In celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, Tanzania joins everyone
who believes that girls should experience happy childhoods, free of violence and discrimination.
This year in Tanzania, the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children along with the United Nations have declared the focus to be on ‘Girl Power’ – the power of girls to contribute to national progress and help transform our world. Gender equality is among the 17 Global Goals endorsed last month by the United Nations General Assembly as part of the Year 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The Global Goals will give Tanzania and all other United Nations member states the opportunity to commit to ending conditions of poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination – towards realizing our vision of a world where there is dignity for all, including girls.
Great progress has been achieved in Tanzania to improve the status of children. Still however, many girls and young women face undue threats to their well-being. Girls are affected by unwanted pregnancies which contribute to the nation’s high rate of mothers dying in childbirth, and by harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. Girls may be discriminated against in the workforce. And too often, girls suffer from sexual and gender-based violence in the very places where they should be protected – in their homes, schools or workplaces, in their neighborhoods and even at school and in sports scenes.
How can we, as a community, better support and encourage girls, so that they are aware of and claim their rights, and use their power to transform their future? One way is by opening the lines of communication and becoming advocates for the laws and policies that make a difference for girls and young women. Another big factor that activates ‘Girl Power’ is education. The relationship between girls’ education and a good future is well established.
Adolescent girls in Tanzania have tremendous potential. They will from part of the workforce to contribute to the sustainable growth of the economy. For that potential to become a reality, society must commit to making certain critical investments – high quality education, skills training, access to technology and other learning initiatives – which will prepare girls for healthy lives, social participation, and economic and leadership contributions. In the run-up to the 2015 general election, we urge democratically elected representatives to listen to girls’ voices and commit to act to help improve their lives. Adolescents will rise to become the voters and leaders of tomorrow, making it crucial to engage them fully in understanding better the issues that will have an impact on their future.
A girl growing up needs someone to trust that she can confide in and also someone who can listen to her express her hopes and dreams, while providing sound guidance that will ensure they reach their full potential. Traditionally, this would be her mother; yet any interested adult can contribute their caring and advice. Fathers especially, can rally behind their daughters and teach them to expect nothing less than full respect and equal rights. Relatives and neighbors too, can support girls to prevent them falling victim to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Getting accurate, timely and appropriate information is important for girls. With the right information, they will be able to make good choices. Both girls and boys need to understand their changing bodies to appreciate how to protect their health. This includes providing girls (and their parents and caretakers) with information about health and nutrition suitable to the adolescent years, including the facts about sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Many girls, both in rural and urban areas, do not have access to correct information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, nor do they have access to information about protection, including avoiding early sexual activity and the use of contraceptives for family planning. This vital knowledge can prevent girls from being led into motherhood at a tender age. Let’s try to bridge the gap of girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy and ensure that all girls who become pregnant or married before completing their education shall have the opportunity to continue with their education, in recognition of the importance of investing in adolescent girls’ empowerment and rights.
Over the years, the United Nations agencies in Tanzania have supported the Government and people in communities across the country to ensure that girl children receive proper care and services, and have their educational needs met. Jointly, we are assisting efforts to prevent child marriage and to provide outreach services for children and youth. We partner with the responsible Ministries of Government to develop policies and guidelines on adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
For example, to strengthen protective systems, police are receiving training in cooperation with UNFPA and UNWomen, to offer an effective response when young women and girls confront violence. UNICEF and WHO help communities to access good health, better education, clean water and sanitation. UNESCO is providing alternative learning opportunities to young mothers forced out of school after pregnancy or early marriage, and supporting schoolgirls at risk of dropping out through empowerment activities designed help them achieve their educational aspirations. The UN encourages dialogue among elders and youth. This is raising awareness about the rights of women and girls. Girls in Kahama are producing their own radio programmes to voice their concerns. We also are working with communities in places like Mara to aid girls to keep their culture, while undergoing safe alternative rites of passage instead of female genital mutilation.
By joining hands, all of us – fathers, mothers, aunties, uncles, teachers, religious leaders, policy setters and decision-makers – can mark the new era of the Global Goals by taking good decisions that will help to change the fate of girls in Tanzania. Providing girls with vital information about their rights and responsibilities is an important step in this direction.
Now is the time to break the silence and talk to our daughters – to help them activate their ‘Girl Power’ and soar above the clouds.