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Invisible girls: Siphethangani

In Zimbabwe many girls become invisible to their government because they are forced to leave school and disappear from official records. Siphethangani is determined to go to university, despite the challenges facing her, and follow her ambitions.

Having succeeded in her secondary school exams, Siphethangani hopes to complete high school and go to university. “I love school because that’s the foundation of a good life. I hope I will get a good job and live a better life,” she says.

She and her mother struggle to pay for her school fees and accommodation which is 20km away from their home. After speaking to the head of the school, they agreed that Siphethangani’s mother would do jobs around the school to pay her fees.

Plan International Zimbabwe contributes half of her school fees but Siphethangani and her mother have to raise the rest. “I don’t like to ask for money. It is painful,” says Siphethangani’s mother.

Poverty stops girls’ education

“So many girls from poor families go into prostitution because they are desperate for money and end up falling pregnant and dropping out of school,” says Siphethangani.

Learn more about Counting the Invisible Many Zimbabwean families cannot afford to send their children to school, especially in rural areas where schools are expensive and work is scarce.

“As the social welfare system in Zimbabwe has collapsed, the number of children who go to school has fallen sharply,” says America Ndlovu, Plan International Zimbabwe Child Rights and Protection Coordinator. “Some children can access funding which families receive once education is completed. The challenge is coming up with fees in advance.”

Among girls interviewed for Plan International’s report ‘Counting the Invisible’, 81% aged between 15-19 said they had to drop out of school temporarily or permanently. Most said money was the main reason while others cited early pregnancy and early marriage.

“My friends dropped out for different reasons. Some failed their exams, others got married or pregnant. I’m aware of what’s happening with girls my age and younger, but I don’t get involved,” said Siphethangani.

Every girl must be counted

‘Counting the Invisible’ shows that girls disappear from official records when they drop out of school. This means that governments are less inclined and able to support them. “In Zimbabwe, girls’ invisibility is worsened by factors such as poverty, rural isolation and lack of economic opportunity,” says Lennart Reinius, Plan International Zimbabwe Country Director.

I hope I will get a good job and live a better life

The report also states that until all girls are counted and the realities of their lives are revealed, gender equality cannot be achieved.

Siphethangani is inspired to carry on with her education and has clear advice for other girls: “I would encourage girls to learn, to finish their education and not get carried away by what’s happening in their environment. We need to stay focused.”

Learn more about Counting the Invisible