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ZIMBABWE: New plan to get girls back to schools

Harare, 1 November 2006 (IRIN) - A joint initiative is being launched by the United Nations, Zimbabwean government and civil society to address the legacy of girls being sidelined from education in the wake of last year's mass forced removals.

The ruling ZANU-PF government said Operation Murambatsvina, a Shona word meaning 'drive out the trash', was aimed at clearing slums and flushing out criminals, but it left more than 700,000 people homeless or without a livelihood in the winter of 2005.

Research published on the operation's first anniversary by the advocacy group, Women and Aids Support Network, found that parents in the country's harsh economic environment were prioritising their son's education at the expense of their daughter's.

Cecilia Baldeh, the head of education at Unicef, the UN children's agency in Zimbabwe said, during last week's launch of the National Girls Education Strategic Plan scheduled to run until 2010 and which will also assist orphans and vulnerable children, that "girls education, especially up to secondary level yields significant benefits for households and the nation in general.

"Educated girls can protect themselves from HIV and AIDS, they can contribute to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and they can foster economic growth. As the World Bank has noted, educating girls yields a higher rate of return than almost any other investment available in the developing world."

According to a survey conducted by Unicef and several other non-governmental organisations, Zimbabwe has unacceptably high gender disparities, which has seen a greater percentage of girls dropping out of school at the primary level. Disparity was as high as 25 percent in two districts in the western province of Matabeleland North. Only one district, Mazowe in Mashonaland Central in the north has more girls in primary school because, the survey found, the majority of boys chose to work on the districts orange plantations.

"The National Girls Education Strategic Plan seeks to ensure that every child is able to enrol, complete and realise their full potential in education. The plan also aims to address emerging HIV/AIDS related and cultural challenges such as forced early marriages, abuse and economic exploitation, which
particularly harm girls," a Unicef statement said.

Since last year, Unicef has spent US$2 million supporting girls education through the review of basic education policies, establishing girl empowerment clubs and providing gender, life skills and counselling training programme for teachers.

The education ministry will, among other things, develop flexible school timetables to assist children heading households to attend school, crackdown on organisations engaged in child labour and plans to ensure that there will be a primary school within three kilometres of every community.

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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