As a child, Charlene Chekenya loved, more than anything else, exploring the world around her, envisioning a better world along the way.
“I remember writing in high school a ‘book of possibilities,’” Charlene recalls.
“In it, I would jot down everything I felt was out of reach, everything others thought was impossible, but I wanted to achieve.”
Charlene, a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, went on to launch the STAND Foundation Trust for Women and Girls, achieving much of what she aspired to in high school, including making the world a better place for women and girls.
At the STAND Foundation in Zimbabwe, Charlene, herself a victim of sexual assault, is working to empower young women and girls through dialogue on women’s rights, sanitary distributions, self defense lessons, and mentorship.
“Most young women in Harare won’t speak out about abuse as it would re-traumatize them,” Charlene explains. “I want to help those women and girls regain their confidence. I want to give them a voice.”
Of the many people Charlene has worked with over the years, one young girl’s story has always stayed with her.
“This girl was in seventh grade and was about to get married off,” Charlene says, “as is the case when many girls in Zimbabwe start puberty.”
“She refused to get married, but that also meant she wouldn’t have a place to stay and no one to pay her school fees.”
The fate of the young girl, who ended up married and out of school, echoes that of many in Harare who become victims of domestic, gender-based violence (GBV), Charlene says.
To counter this, Charlene and her colleagues at the STAND Foundation are working to have discussions with key decisionmakers.
“We need to be collaborative in our outreach,” Charlene explains. “It’s only by getting the community to unite that we can expose the repercussions of GBV.”
“It’s my job to initiate those conversations and to create those platforms,” she says. “It starts with a dialogue.”
In addition to these discussions, Charlene and her colleagues are working to establish clear sexual harassment policies for schools and businesses in the country, guidelines that are currently few and far between.
“Sexual harassment is an area that has been generally ignored, especially in the workplace,” Charlene says. “We need to create a platform for women to speak out against abuse.”
One program Charlene is organizing to address this invites men to participate in dialogues about GBV and play a game of soccer.
The initiative, the Orange Soccer Games to End Violence Against Women and Girls, brings together young men from across Zimbabwe to play soccer together and to engage in talks about addressing and ending abuse.
“It’s important to get these men together to discuss GBV and what they can do to put a stop to it,” Charlene says.
Above all, she underlines the power of survivor stories to bring these issues to light and to change minds across the country.
“There is power hidden in every struggle,” Charlene says. “Survivors of GBV can make an impact, and it starts with telling their stories.”
Interested in Charlene’s work? Learn how you can take a stand against GBV on our #Africa4Her page.
Charlene Chekenya is a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow and an advocate for the economic and educational opportunities of young women and girls in rural and marginalized communities through an organization she founded, the STAND Foundation Trust for Women and Girls. She also launched the initiative Orange Soccer Games to End Violence Against Women and Girls in 10 communities as a socialization strategy, appealing to men to participate in the End Violence Against Women and Girls campaign. Charlene is also a Rotarian and a facilitator for the Voices against Violence curriculum under the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.