Pushing forth girls’, young women empowerment agenda

Tuesday October 15 2019

Two girls having a discussion during the ‘Girls

Two girls having a discussion during the ‘Girls Speak Out’ forum.. PHOTOI JOHN NAMKWAHE 

By John Namkwahe

It is not unheard of in today’s society to see girls and young women be subjected to different types of inequities. The scourge that has led to an inequality of outcomes on many fronts has been the issue of exploration for many years, trying to see ways to alleviate the long-existing discrimination.

Recently, in Dar es Salaam, a group of stakeholders on social issues, particularly those affecting the girlchild and young women, met for a two-day forum titled ‘Girls Speak Out’.

The forum recognised the fact that majority of girls and young women particularly those from poor backgrounds and rural areas are affected by multiple discriminatory social and economic barriers which affect their access to education, health and employment opportunities in Tanzania.

The forum which looked to find possible solutions through social discourse was organized by the Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF) in partnership with Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE) under the support of the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

The colourful event brought together over 170 girls and young women aged 15 - 25 from Dar es Salaam, Dodoma and Mara as well as other stakeholders from organisations working on girls’ rights programmes and Universities in Tanzania. It was graced by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Tulia Ackson.

Girls Speak Out was conducted in line with this year’s International Day of the Girl, under the theme; “Girl Force: Unscripted and unstoppable” to mark the progress on the Beijing Declaration-- the most comprehensive policy agenda for the empowerment of women.

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Now, nearly 25 years later, the Declaration remains a powerful foundation for assessing progress on gender equality as it calls for a World where every girl and woman can realize all her rights, such as to live free from violence, to attend and complete school, to choose when and whom she marries, and to earn equal pay for equal work.

Delivering her speech, Dr Ackson noted that all children, irrespective of sex or age, require quality care and support from women as well as men, especially fathers--and by reducing the gender-related barriers that contribute negatively to the wellbeing and rights of the girlchild.

“Adolescent girls face a disproportionate burden of domestic work, expectations to be married, risks of early pregnancy, as well as sexual and gender-based violence,” said Dr Ackson.

Adding: “Investing in girls’ leadership, supportive networks and access to information are critical in improving the lives of girls.”

According to UNICEF reports, worldwide; girls aged 5-9 and 10-14 spend 30 per cent and 50 per cent more of their time, respectively, on household chores than boys of the same age.

In Tanzania, child marriage predominantly affects girls. Over 36 per cent of women aged 25- 49 years married before they were 18 years. Teenage pregnancy among 15-19 year-olds has increased from 23 per cent to 27 per cent between 2010 and 2016 (National Bureau of Statistics).

The CDF’s Acting Executive Director Lennyster Byalugaba said the forum had aimed to empower, motivate and strengthen girls and young women’s leadership movement and create a platform to share challenges facing girls and young women in the country and draw up recommendations to address the issues.

“Girls and young women affected by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage and early motherhood experience negative maternal health and poor education outcomes. Many are also vulnerable to domestic abuse due to their lack of power and marginalization,” said Ms Byalugaba.

DUCE’s Principal Prof Bernadetha Killian during the forum revealed that 40 per cent of the enrolled students at the University are female, this further raises optimism that the students would be likely prospects for the nation in the future.

The Forum learned that despite the fact that the Tanzanian government has ratified a number of regional and international human rights treaties pertaining to gender equality and rights including child marriage, FGM and domestic violence, there are a number of discriminatory laws and policies that adversely affect girls and young women.

The Forum also featured-in a panel session whereby panelists discuss various issues pertaining to leadership and gender equality, to mention but a few. A young woman, Doreen Kalugira during the discussion criticized the Law of Marriage Act (1971), saying it allows girls to be married as young as age 14 years. She further criticized the policy which prohibits pregnant girls from basic education and permanently bans child mothers from re-entry into formal education.

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