov over girl child manipulation by religious leaders

Rubaya Tapiwa

Several voices in the past weeks have condemned the government and Johane Marange Apostolic sectors for delaying delivering justice for the late Anna Machaya.

This comes after a 15-year-old passed away at one of Johane Marange’s shrines after giving birth.

The late Memory was forced to drop out of school and marry a now 28-year-old man.

Social media sparked as thousands spoke out against the act.

We had an exclusive interview with one of the Girl Child Advocacy Group Shamwari Yemwanasikana ‘s founding Director Ekenia Chifamba, who discussed the girl child rights and how the government can create laws to protect women against Religious-cults.

Q: Firstly can you briefly tell us what is “Shamwari Yemwanasikana” and its vision.

A: Shamwari Yemwanasikana is a child rights advocacy organization that was founded in 2014.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana was formed to emancipate the girl child from all forms of abuse that have and continue to hinder her development.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana is comprised of four pillars namely Advocacy and influence, Sexual Reproductive Health Rights, Sustainable Livelihoods, and Girls Protection and Support Services.

 As an organization, we envision a nation where girls are free and able to stand up for their rights with full support from the community and policies.

We have managed to fulfill our vision through community engagements, awareness campaigns, policymakers engagements, and mentorship and informative sessions through our flagships, Men’s and Boys Forum, Dandaro Revasikana Girl’s Club, Girl’s Rights Movement, and Community Development Committees.

Q: The nation is celebrating women’s month, what is your observation when it comes to feminism /women’s rights?

A: Women’s rights are important in achieving gender equality.

The protection of women’s rights is important because women would be given the chance to stand up for what they believe in, appointed into positions that were deemed to be only for men in the corporate world or any other position of authority. 

Women’s rights make it possible to break patriarchy and women and ensures that issues that affect women are addressed and there are solutions to change the narrative.

Q: Recently Zimbabwe’s social media platforms trended with the hashtag #JusticeforMemoryMachaya.Do you believe the hashtag became a voice to the government?

A: Yes, it did.

The hashtag forced the government and law enforcers to take action. It is only after the hashtag that the Zimbabwe Republic Police started investigating the #MemoryMachaya case.

Hence, social media is a powerful tool when it comes to advocacy and influencing change and action to be taken.

Q: To what extent do you think religion is exploiting the girl child and her rights?

A: Church leaders have managed to use religion to exploit the girl child and her rights.

This has reached an extent whereby they are groomed and prepared from an early age that they are supposed to be married at a certain age.

As they get older, teachings of their rights do not matter, all that matters is what they are taught at church, what church leaders are told by the holy spirit, or what is revealed to them in dreams.

 It is more of psychological conditioning that makes them believe that religion is right even when it manipulates and exploits them, hinders them from attaining their dreams, and abuses them.

Q: Many people, have blamed the government for not condemning, Apostolic sectors against child marriages. What’s your take on this?

A: I believe when government fails to act on such treacherous acts the public is forced to come up with a conclusion of their own.

However, instead of making conclusions that are based on assumptions what we have to do is to advocate for the government to act on these cults that disguise themselves as churches. 

This is no time for blaming one another but a time to come together collectively and deal with the culprits and end child marriages.

Q: As “Shamwari yeMwanasikana do you believe a law that protects the rights of girl children in worship sectors should be passed in Parliament?

A: Yes. Church activities should be regulated.  We are tired of churches that abuse women and girls in the name of religion. 

What is the right to religion when it violates a lot of other rights?  Our Constitution makes provision for limitation of rights therefore there the right of religion should be limited as long as the limitation affords women and girls the protection they need.

Q: As an organization that protects the girl child, what measures do you take when a victim comes through for help?

A: We conduct individual counseling sessions with the survivor of abuse.

This allows room to create a comfortable environment that allows the survivor to open up and share her experience trusting the counselor and knowing that whatever is shared during sessions is confidential.

  We also have support groups that allow survivors to meet in small groups and share their experiences and drawing strength to heal from their experiences from one another.

Q: Is Shamwari yeMwanasikana also based in other provinces across the country?

A: Yes, we are operational in Mashonaland East, Manicaland, and Harare Metropolitan Provinces.

Q: What word of advice do you have to girls who are being forced to get into wedlock at a young age?

A: Being married off at a young age is abuse. There is nothing right about being a wife whilst your liberty is taken away from you. Your right to realize your dreams and your right to freedom is infringed.  Find your voice and speak up, walk away from that situation and seek help. Some people are willing to help in reaching your full potential.  So not let your situation define you or detect your future.

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