MEET THE AUTHOR: How education can help empower the girl child

Tuesday January 15 2019

Author Nahida Esmail holds the mic for a female student while she reads at a literary event. PHOTO I COURTESY

Nahida Esmail, a Tanzanian author, recently attended the African Writers Conference themed reimagining African Literature: New Voices, New Narratives in the fight for the Girl Child.

Nahida is an awarding winning children’s author with 22 books published.

She won the Tanzanian Women’s Achievement Award for the education category in 2015. At the conference she was the keynote speaker, she talked about the issues surrounding the girl child and how girls in Africa need more role models and support. She shares her experince from the conference.

1. Tell us a little about the conference

I was invited to the conference by the African Writers Development Trust in Abuja, Nigeria (West Africa). The aim of the event was to bring together writers of African descent to a common platform, building bridges for the transfer of values, engaging a conversation on how to advance literature and literary works as well as other collectively shared interests on the African continent.

Four writers of African descent won the African Writers Award (AWA), a first of its kind in the flash fiction category, poetry, short story and children’s literature, which I was a judge for. I also had the honor to receive a Special Prize in recognition for my efforts towards the growth and development of the African Literary Space.


2. What is the importance of the conference in connection to your career?

Exposure as a writer is something that can take us a long way, especially in the context of being African and promoted by Africans.

It’s a gathering of literary minds across Africa with an opportunity to discuss the future of the African writer, reader and the state of African Literature.

African Writers Development Trust is a non-profit body, set up to advance the course of, and empower writers of African descent by providing support towards the development of the African literary space. We need more of such conferences to promote writing and support African writers.

3. What are topics discussed at the conference that are relevant to Tanzanian youth/girls?

Girls and women make up nearly half of the world’s population and are still discriminated because of their gender. We need to portray women in roles other than wives and daughters. Women can be presidents, queens, scientists, warriors, astronauts or anything they want to be. Success is not gender biased. For example, Tanzania lacks qualified female teachers. The few highly qualified teachers need to set a good example so the young girls can aspire towards a teaching job.

We also need to create an opportunity where more girls can complete their education and aim for higher positions. One of the things discussed at the conference is how women should support one another and if they hear of an achievement attained, give them a ‘shout out’, share it on the media and boost their morale by complimenting them. Look at other women’s success as your own.

4. In Tanzania what are the challenges affecting the girl child that need to be addressed?

Education is key. Parents need to understand that educating the girl child is a positive thing for the family and the society as a whole. However, statistics show that more girls around the world do not get their basic education.

Two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female. (2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report; UNESCO Institute for Statistics database).130 million girls around the world do not attend classes.

5. Who are the role models for a girl child specifically in Tanzania?

Good, strong role models are very important for the girl child as they have the power to positively transform. Despite all the challenges faced, there are women who have succeeded beyond expectation. In Kenya our next door neighbor we have, Wangari Maathai 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Further north we have Sahle-Work Zewde - Ethiopia’s first female president.

Here in Tanzania, we have Samia Hassan, first-ever female Vice-President. Susan Mashibe learnt to fly at the age of 19 and went on to become the first woman in Tanzania to hold both a FAA certified commercial pilot and an aircraft maintenance engineering qualification. Julie Makani a Tanzanian medical researcher received the Royal Society Pfizer Award in 2011 for her work with sickle cell disease.

Caroline Ndosi is a major media personality. Rebeca Gyumi – a lawyer by profession and Founder & Executive Director of Msichana Initiative, which aims to empower a girl child through education, and address key challenges which limit girl’s right to education. We need more women in powerful positions as role models for the girl child.

6. What projects, research are you working on now?

I am working on a project on graded readers for school children. I am also writing a sequel to my ‘Detectives of Shangani’ story. Beyond that I will continue with my book writing. As part of the organizing team of African Writers Development Trust we are busy organizing the next conference which will be held in Nairobi in September 2019.