Support group meeting. My second last. Me and David I , my “hanjadzi” – little brother, were working with approximately 30 kids aged 12-15, discussing gender issues. I got the idea a couple of weeks ago, when I was sitting on a wooden bench talking to Prisca, a 14-year-old very mature and responsible patient of ours.
“Wakaroora?” It was a couple of guys approaching us, asking for her marital status.
“Adiki!” I said, “She’s too young!”
I thought it would end there, but they approached her, touching her blouse, making kissing noises and gestures. She expressed her displeasure, while laughing embarrassedly. The guys weren’t deterred. When I exited the clinic I stopped and talked to them.
“It’s not good,” I said. “You shouldn’t harass girls like that.”
But it made me think. How much have the girls been empowered to mark their borders?
On the support group day we had prepared statements about gender. The adolescents could choose between standing in the agreeing corner, the disagreeing corner or the “neither nor” corner
“Boys are smarter than girls.”
Almost all of the boys were standing in the agreeing corner, while the girls placed themselves in the disagreeing corner (saying girls were smarter than boys) and only three boys were standing in the “neither nor”.
“Hmm, maybe this wasn’t such a good question,” I thought to myself. “I’ve just created discord.” But the discussion was interesting. The girls were saying that girls were doing better in school, while the boys were saying that boys did better on the working market.
“Why is that?” I asked, hoping to problematize the issue. One boy was saying that girls were weaker, once they encountered resistance they would go into commercial sex work.
“The guys buying commercial sex are equally weak,” one guy was arguing in the “neither nor” group.
Chipo, a very clever and precocious 12 year old girl, said that guys are of no use, they just drink and play and make women pregnant.
“Maybe this leads us to our second question,” I said. “Who is the most important parent – the mother or the father?”
Some were saying that the father was the most important, as he was paying for the school fees, while others said the mother was the most important as many fathers tend to abandon their children.
“Can’t we see it as a body?” David, my hanjadzi, suggested. “We can’t live with only a heart, as well as we can’t live with only a brain.”
“In that case the mother is the brain,” Chipo said, boldy as always.
We ended the exercise by doing a role play about sexual harassment. The girls got to practice saying no forcefully, and we all did a song and dance called “usabata” – don’t touch – crossing our arms against our chest, our pelvis, our butt and our mouth. It’s a very powerful message, and when we asked the kids what they had learnt, most of them commented on that.
“What do you want to discuss next time?” David asked.
“Life skills,” they said.
I’m so sorry I’m going to miss that – I’ll be on vacation…