My first visit since arriving in Zambia was to a UK-funded adolescent girls empowerment programme in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the capital, Lusaka. This programme is supporting more than 1,500 of the most vulnerable girls, providing safe spaces and mentoring to help build their confidence and life skills.
The girls I met told me they were learning about their rights as women. One 16 year old girl said she now felt more confident to say no to unwanted approaches from boys. Another said the girls now understood that if a spouse or boyfriend attacked his partner, she had the right to go to the police. This is a much-needed message in a country where 63% of women aged 15-24 report wife-beating to be justified under certain conditions.
Perhaps most inspiring are the girls’ hopes for the future. They are encouraged to dream big. When I asked the girls what they wanted to do in life, hands shot up around the room. The wanted to be doctors, lawyers, journalists, nurses, teachers – one even said President of Zambia, to much applause.
Girls like these will negotiate greater security and opportunity for women in Zambia. But they will also need role models and wider support if they are to achieve their ambitious goals – an issue I have since been discussing with key Zambian Ministers.
This programme will reach 10,000 girls over the next two years, hopefully unleashing a powerful ‘girl effect’ that will challenge social norms and practices of violence and discrimination against women in Zambia.