Girl Child Network helps girls in Zimbabwe

The voices of victims are heard with the help of Zimbabwe’s most prominent organization fighting against child sexual abuse. The Girl Child Network (GCN) is confronting the myth that having sex with a virgin can cure AIDS, one of the reasons behind the rape of young girls.

The reasoning is that the blood produced by raping a virgin will cleanse the infected person’s blood.

The GCN put on a play in attempt to dispel this myth. In the play, an HIV-positive man visits a traditional healer who advises him to have sex with a virgin in order to be cured.

The event was staged at a girl’s empowerment village in a rural area of Zimbabwe, a place where rape survivors can go for safe accommodation, counseling, and training in life-skills.

According to kubatana.net, at least 700 girls are raped in each of Zimbabwe’s 58 districts per year, giving a rough estimate of 40,000 cases of rape annually in Zimbabwe.

Tim Hanna, visiting assistant professor of Theater Studies, feels that art can greatly influence a society-including cultural practice in Zimbabwe.

“Art does its best work when it causes the spectator to question or reevaluate one’s beliefs or preconceptions,” said Hanna. “This thoughtful reflection should cause people to be less judgmental and more accepting and understanding.”

“Using words to educate doesn’t always work,” said Ashia Moultrie, a sophomore and sociology/anthropology major. “Expressing new ideas through art and theatre can be more effective because society is able to relate.”

Hanna continued, “Art can influence nationalism or culturalism in both good and bad ways. The responsibility of the artist is to present ideas without judgment.”

In Zimbabwe, young girls are discriminated against because of lack of educational opportunities, harmful traditional and cultural practices (i.e. female genital mutilation) related to areas of reproductive health, and inability to exercie their legal rights.

Edwins Gwako, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology,
feels more thorough research should be done regarding the virgin myth. “It is a very complicated and controversial issue that needs to be addressed,” said Gwako.

Traditional healers from all of the country’s provinces recently attended a meeting at the Girl’s Empowerment Village. Chiefs, a government minister and religious leaders also attended and listened as many of the girls told stories of the abuse they had suffered.

A 14-year-old girl told how she was raped by her uncle and became pregnant. Her aunt kicked her out of the house and she later had an abortion six months into her pregnancy. She has been ill ever since.

Another eight-year-old girl told how her father raped her when she was two years old. Her father died in prison after her mother, who has also died, reported the rape.

“Women in Africa have taken a lot of initiative to improve their wellbeing,” said Gwako.

All of the groups that attended the program were moved by these girls’ accounts of their abuse, but none admitted encouraging sex with virgins to cure AIDS. However, Girl Child Network director Betty Makoni told BBC she felt the meeting was “quite a step forward” in confronting the myth that virgins cure HIV.