By Dr Thomas Muyombo
Published by Merck Foundation (2020)
ANNUALY on October 11, the world celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child.
Setting aside a day to celebrate the girl child does not mean girls are not appreciated, but the day is important to remind societies of the potential of the girl child.
This year’s celebration of the girl child comes at a time when memories still linger in Zimbabweans of the sad story of 15-year-old Anna Machaya, a victim of child marriage who died while giving birth in July this year.
Machaya’s devastating story is a reflection of what is happening in many societies across the globe.
In many cases, the girl child continues to be regarded as an object that should not enjoy her right to education and a better future.
To discuss more on the importance that should be given a girl child is a book under review this week.
A product of Merck Foundation and a story by Thomas Muyombo, the book is titled Educating Rujeko.
It is a book written with the mandate of denouncing forced and child marriages.
It is a story about a girl, Rujeko who nearly lost her right to education and becoming a scientist because her father almost married her off at the age of 10.
Written with the aid of illustrations, Educating Rujeko captivates young readers to the story that emphasises on the importance of educating a girl child.
In the story, the writer highlights how socialisation contributes to gender imbalance and inequality, resulting in boys being regarded as superior than girls.
The story also points out that it is the same society that can also take part in empowering girls.
In other words, society is an institution that can make or break the future of the girl child.
The girl in the story is made to believe that in her world, gender parity does not exist.
She is even late for school doing all household chores while her brothers have more time at school.
It is through positions and roles which girls are socialised in some societies that leave them without room to participate in the development of their communities.
The writer does well in highlighting that due to socialisation, some parents believe that a girl child can be married off to ease economic hardships within the family.
“I would give you my daughter as a wife if she was old enough. I really need help.
She will grow up in marriage …No girl is ever young,” writes Muyombo.
Munhamo who is the girl’s father thinks he has made a very good decision for her daughter by giving her away aged 10.
To Munhamo, his daughter’s future and rights do not matter.
What matters is the family’s happiness.
By marrying off his daughter, Munhamo sees it as a way to end his poverty and a way to secure financial protection from his would-be son in law.
For the old businessman who had been offered the girl as a wife, age meant nothing regardless of the dangers of early pregnancy and disturbing the girl’s development.
He represents many men out there who think that with money they can buy any girl for a wife.
His thoughts are revealed when he says: “I like that! Give me your daughter and I will give you money. I don’t care if she is young.”
Educating Rujeko is an interesting book that also elucidates the plight girls face when their future is disturbed.
The writer is emphasising that girls also have dreams, wishes and desires.
It remains the duty of society to assume the responsibility of teaching girls more aspects of life that leave them with a better self esteem.
The narrator of the story who is Rujeko herself gives the readers hope when she says marriage does not take place because of help from other members of the society that include the teacher, village chief and his secretary.
“This nonsense is punishable by law. Let me hope you are all joking. Child marriage is a crime,” she says.
Educating Rujeko is also a book that shows that if members of the community come together to appreciate a girl child, they can benefit from her potential.
“The young girl went to her class, sat on her desk and wrote her name on it. She promised herself to become in the future; a scientist,” writes Muyombo.
The narrator of the story reveals that it is her own story and she is now Dr Rujeko.
Rujeko’s story is not only inspiring but reflects that even a child can participate fully in the development of her country.
As the world continues to celebrate the girl child, Educating Rujeko is a must read.
It must be in all primary school libraries.