In a side event during the United Nations General Assembly, three African girls, Elizabeth Mbula, Zinchia Adhuambo Norman, and Brenda Karimi, shared their stories of surviving sexual abuse at the hands of family members. They emphasized that many girls in sub-Saharan Africa face similar challenges, with gender-based violence being a significant deterrent to school attendance. Poverty, child marriage, cultural norms, and a lack of sanitary care products also hinder access to education for millions of girls in the region.
In response to the declining enrollment of girls in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network-Africa initiated the Bakhita Partnership for Education in 2020. This partnership, supported by religious sisters, focuses on gender-responsive education to address cultural and societal barriers to learning and academic performance among female students.
While progress has been made, there remains a substantial gap between the needs of these girls and the resources available to them. Financial support, curriculum reform, and gender-responsive teacher training are essential components in addressing this issue. The young girls who have benefited from the partnership expressed hope for their futures, with some becoming advocates for girls’ education and empowerment.
The Bakhita Partnership for Education aims to provide a safe and transformative educational experience for girls in sub-Saharan Africa, helping them overcome obstacles and build brighter futures.
American Magazine reports:
Elizabeth Mbula speaks carefully and deliberately over the Zoom video link. She is sitting in a dimly lit classroom in Machakos, Kenya, and her internet connection is not stable. But she is eager to speak in front of the room, lighting up in front of the camera.
Her braids drape over the shoulders of her orange school uniform as her school counselor, a sister of the Sacred Heart, looks on. “I could not pay attention in school because I was being beaten by my stepfather at home,” she explains. “He tried to rape me, but I escaped.”
Zinchia Adhuambo Norman, a 17-year-old Kenyan schoolgirl, shares a similar story. “I survived my father’s abuse for eight years,” she said.
“I was abused sexually by my father from eight to 13 years old. I thought every child goes through that. I believed this was a common experience for all children.”
She describes her experience with a pragmatic, hard-earned authority. In her single-room home in Nairobi, there was no escape from her father. When her mother discovered the abuse, she blamed Zinchia.
“I had to turn to the sisters,” Zinchia said.
“I was abused sexually by my father from eight to 13 years old. I thought every child goes through that. I believed this was a common experience for all children,” said Brenda Karimi, another abuse survivor. “I couldn’t understand that this was a grave violation of my rights.” A few audience members solemnly shook their heads as tears pooled in the corners of their eyes.
Elizabeth, Zinchia and Brenda shared their stories at a side event during the United National General Assembly on Sept. 18 in New York, “Empowering the African Girl Child Through Transformative Education; Harnessing the Power of Catholic Education for Sustainable Change,” hosted by the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network-Africa and the Bakhita Partnership for Education.
Tragically, the stories shared by these African girls are not unique. Globally, 15 million adolescent girls have endured forced sex at some point in their lives, according to a report by the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that only one in 10 girls who are assaulted will report their abuse; gender-based violence is often referred to as the “silent epidemic.”
Tragically, the stories shared by these African girls are not unique. Globally, 15 million adolescent girls have endured forced sex at some point in their lives.
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