Girls Not Brides

Hi there!

It’s a beautiful morning here on the Zambezi River, just above Victoria Falls where we are staying for two days. We’ve already seen wild elephants outside the gate of our lodge and I’m sitting just across from crocodile and hippo territory. It’s spectacular.

We rode in yesterday after two long but beautiful days riding through Zambia from North to South. Apart from traffic cops who do like to add to the local coffers [though we were mostly successful at charming them out of fining us], we have had a fabulous time in this wonderful country. It’s my first visit here and I already know I want to come back.

We rode past beautiful vistas and through mountain passes, though at one stage we did have to ride 80km through a forest fire. It was already in the 30’s in the shade and the heat from the fire semi baked us.

We were down to Tee Shirts and still dehydrated, but the swooping valleys and forested heights we rode through were a massive highlight of the trip. The bikes ate up the brand new banked tarmac and it felt like we were having a summers track day on a Formula One circuit, sunburn and all. Brilliant!

Today is a rest day and we just took a thrilling helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, including a G Force filled, Star Wars like run down the canyon over the rapids. I think R2D2 with a British accent was at the controls and I’m sure Darth Vader was chasing us. As good as they are, it made the bikes seem pedestrian. Ummm.... Helen, any chance of getting....okay, never mind.

Zambia is rich in ways other than landscape and wildlife. Without exception, the people have been incredibly open and friendly, waving and shouting greetings. We have had so many people stop and welcome us to the country and as one friendly guy at a gas station said, “Welcome to peaceful Zambia. Yes, yes, we like to talk, not to fight!”

As a country, they are also trying hard to end a number of problematic practices that have had major repercussions, especially for girls.  Child marriage is a particular issue and as Girlsnotbrides puts it:

“Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 31% of women aged 20-24 years married by the age of 18. The rates of child marriage vary from one region to another, and are as high as 60% in the country’s Eastern Region, and as low as 28% in the capital of Lusaka....It may even be more prevalent than we think, as the birth registration rate of 14% makes it difficult to tell the exact age of millions of girls.

Child marriage in Zambia is driven by traditional practices and beliefs, and the low social status assigned to women and girls. Initiation ceremonies for girls who reach puberty prepare them for marriage and gender responsibilities as defined by culture. Cultural practices such as polygamy also add to the problem, as young girls are married off to older men who are respected in their communities.

Poverty also exacerbates child marriage. Over 60.5% of the population live below the poverty line, and families see child marriage as an opportunity to benefit financially from the bride price they receive for their daughter.

Finally, girls’ lack of access to education contributes to the likelihood of child marriage. UNFPA found that 65% of women aged 20-24 with no education were married or in union by the age of 18, compared to only 17% of women with secondary education or more.”

Although 21 is the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls,  they can marry here at 16 with parental consent. However there is a customary legal system that allows girls to be married as soon as they have reached puberty, which causes huge problems for young girls.

Zambia is trying to combat this and as a proud Canadian Brit, I am glad to say that in 2013 Zambia co-sponsored with Canada the first UN General Assembly resolution on child, early and forced marriage. The two countries co-sponsored another resolution on the issue at the UN General Assembly’s 69th session in 2014.

Zambia has also adopted a five-year national action plan to end child marriage that works through an with the customary local leaders. Hence the sign we passed yesterday:

Yet again it shows me that education is the key to changing so much, especially for girls who suffer in ways that are invisible to those of us from a privileged background, which includes imost of us reading this post, whether we realise it or not. On this trip I have been constantly reminded about the fact that it is one of the  biggest drivers to ending poverty and teaching values that can change the way we view each other and indeed, the world. Education truly changes everything. I’m proud of the work that Wellspring does in Rwanda but once again, I realize we need to do so much more and I’m inspired to push further on a journey that makes the Kigali2Joburg ride pale into insignificance. I hope you’ll come along for that ride as well.

See you in Botswana!

[You can help Wellspring in our work of providing a quality education for hundreds of thousands of young children by sponsoring the Kigali2joburg ride here].