"This work is part of my DNA," says Evernice Munando as enthusiastic now about empowering young Zimbabwean women to be leaders as the day her organization won the 2016 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education.
Two years after receiving the award, the Female Students Network Trust (FSNT) is actively involved in a new challenge to inspire young women to become involved in the electoral process. This was sparked by the Zimbabwe general elections, the first to be held in the country since former President Robert Mugabe stepped down.
"We have mobilized female students using the hashtag #SmartGirlsVote as part of our campaign against sexual harassment,” said Evernice who founded FSNT after having overcome her own personal struggle for education in a family where boys were valued more than girls. FSNT mobilised over 20,000 female students to register to vote for the first time. Female students were engaged around issues they face every day including sexual harassment and rape.
“We are empowering them to realise their election rights, to take part in the process and to find their voice in society." Young women in tertiary education are now working to make learning institutions more women-friendly and hygienic with the establishment of sexual and reproductive health facilities. “They have taken ownership to bring about positive development,” she said.
Education and wellness programmes among young women in tertiary education institutions (TEI) were held under FSNT’s SAY Yes! #SmartGirls initiative and contributed to better access for women and girls to maternal health and menstrual facilities, contraception, hygiene, physiological and psychosocial support.
A global experience
Not only are more female students engaged in governance as representatives on student bodies, but also they are actively campaigning for positive development that is gender responsive. Joanna Momumbe joined the network when she was in her first year at University. She stood in the elections and won resoundingly as the Member of Parliament for Harare West constituency.
Women’s participation in leadership positions in student representative councils at TEI has increased. Currently, 45% of all female students in TEIs participate in leadership positions, compared to 35% in 2015. Harare Polytechnic made history, recording the first-ever female student president since the institution’s establishment in 1919.
Discussions about the national policy on sexual harassment have been initiated at an institutional level, along with advocating for necessary policies in teaching establishments. FSNT has drawn up policy guidelines that have been shared with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. They also contributed to the development of a Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum incorporating the social needs of female students in tertiary institutions. FSNT also presented their work at UNESCO’s Soft Power Today: Fostering Women’s Empowerment and Leadership in 2017.
This global experience has inspired the organisation to intensify its efforts to advance girls’ and women’s education through leadership development and capacity building training, sexual harassment prevention campaigns, policy advocacy and promoting sexual and reproductive health rights.
Advice to future laureates
Evernice has advice for future Prize laureates. "The Prize gave us standing to approach the government and a mandate to go to donors and say we had been chosen for our unique work. It is a privilege and you must use the award accordingly to make the most difference in your community possible.”
“When I help others, I am celebrating my own struggle. I had to fight the same way these girls are fighting for a voice and participation. I founded the organization and I feel as if I am seeing my dream come true to empower women and girls.'
The Female Students Network Trust was awarded the first edition of the UNESCO Prize in 2016 for its work on empowering tertiary education female students through leadership development and mentorship programmes in Zimbabwe.
The UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education was created in 2015 with funding from the Government of the People’s Republic of China to honour outstanding and innovative contributions advancing girls’ and women’s education.