Plan International activist Mary Taedzerwa, a Zimbabwean former child bride, was awarded the prestigious first Africa Reimagined award for public advocacy on child marriage at the Annual MTV Music Awards, held in South Africa on 22 October 2016. The event was also graced by world-famous musicians such as Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Hugh Masekela.
Africa Reimagined is a new category recently introduced at the MTV Music Awards honouring outstanding young people who are driving positive change in their communities.
This year, the award recognised young women who are speaking up on gender inequality and abuse of women and girls. Mary won this award along with Vivian Onano, a Kenyan youth activist and member of UN Women.
Real heroes are young girls
The award is a dream come true for Mary, but she doesn’t feel like a hero yet. She believes the real heroes are the young girls in her community who are brave enough to speak up when forced into marriage before they are ready.
Mary wants to make sure that all young brides can still have a good life and continue their education. And that girls who are not married yet are taught that marrying young is not a good life choice.
”This award is confirmation that we are helping to change girls’ perception of marriage. I am motivated to continue telling my story of the pain I endured in my marriage as a teenager."
Mary’s story began when she was kicked out by her father after coming home late one night. She had no choice but to move in with her then-boyfriend.
Having lived in extreme poverty with her family, the thought of swapping a life of hardship for that of a wife proved enough to convince her to give up school in order to get married.
“At first, the marriage was nice and easy. My husband loved me then,” she recalls. “After a year, things changed. Suddenly there were times he [my husband] would become physically violent.”
The physical abuse continued even when Mary was pregnant. After four years of marriage and three children, she left her husband at the age of 19.
Child marriage cuts girls' education short
In Zimbabwe, early and forced marriages are illegal – yet an estimated 34% of girls will be married by the time they are 18 years old.
Speaking at the award ceremony, Angela Machonesa, Communications Manager of Plan International Zimbabwe sets out the consequences of marrying young:
“Child marriage cuts girls' education and childhood short. Girls who marry young often have limited access to contraception and get pregnant before their body is fully ready, are at higher risk of domestic violence, and have limited opportunities for making a decent living. Most of them find it difficult to disentangle themselves from such abusive relationships.”
Empowering adolescent girls
Plan International Zimbabwe, through the 18+: Ending Child Marriage programme, is empowering adolescent girls at risk of child marriage as well as former child brides.
Mary started working with Plan International Zimbabwe as part of an entrepreneurship initiative for young mothers, she now runs a profitable business buying and selling clothes and other items.
She has become a well-known child marriage activist in Epworth, an informal settlement rife with high rates of poverty that drives teenage pregnancy, child marriage and child prostitution. She actively participates in safe spaces run by Plan International Zimbabwe for young brides, pregnant teenagers and girls at risk of child marriage where she motivates them to re-enrol in school or start a small business to earn a living.
Through its global Because I am a Girl movement, Plan International promotes girls rights so that girls everywhere can learn, lead, decide and thrive. The movement mobilises and influences governments, civil society, the private sector and communities to address the barriers that prevent girls from realising their full potential.