For five years, Rahma Juma, a form 3 student at the Benjamin W Mkapa High School felt there was no one she could trust or even talk to about her peer problems. She was not only shy to communicate her issues but also was afraid of being condemned by the society or family. In fact, she was among the many youth of Tanzania who lived in a created social set-up of fear, taboos and shame.
It was until this year, the 16-year-old Rahma realised that she didn’t want to be a victim of her problems, and pushed herself to curb her difficulties and for her fellow school-mates.
Rahma’s transformation was sparked by a close friend of hers. In an interview with Success, she narrates, “There was a friend of mine who was hard-working though she was not performing well. But she wanted to complete her ordinary levels, in order to further her dreams. Unfortunately, she is married now. Her parents took her failure as the end of it, and instead of encouraging her, she was discouraged from schooling and hence was forced to get married.”
Rahma witnessed a lot of problems with her now married friend and the thought of unable to help her friend in understanding her sexual and reproductive health rights daunted her. “This incident was an eye-opener and from thereon I knew I wanted to not only change my life but also help others in understanding their rights,” Rahma adds.
The champions of change
Rahma is known as the ‘champion’ of one of her school club called B-Galaxy, a name that means a group of students with a new mind-set. “The club was formed early last year to teach students on sexual and reproductive health rights where peer issues such as multi sexual relationships, harassment, abortion, safe sex and many others are discussed and taught,” explains Mussa Awadhi, a mathematics and computer teacher and the coordinator of the club at the Benjamin W Mkapa High School.
Joel Luande, the second master of Benjam W Mkapa high school was prompted by the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) and found it necessary to have sex education program in his school. “The school sent few teachers for training, and upon return the teachers came with an inspiring feedback. Instead of mainstreaming it as a subject in class, I thought it was more effective to be introduced as a club, because students are at ease during the club hour and they are in a different environment from a classroom,” he says.
He adds that the students are young adults and it is the school’s responsibility to prepare them for the future. Moreover, he says the students deserve to know their rights and it is important nurture them to be self-conscious and self-confident.
The members of club which sums to 25 are trained by teachers and experts from Non-Government Organisations on how to exercise their sexual and reproductive health rights. Dubbed as champions of the club, they address issues and educate their fellow students. “We believe that student-student interaction is more effective than student-teacher interaction. The students are more open to discuss several issues, the champions then come to us for guidance in case the subject is severe. Moreover, it gets difficult for two teachers to encompass 2,000 students of this school in imparting sex and peer education,” Mr Awadhi adds.
One of the challenges that Mr Awadhi revealed is the misuse of technology by the students in engaging their time on porn websites that aren’t limited to age or law in Tanzania. He says, “The parents neither have control on this behaviour nor communicate with their child on sex education. There is an existing stereotype that by talking about safe sex, they are creating issues rather than solving. A lot of students go to websites, learn things and see things.”
Why sex education matters
Initiatives like the club B-galaxy doesn’t just impart the dos and don’ts but it becomes a gateway for students to bring up an issue, get counselling and get correct guidance. Mr Awadhi narrates, “Early pregnancy is common and is not only a problem of this school but it is a problem of today’s youth of Tanzania. For instance if a girl gets pregnant during her schooling days, the school takes the action of suspending her, while the boy who impregnated her gets to finish his school, a sad reality that all schools abide by. I’ve also come to realise that girls use abrasive methods to abort, which isn’t right. I’ve noticed that when we began to communicate and counsel to the girls and boys about peer problems; it created a visible difference.”
According to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS) and Malaria Indicator Survey 2015-2016 issued by the National Bureau of Statistics and Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, teenage pregnancy is on the rise at 27 per cent. This means, one in four women age 15-19 have begun childbearing. This figure is slightly higher than that reported in the 2010 TDHS which was at 23 per cent.
The proportion of teenagers who have begun childbearing rises rapidly with age, from 4 per cent at age 15 to 57 per cent at age 19. It was also noted that the teenagers with no education and those in the lowest wealth quintile tend to start childbearing earlier than other teenagers. The percentage of teenagers who have begun childbearing is higher among rural women (32 per cent) than urban women (19 per cent).
Sima Bateyunga, a Tanzanian sociologist is of the belief that in order to curb teenage pregnancies, sex education at schools is important so that the girls can equally have a good future. She tells Success, “What is taught in clubs such as B-galaxy or any other sex education programs at the school are issues such as effects of getting pregnant at an early age. It is taught and talked about with examples. The youth, especially the girls are taught about making informed decisions about their own body and take control in decision making. They aren’t just taught do’s and don’ts but are also imparted life skills to give them confidence to speak up, say ‘no’ and deal with boys and men who approach them for sexual favours. Such education goes beyond the school curriculum in helping them build a good future.”
Rahma is one of the many girls of Tanzania today who sets a perfect example of the one who has championed life skills and knowledge. “I want to be part of a change. I talk about things such as safe sex, early pregnancy, dealing with separation of parents, sexual and reproductive health rights, HIV and Aids, menstruation, peer pressure from friends and families and basically measures to save my fellow girls from ruining their future,” Rahma on what she imparts to her fellow students.
18-year-old Ramadhani Juma Amani, Rahma’s school mate joined the club because he witnessed that the communication gap between children and parents was vast. He narrates to Success, “When I used to stay in Mbagala, there was a girl who started her menstruation but because of fear or shame, she was unable to communicate this to her parents. She was more comfortable talking to few friends of hers who helped her out. I realised that the gap between parents and their child can create a lot of problems. And because this is a problem of majority of the homes in Tanzania, there are disturbing issues that arise.”
Ramadhani is of the belief that if he got the education on sexual and reproductive health rights, he will be able to help and guide others.
Clubs and initiatives like B-galaxy that speak about peer problems and impart sex education have the capability to make a difference. It has the possibility to make today’s youth to curb their peer issues and early pregnancies, so believes Rahma who aspires to be a sociologist. She adds, “Bigger thoughts, bigger initiatives and bigger efforts need to be made to educate our youth. We don’t need to shy away from expressing our problems. Since Tanzania has learnt that early pregnancy is an issue, more initiatives need to be created so that students can understand their self-worth.”
Sex education in school curriculum
In Tanzania, sexuality education in schools is not provided as a standalone subject; rather it is mainstreamed in other subjects, namely Social Studies, Science, Civics and Biology. However, it is not clear how much sexuality education is covered in these subjects.
According to the research by Kitila A. Mkumbo, in a study ‘status of sexuality education in national curriculum’, the current sexuality education delivery mainly focuses on knowledge, and little attention is paid to the other aspects of sexuality education, namely skills and relationships and attitudes and values. Also, a greater part of sexuality education is covered during secondary education level, which is arguably too late given that sexuality education works effectively if it is provided early before young people reach puberty, in this case during primary education level.