Tanzanian Teenage Mothers..Poor..Uneducated..Marginalised..Left behind.
Hello..its me..AGAIN..Fancy Octopus..mmmppff..Anyways, all has been a tad bit quite I would say in Tanzanian headlines of late. Which is a good thing, we are excited about a new railway line..am excited. Kigali here we come.
So, for those who follow me on various platforms, you will have seen that I have embarked in what many are calling mission impossible, which is building a vocational school for adolescent mothers, “Mamaendeleo Vocational Academy”. I blame most of it on the paranoia,(not even entirely sure induced by who..as if) but seriously though, the self censorship that has become so prominent in Tanzania is so serious, it can waver you should you not be so stubborn.
Sometime in 2017, it was reaffirmed that Tanzania has no place for adolescent mothers in the beloved “free education system”. Re-entry is banned for teenage/adolescent mothers..yes..they are actually expelled from schools once they fall pregnant. We were told,if I remember correctly the goal is to bring reforms and ensure education for all, and we will not pay for someone who will go and get pregnant. We want girls to concentrate on their education, and should they fall pregnant, they should be shunned..never to rejoin the prestigious free government education circle.
This by the way was just a re-affirmation of what was already in place for years, dating back to 1960's, something that organisations such as TGNP, HAKIELIMU have been campaigning against…because teenage mother or not, education is a girl child’s right. And please don’t remind me of the 2015 pledge during campaigns..I..as they..have no recollection.
I appreciate the efforts of all the gender and girl child activists and organisations that came together and strongly condemned this statement. One that was responded to by ‘US’ being told, that if we want..we take them to vocational school or build them one. See, many of us pay attention..and that my dear friends stuck..I thought about it..and pondered..and thought and pondered…and tried to speak to a few people about it where I met so many ‘OMG, what are you thinking’ and ‘Are you out of your mind, he doesn’t want that,he will never allow you’…that self censorship that most are hoping to be infectious kind of bounced off me at this particular point.
Kudos to the coalition that was formed thereafter and the major campaign that trended that I and a few thousand Tanzanians chimed in #ArudiShule. And yes, this is a constitutional right denied, and we can take this to the streets and demand what is rightfully hers, this girl child. But unfortunately I don’t think that in the current climate this will get us where we want as fast and quite appropriately as we want and would hope for.
Now indulge me here…I believe in advocacy and push back…when there is light at the end of the tunnel..but my friends..sho..this one be stubborn neh…and somewhat very patriarchal I can sense..and senses have always been wrong by the way…(yes it did rub in a bit..lol). I want solutions…I want to see an alternative while we continue with our ‘stance against’ and keep pushing for a change of law. I want practicality in the now now.
It has been reported that more than 55,000 girls have dropped out of school in the past decade in Tanzania, due to teenage pregnancies. 21% of girls aged 15–19 have given birth.
According to the TDHS Teenage pregnancy prevalence has increased from 23% in 2010 to 27% in 2016.
Now most of the reports cite different but very common cross cutting factors that have led to this plight…this absolute denial of society on girl child rights. The very common, at least in the reports that I have read have been..Uno..Poverty… Dos..Forced Marriages…some due to poverty..some due to cultural norms/traditions.. Tres. illiteracy..But I say..they are all cross cutting and have a high level of dependency on one another in too many a cases.
When we re-affirmed this law that dates back all the way to the 1960s..we generalised all adolescent girls who got pregnant. All girls who fell pregnant, just were irresponsible adolescents.
All girls who fell pregnant did it consciously, with enough sex education and sustained livelihoods and it was just an act of rebellion. No, none of them were raped..No..none of them were forced into early marriages. No, GOD Forbid, we are a nation that does not entertain rapists. HA!
Its 30 years in prison for impregnating a minor, and yes to get that man who got you pregnant, we will take you to the police..remand you interrogate you...oh yes..seriously, we have done it. UNACCEPTABLE! NO! NO! NO! This is just wrong. In so many levels.
Anyways, back to this school now. So the not so crazy idea came about when I actually was trying to find out fees for VETA, and how many branches it had, youth outreach in terms of skills development, a report I was doing for the upcoming Launch Pad’s Entrepreneurial and Employability Skills Development Conference
For the benefit of the naysayers lets address one group in this generalized group..the sexually assaulted and the ones forced into early marriages..This adolescent mother, this specific adolescent mother was expelled right… Lets assume she comes from the majority of Tanzanians living under 3$ a day, after expulsion and delivery..she cannot go back to school. She has gone through one of the most trying experiences..YES PREGNANCY..and unless you are a man or woman who has not gone through pregnancy I urge you to hiss loudly on this one…Lets put aside the challenges of motherhood and how unprepared this adolescent mother is..and how in many cases she cannot even afford to care for the newborn…She cannot afford to go to the suggested VETA..because oh wait..they don’t even have a branch where she lives..okay there is one a few hundred kilometres near by, but does she have the fees? End of the line? For many of them..Clearly thats it..for her dreams..her aspirations..her goals..all this not self induced..embraced in the best way possible. But why should we leave them behind?
55,000 girls already left behind, 55,000 of what could have been the much needed human capital we need for our Tanzania ya Viwanda. 55,000 who could have Entrepreneurs/Intrapreneurs/Techpreneurs/Agripreneurs the list goes on..55,000 who could have contributed to the economy in various ways and bridged the inequality that dominates our country. 55,000 girls who not all can afford to provide nutritious food for their newborns. 55,000 girls who perhaps not even all had a safe delivery because they did not have access to health care. 55,000 newborns or less brought into the vicious cycle of poverty. We cannot afford to leave anyone else behind. We cannot have women empowerment and raise an army of future female leaders if we don’t do something about this group NOW.
This school, I am praying will not only be a safe haven as I envision it..but really that true definition of a second chance to this adolescent mother. An environment where she will not be stigmatised..she will not be forced into a marriage..an environment where she can safely get counselled and prepared for motherhood although she wasn’t ready and she didn’t want it. They are children. The girl child having a girl child..the vision that comes to my mind is just excruciating. All I know is I have the land..the human capital..and a whole lot of conviction telling me I have to do something and if this is my purpose so help me GOD.
Ideally, the second chance for these girls will also be providing them with tutoring programs and encouraging and enrolling them to finish their education by sitting for their final exams as private candidates. Thanks to Mabala the Farmer who was very firm on this addition by saying while we build the school we can start mobilising volunteer tutoring boot camps for adolescent mothers who want to sit as private candidates. Long term Mamaendeleo aims to additionally train these girls through a hybrid curriculum that would encompass academia, vocational and life skills.
Its a lot of work, but we are determined. We have started with site visits and are doing the building plans..priority is a water well first. As I continue to raise funds for this school through the gofund me campaign I am also keen on working with other stakeholders and support more efforts into more age appropriate sex education in primary and secondary schools.
I just found out of New Life Foundation and an initiative under UNESCO that have used the same approach and supported empowerment and safe environments for adolescent mothers. We also have Agape Open Knowledge School based in Shinyanga who are very much what Mamaendeleo would like to be like.
More awareness and sensitisation against cultural practices that use the girl child as a source of income and economic means in areas with high cases of teenage pregnancies. More support to Msichana Initiative in their appeal against Early Marriages Act, and push for the legal age to be 18.
Let us not forget however that this is all embodied in the true essence of empowerment..in this case..economic..education. For us…Tanzania.. to be the nation we would like to see like as beautifully portrayed in beautiful documents like the FYDPII we need to empower our communities with sustainable livelihoods. Education is a gateway to empowerment, before we go and deny this right, please let us remind ourselves no nation has made strides by leaving the MAJORITY behind.