Halima Lila, co-founder and managing director of Hope Centre for Children, Girls and Women in Tanzania (HCCGWT) believes that it pays to invest in girls and women.
But to help girls reach their full potential, Halima says it is important to involve and engage men and this is what her organisation is striving to do. HCCGWT mainly focuses on adolescents’ health, children’s welfare, girls and women empowerment. It involves both boys and men in all it’s projects, which Halima says is instrumental in achieving the desired results.
“We believe if we want to empower girls and women, we need to bring boys and men on board to achieve this. We do projects ranging from health, education and social welfare all aimed at empowering girls and women,” says Halima.
The gender expert who is currently working with Tanzanian Training Centre for International Health, Ifakara on a project called Accessing Service Delivery in Tanzania says in all the projects that HCCGWT undertakes, they involve men and boys from the beginning to the end.
The aim, Halima says, is to make the boys and men feel as part of the change. HCCGWT’s current projects include one on the use of family planning, campaign for free menstruation pads, menstrual hygiene management, HIV/Aids and adolescents and youth sexual and reproductive health and rights.
A leaf to borrow
Halima is involved in girls and women’s issues because she wants to make change in society.
“I registered this organisation after working in South Africa with Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. I was inspired by the organisation’s work which is what motivated me to come home and register an NGO for children, girls and women.”
The South African organisation gives children, girls and women who have been abused a shelter and trains and empowers them to stand on their own feet.
“This is what we want to do here and we are planning to do so in the near future,” says Halima who is currently working towards achieving her goal alongside partners who also deal with gender-based violence victims.
Shelter for violence victims
“I am not sure if we have a shelter in Tanzania which does this. It upsets me when someone goes to the police station to report an abuse for them to later go back home to their abuser while the police investigates the matter,” says Halima.
As they wait to have the shelter in place, currently, when HCCGWT receives an abuse case, they help the victim report the matter to the police and follow it up until justice is done.
“We help the victims with all the necessary procedures like taking them to the hospital, the police station, engaging a lawyer and offering counselling when needed,” says Halima.
According to the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey, about 10% of women between the ages of 15-49 reported that their first sexual intercourse was forced and 48% of married women reported experiencing sexual violence.
Halima says some of these cases go unreported while the victims suffer silently. Sometimes when they are reported, the perpetrators are never taken to task and in other instances, parents settle matters among themselves to avoid shame (in rape cases).
The victim’s psychological fate is never taken into consideration. She says some women who experience abuse in their marriages suffer silently too.
With empowerment, Halima believes women and children will be able to speak up and seek help after abuse.
HCCGWT also deals with HIV/Aids matters, especially among young people who are at high risk of infection.
“We conducted a study in Dar es Salaam schools where the findings were shocking. Some students were engaging in anal sex believing it was the best way to avoid HIV infection.
In the study that involved 1,000 female and 700 male pupils andstudents, the majority admitted to engaging in unprotected sex, mostly with adults. Some participants said they had multiple partners and thought doing so was cool.
Let’s talk about sex
Halima advises parents to change and talk to their children about sexuality and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
“Tanzanians are still too conservative, they find it a taboo to talk about sex. Talking about sex is still a big challenge to many people, especially parents and teachers. That’s why teenagers are making wrong choices because nobody is there to give them the right information.”
Out of desperation, the young ones turn to their mobile phones, internet cafes and their friends for information about sexuality.
When Halima is invited at graduations to speak to students, she usually tells parents and teachers that it’s time they sat down and talked to “our children about sex, for if we don’t, they will get wrong information from other sources. We know that teenagers and youth are having sex. It’s better to give them the right information.”
Tell them the importance of waiting, that nothing is wrong with waiting and that if they can’t wait they should protect themselves. We need to tell them how.
Halima calls upon parents to get involved in their teenagers’ lives. They have to be closer to them so their children will be free to tell them about their fears and things affecting them.
“Parents today are closer to their mobile phones, laptops and TV’s than they are to their children.”
She advises young people to always share their worries and other life issues with their parents, guardians or teachers. Halima urges teachers to also be close to their students.
“Don’t be too judgemental when a child turns to you for help. When they do so, it means they trust and expect you to help them. You should always give them a shoulder to lean on. Treat them like your own children, respect them and give them proper advice or information and if you can’t, consult someone who can,” Halima says.
As for the government, Halima says it needs to do more on raising awareness about HIV/Aids.
“People need to be reminded that HIV/Aids is still there. They need more education on how to protect themselves. We know that girls are getting infected more than boys every day. Let’s find out what we are not doing right and how we can fix this by committing ourselves and working with different stakeholders including adolescents and youth. We should also give access to care and treatment to those already living with Aids.”
According to Halima, new HIV infections show we are not doing enough yet. She notes that global funding for HIV/Aids has been declining over the years and calls upon reversal of the trend. She calls upon government to increase its budget towards HIV/Aids funding, especially on prevention.