In 2018 the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, through the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, organized a National Dialogue to address female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and teenage pregnancies.
The five regions which were visited by the five young activists and influencers, were among the targeted areas featured in the Dialogue.
In recognizing the importance of partnerships and collaboration in addressing these three vices, the Ministry invited different stakeholders including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to be part of the important dialogue.
Each region set out its key priorities and roadmap in addressing the three forms of gender based violence, as per the National Plan of Action in ending Violence Against Women and Children from 2018-2022 (NPA-VAWC).
Within this comprehensive, multilateral strategy to address all forms of gender based violence in Tanzania, stakeholders identified the distinctiveness of these practices per region or ethnic groups. Hence each of the approach adopted takes into consideration these aspects.
For instance, In Singida region, Doris Mollel our young activist, met with the organization called Empower Society Transform Lives (ESTL) which is based in the region. ESTL has several programmes that employ innovative methods, such as Kick Female Genital Mutilation out of Singida Region. In understanding the growing number of FGM victims being under one year olds, ESTL targets women, girls, traditional leaders and local midwives on addressing harmful beliefs – such as the lawalawa phenomenon – by providing factual information. They also sensitize the boys and men, and provide alternative income generating opportunities to ngaribas (women performing FGM/cutters).
One other innovative approach ESTL employs is the use of mobile phones to collect and disseminate information to the communities in Singida region. They register households in their databases and disseminate targeted messages with information appropriate to the receivers on the effects of FGM and how to address harmful myths and beliefs on FGM. They also use music and theatre to reach more people and communicate key messages in a way that more people could understand and relate to.
Diana Lukumay, visited the Health Integrated Multi-Sectoral Services (HIMS) which has programmes funded by the UNFPA, covering Arusha and Manyara regions. HIMS targets the pastoral communities in creating awareness on the health implications of FGM on the community. In realising the importance placed on the welfare of a child in the pastoral communities, HIMS emphasizes on the negative effects of FGM on the mother during child birth, as well as the implications these effects are on the baby. They also communicate on the risks of contracting or transmitting diseases such as HIV/AIDS, fistula and other infections because of performing FGM.
HIMS also provides safe shelter for girls and women at risk of FGM. The organization works with community and religious leaders to raise awareness and also communicate any threat of FGM performance in the communities.
In the previous episodes, some of the FGM survivors Diana spoke to were hosted in shelters managed by HIMS. The girls continued with their education while at the shelter house, also organized by HIMS.
Namaiyani, the former ngariba, was one of the 160 ngaribas, who were sensitized by HIMS and they agreed to lay down their blades for good, in 2018. They were trained in different skills, such as handicraft and managing small business. They were each provided a ram and ewe as a means to support their livelihoods. In turn, they are now ambassadors and sensitizers of the effects of FGM in the community.
Economic incentives are also a key driver of FGM in pastoral societies in Arusha and Manyara. Education and wealth have been associated with the practice of FGM. When women are more educated or acquire skills that provide them with opportunities to earn their livelihoods, they are less inclined to practice FGM or subject their daughters to FGM or child marriage. As FGM is a significant precursor to child marriage – with the girls who undergo FGM are immediately married off or betrothed – the two vices are closely linked with financial/economic benefits.
Organizations such as OIKOS East Africa works with other stakeholders and pastoral communities to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty, by promoting social and economic inclusion of women and girls by investing in their knowledge and skills.
Diana also visited one of the OIKOS centres supported by the European Union (EU), in Arusha and met with women who were undergoing training in the leather processing, consumer and market literacy as well as running micro community banks. They were also educated on their social rights especially on land rights, inheritance rights and gender rights. As part of the programme, more than 30 traditional women’s groups (TWG) were capacitated and encouraged to recognize the female role and rights in the society. The TWGs have been instrumental in building capacities and supporting other women within cultural settings.
Some of the women who were at the centre gave their testimonies of how economic independence gave them the strength to ensure their children went to school and their daughters were not subjected to FGM. Through the micro community banks (VICOBA and SACCOS), women met and discussed on challenges or issues they faced. They supported each other and could also provide small loans to members to address economic challenges, including providing for the education of their children.
One of the beneficiaries told Diana during the visit:
“Before I joined the centre, I depended on my husband on each and everything thing. Sometimes he could not provide for all our needs. But after I joined, I can now get money from the leather products we sell, I managed to get a loan from VICOBA to start my small vegetable garden and now I don’t have to depend on my husband on everything.
In the next episode we will see how the Association of Termination of Female Genital Mutilation (ATGM) and other stakeholders introduced the Alternative Rites of Passage in Mara region, as a means to address female genital mutilation (FGM).