For Audrey Matambo, a 22-year-old university student and young activist from Harare, the support received from 2016 laureate of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, the Female Students Network Trust (FSNT), was life changing.
‘I was a first year student at university and was thrown out of school. I did not live up to society’s expectations of how a girl should live.’
Audrey was suspended from her university after she initiated protests against ongoing water rationing and the lack of adequate sanitary facilities for female students.
In Zimbabwe, traditional gender norms and gender-based discrimination are still pervasive, especially in tertiary education institutions. FSNT Director, Evernice Munando, explains that sexual harassment and discrimination are the greatest challenges facing female university students in Zimbabwe.
Audrey’s behaviour was considered to be particularly unruly because of her gender.
‘Questioning authority is something expected of male students. Women are expected to focus on their studies as it is still considered a privilege rather than a right for a woman to access and occupy this space at university’, says Evernice.
Accordingly, ‘women are hesitant to take up leadership or advocacy roles within the student body due to the stigma attached to those who speak out’.
FSNT was a lifeline for Audrey. The organization, which offers peer-based mentoring to women in tertiary education, reached out to Audrey following her suspension. The organization provided her with ongoing counseling and support to help her overcome the stress and trauma she was experiencing.
FSNT also connected Audrey with the necessary legal representation to help her be reinstated in her university and continue her studies.
‘As if this was not enough, FSNT inspired me not to give up on my leadership abilities but to instead learn from this experience and to do more, not only for my university but for my community and country as a whole.’ She credits FSNT for encouraging her to continue with her activism and for supporting her application to attend a global youth leadership program on civil engagement.
Now, in her second year pursuing a degree in social work, Audrey aims to work in politics to advocate for policies that improve the lives of underprivileged and marginalized groups. ‘My experience with FSNT helped me unlock my potential and realize that despite the hurdles, I must continue to fight for a better, more equal society.’
‘My motto is, do not go where the path leads but instead go where there is a new path and leave a trail.’
The Female Students Network Trust was awarded the first edition of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2016 for its work on empowering tertiary education female students through leadership development and mentorship programmes in Zimbabwe.
The Prize 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.