Mwalimu and the International Day of the Girl Child

Sunday October 17 2021
JK Nyerer pic

President Julius Nyerere speaks at a past event. PHOTO | FILE

By Saumu Jumanne

Last Thursday, Tanzania marked Mwalimu Nyerere Day, a day that is marked as the anniversary of his death. Tanzanias use the day to honour and celebrate the life of the father of the Nation and his lifetime achievements.

Last Monday was the International Day of the Girl Child, which seeks recognition of the girls’ rights, empowerment and the unique challenges they face around the world. As we celebrate the life of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, for all the great works he did for our mother Tanzania, it’s important to recognize the women who played a great role in his life and our nation.

In the struggle for independence, one of the women played a key role in supporting Mwalimu to capture power and lead the nation. This was Bibi Titi Mohammed. In 1955 as chairperson of the ‘Umoja wa Wanawake wa Tanganyika’, a women’s wing of Tanganyika African National Union (Tanu), she mobilized over 5,000 women to join Tanu in 3 months.

As many men were hesitant to join Tanu, it was women who led the way. Mwalimu Nyerere working with Bibi Titi, helped to showcase his policy of women political empowerment and equality.

Right from the fight for independence, Bibi Titi became a fierce advocate of women’s rights in the fight for independence. On her own account, she said it was women who taught Nyerere, then a young politician with a master’s degree from Edinburgh, “how to speak Swahili and how to speak to people”.

She parted ways with Mwalimu Nyerere after the Arusha Declaration, where members of the ruling party central committee, were directed not to earn a living from rentals. She resigned as a member. At one time she was jailed for life on treason charges but Mwalimu Nyerere pardoned her after two years!

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Her political star dimmed, years later she died in South Africa, far away from the public limelight. 30 years after independence, she was recognized by the ruling party, CCM, paper as a heroine of the freedom struggle.

It was never easy for her as a girl child. History shows that her father had refused to send her to school. However, her mother took her to school after her father died. And that made all the difference, even as she played an important role in enabling Mwalimu Nyerere to fight for independence.

Not many people would have considered sending her to school. It would have been seen as a curse. The girl’s father refused to take her to school and died. But for Bibi’s mother, she was a strong woman. She defied tradition and sent her daughter to school.

As we reflect on the Day of the Girl Child, it’s good to recognize that we have come a long way in the advancement of the girls and women’s rights. In 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted worldwide to spearhead the fight for the rights of the girl child. On December 19, 2011, the UN made October 11 the International Day of the Girl Child.

Girls are not yet in the promised land but a lot of progress has been made. In Tanzania, at the national level, girls and boys have the same chance of going to school. But at family levels, we still have many families that prefer the best education and chances should be for the boys. At the workplace, mostly the girls have to prove themselves more to get promotions and all that.

We are lucky to have a woman president, Samia Suluhu Hassan. It means a lot for girl empowerment, seen a woman hold the highest post in the country. If Bibi Titi was here today, she would have cried tears of joy to see Mama Samia as president.