Each year 12 million girls are married before their 18th birthday. Eastern and Southern Africa has the second highest prevalence of child marriage globally and is home to 55 million girls who were married during childhood, including 1.4 million girls in Zimbabwe. Influenced by harmful social and gender norms, child marriage is a complex practice that perpetuates gender inequality and discrimination, placing girls and women at a disadvantage to fully embodying their life goals, living a life free of violence and securing their rights. Child marriage and its adverse impacts on girls’ and women’s lives has garnered increased attention worldwide. However, a critical evidence gap remains on the intersection of child marriage and disability. Disabled children often face violations of their rights to education, wellbeing and health, including social stigma, discrimination and violence. Moreover, the intersection of gender- and disability-based discrimination renders disabled girls at a considerable disadvantage, increasing their risk of experiencing abuse and gender-based violence, and making it harder for them to access basic needs, services and protection. Yet, there is no clear evidence base about the specific risks that disabled girls in Zimbabwe face or what their needs are in relation to child marriage, and whether they are falling through the cracks within initiatives to respond to and end the practice. The study will address this gap by investigating the risk and protective factors which shape disabled girls’ experiences of child marriage in Zimbabwe, including support services that are required. In addition to giving visibility to the perspectives of a sub-group of girls whose voices are rarely heard in child marriage discussions, the research will enable a disabled girl-centred analysis of the key risk and protective factors linked to child marriage to underpin evidence-based policy and practice responses. The project will be guided by critical engagement with Feminist methodology (including feminist disability research) which: focuses on gender- and disability- based inequalities; values the experiences and needs of disabled girls and women; and sees research as a catalyst for patriarchal transformation and supporting women’s empowerment in the global south. Descriptive analysis of UNICEF data on child marriage and disability in Zimbabwe will precede fieldwork using qualitative participatory methods chosen in discussion with girls, positioning them as experts on their lived experiences and as stakeholders in developing contextualised solutions to the issues they face.
This project will partner with two non-governmental organisations well-versed in child marriage research and advocacy, Rozaria Memorial Trust (Zimbabwe) and the Women’s Refugee Commission (US/Global). The student will co-produce at least 2 evidence-based outputs (e.g., videos, child-friendly and accessible resources, workshops)and engage in internal and external knowledge exchange opportunities with partners and key stakeholders, including practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and government officials. The findings will promote intersectional and girl-centred approaches within child marriage programming and advocacy initiatives at community, national, regional and global levels. In addition to producing the first evidence base on this topic, the study will elevate the voices of girls who are not meaningfully included within child marriage discourse through generating research that champions their representation and participation in ending the practice.