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Giving girls in Tanzania a today and tomorrow

Glory* didn’t attend secondary school; she became pregnant at the age of 13 after completing her primary education. She says she felt worthless and her dreams for the future ‘flew away’. She wasn’t aware of any of the dangers of giving birth at such a young age, but she knew all too well about the stigma surrounding early pregnancy and that she would not be able to continue going to school.

Every day in developing countries, 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth. This amounts to 7.3 million births a year. And if all pregnancies are included, not just births, the number of adolescent pregnancies is much higher.  In Tanzania, teenage pregnancy has increased over the last decade, with nearly one in four girls becoming pregnant or giving birth to their first child by the age of 18 – with wide rural and urban and regional disparities.   Adolescent pregnancy is generally not the result of a deliberate choice – girls often have little or no say over decisions affecting their bodies and lives – and early childbirth is a consequence – as is the case for Glory – of inequalities; of peer and social pressures and a lack of access to age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights education, information and services.

Protecting and fulfilling girls' rights

UNFPA is working to address these issues in Tanzania by focusing on the protection and fulfilment of girls’ rights, including supporting and advocating for comprehensive sexuality education – in a  context where there are still taboos and barriers to discussions around  young people’s sexual and reproductive health – and expanding access to sexual and reproductive health care and information at adolescent-friendly health corners.  In Shinyanga, where Glory lives, UNFPA is supporting Adolescent Girls Clubs – which target some of the furthest behind and vulnerable adolescent girls, building their knowledge, skills, self-confidence, and social networks and supporting them to challenge existing gender inequities and realize a different tomorrow – a more equal future. 

The future that Glory and her friends – and many like them in Tanzania – are working so hard to realize is a future of equal opportunities and healthy, independent choices.

It’s been five months now since Glory was invited to join the Adolescent Girls Club in Shilela, Msalala district council, Shinyanga, by her village leader – one of five such clubs supporting 124 out-of-school girls with life skills and entrepreneurship training in the region through the UNFPA-UN Women Joint Programme funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).  Glory, who is now on a vocational training course, says that she has learnt many things at the club including that she has the right to make decisions about her body and that no one should force her into having unwanted or unprotected sex. But the most important thing she has learnt, she says, is self-worth and confidence. She now feels that she has a chance to compete as an equal with her friends who went to secondary school.

Realizing a better and more equal tomorrow

Glory – and her peers at the girls club – hope for a future where girls can pursue their goals and remain in school and be treated as equals to boys and men in the community. They are aware of the deeply-rooted social and cultural norms that could challenge their dreams, but they are optimistic. Glory says her family have changed their attitudes, particularly her father, and are now supportive of her younger sister’s ambitions to become a midwife; she hears similar encouraging stories from her friends at the girls’ clubs. They are hopeful that this change will be seen in every household in their village, and in nearby villages and in the villages next to these, and beyond.

The future that Glory and her friends – and many like them in Tanzania – are working so hard to realize is the same future that UNFPA Tanzania wants for all women and girls and young people – a future of equal opportunities and healthy, independent choices. As we move through the Decade of Action for Sustainable Development, UNFPA Tanzania will continue to put young people – adolescent girls and boys – at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and continue to support activities like Adolescent Girls Clubs that give girls like Glory the opportunity to realize their potential, as well as the confidence to speak up and speak out. 

* Name has been changed.

1. Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey 2015/16.

Amir Batenga and Esther Bayliss