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In many developing countries, girls’ safe spaces have emerged as a key strategy for the protection and empowerment of adolescent girls.

In Zambia, over 550 safe spaces have been established through the “UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme on Ending Child Marriage” supported by UKaid, European Union, Canada and the Netherlands. Implemented by the Young Women’s Christian Association of Zambia (YWCA), the safe spaces are aimed at equipping girls affected and at risk of child marriage with life skills that can enable them resist child marriage, including associated risks for HIV, teenage pregnancy and school drop-out, among others.

Eighteen-year-old Alida, a grade twelve learner at a boarding school in Lusaka, is among more than 15,000 adolescent girls who have benefitted from the safe spaces programme in Lusaka, Eastern, Luapula, Western and North Western Provinces.

Originally from a remote village in Luangwa District, Alida is using the skills she has acquired through the safe space to transform the lives of other marginalized girls in her village.

“I joined the safe space in Kalikiliki community in 2017 when I came to boarding school in Lusaka. Every week, our mentor takes us through various topics such as building self-esteem and confidence; setting future goals; gender-based violence; child marriage; HIV and AIDS; as well as other adolescent health related issues. The safe space has taught me the value of education and encouraged me to make a positive contribution in my village. During school holidays, I go back home to my village and conduct reading lessons for my friends who do not go to school, as well as tuition for girls in grade 6 and 8, to help them prepare for exams”.

Today, Zambia joins the rest of the world in commemorating the 2018 International Women’s Day under the theme “Time is now: Urban and rural activists transforming women's lives”.  Alida is an inspiring example of Zambia’s next generation of empowered women who are not only making a difference in the lives of marginalized adolescent girls, but also illustrate the potential of adolescent girls in leading key actions that ensure no one is left behind in Zambia’s development aspirations.

“Right now, I am happy to say that I am the only girl in my village who has reached Grade 12. All my female friends back home are either married or have children, but I have stood my ground in challenging pressure from neighbours and some relatives in my village asking me why I am not yet married when all my peers have their own homes. When I grow up, I want to become a specialist in the field of agriculture, to help poor people in rural areas such as mine earn a living through agriculture” says Alida.