TAG a Life International (TaLI) director Nyaradzo Mashayamombe (NM) says she would not sit and watch while the rights of the girl child continue to be trampled upon, and while young girls continue to be forced into early child marriages by adults. She talks to NewsDay (ND) senior Parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa.

ND: Who is Nyaradzo Mashayamombe and what is your work centred on?

NM: Nyari Mashayamombe is passionate about justice, fairness, is interested in community building and to see families thriving. My work on girls, young women’s rights and youths is centred on the realisation that for communities to thrive, we need to begin with the roots, and the roots are the youths. In Shona they say “gavi rinobva kumasvuuriro” meaning if you miss the roots on anything you won’t achieve much. So the girl child is the most vulnerable in our communities due to both religious and cultural practices that ensure that at a very young age, a girl is rewarded for opportunities passing her by.

We hear words like “good girl” or “good woman”, which often means a person who is not vocal, who people can walk all over, a person when hit by her husband must keep quiet, a person who should not lean in to opportunities. So I realised that girls need to be assisted in realising that this is a lie that ensures they are going to be left behind in life and increase their vulnerabilities. So this is my passion.

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I was born in a family of eight children and I am the last. My rural background and challenges while growing up shaped me to care about others, especially girls and to want to help.

Nyari is not only a Human Rights Activist; she’s also a businesswoman with a company called Identities Media Holdings, as well as a singer and song writer. I also like to refer to myself as a global citizen.

ND: What is Tag a Life International (TaLI) all about and what kind of issues do you address?

NM: TaLI is a girls and young women’s organisation that wishes to see the world as a safe place where we are treated equally, have access to the same opportunities and where girls have the autonomy to make decisions about their own lives. TaLI is working for a world where girls and young women have a voice, are able to exercise their own agency, claim their rights, assist others to do the same while building movements to influence leadership.

Our current work includes developing girls and young women into leaders through the Leadership Economic Mentorship Hub (LEMHs), a one-year leadership programme which trains them in personal leadership, human rights, democracy and governance, change making and working with local leaders in their communities. We do this while linking girls with real advocacy work and interacting with Members of Parliament exposed to our world of networks.

One example of the critical work TaLI does is around advocacy and influencing laws that protect girls and young women as well as the youths. Just recently TaLI influenced a policy through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to ensure every child has access to basic education. Informed by community needs, we engaged with leadership locally, regionally and internationally.

Another critical component of our work is the provision of psycho-social support to victims of abuse. TaLI has linked more than 350 girls and young women with post trauma support such as medical services, basic counselling, police, supporting them through court, family reintegration and other referrals.

ND: How do you view children’s rights in Zimbabwe?

NM: We have seen some improvements, but we could do more in prioritising children’s rights in our nation. By now basic education should be secured and delivered on. The budget for education is mainly going to teachers and personnel salaries and little towards children’s education. Right now the justice system is not necessarily assisting girls and young women on vulnerabilities such as rape and instances where older men take advantage of and make them wives at a young age.

Currently the police force is not exactly moved by 15 or 16-year-old girls who they say are “consenting” to getting married to older men. The role of the police must be to nullify such “child sexual exploitation and abuse” which is being masqueraded as “child marriages”. The justice system is also corrupt giving sentences as little as three months or community service for older men who are bedding minors and exploiting them as wives.

ND: Your organisation has done a lot of advocacy work on the rights of the girl child. How successful have you been in empowering the girl child? What are the problem areas?

NM: For us it is about tagging one life at a time. There are more than 1 000 girls who we have trained since we started, more than 800 boys who we also trained to be champions of girls, more than 800 community peer educators who we trained to educate and raise awareness in their communities on girls rights are a testimony. Due to resources, we may not be able to go everywhere, but we believe when one life is tagged — that we have touched another 100 as we know they will touch others. And as we have now elevated our work to fighting for the rights of girls such as education, the more than 500 000 children we know, about 52% to be girls will never be the same again. Funding remains a key challenge.

ND: You have also fought for access to education for all children including the poor who cannot afford school fees. Have you made any inroads in convincing the government to respect constitutional rights to education?

NM: As you will know we just successfully advocated for a policy the “Secretary’s Circular 3 of 2019” which came out as a result of TaLI efforts and amazing leadership of MPs such as Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga who pushed Parliament for us to be heard. The listening ear and the changing attitudes in the ministry of Education and the support we got from former Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima, and especially ministry’s secretary and woman of action Tumisang Thabela, the rights of children to access education were made possible. There was also unwavering support of organisations passionate about children’s rights such as Zimbabwe National Coalition on the Rights of the Child, Justice For Children, Mambure Trust, Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe and Education Coalition of Zimbabwe, among many children’s rights organisations that rallied behind us in achieving this policy. We have really depended on the support of global partners such as Global Fund for Women, Urgent Action Fund Africa and CIVICUS to achieve this policy.

ND: You are also very outspoken on women’s rights and in the fight against gender-based violence. What kind of situations have you encountered as a women’s rights activist?

NM: I generally grew up in a very challenging rural community, and there things were worse for girls. I have had to fight for my own life and make adult decisions at an early age so that I would not be taken advantage of by a male teacher who proposed love to me. I have also endured violence at the hands of relatives for the work that I do, but the work must be done, and no girl, woman, child or male should endure violence; we should all live in harmony.

ND: What can you say have been your challenges as an activist?

NM: It think they are on many levels; doing the work is challenging because you are challenging power, those who are exerting illegal power over others through abuse will want to continue in doing this.

Thus I become their enemy. But also one gets socially stigmatised as people become super sensitive around you both at home and sometimes within the religious circles. It’s a hard job.