Banning pregnant girls from school is against the laws of Tanzania

by Dinah Musindarwezo

When girls are denied the opportunity to education, it limits their chances to access other opportunities including decent employment, leadership and information and to make informed choices. Girls who drop out of school are also likely to end up in child marriages.

 

Only a few days after celebration of the Day of the Africa Child, the President of the Republic of Tanzania, Magufuli John victimises teen mothers by swearing that during his presidency no teen mothers or young mothers will be allowed to go back to school. Hearing the President’s remarks is disheartening and a disregard of the hard fought gains on women’s and girls’ rights, gender equality and empowerment, including the work done by African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)’s members in Tanzania.

The women’s movement across Africa and globally have fought hard to guarantee girls the right to quality education. In Beijing’s International Conference on women, 21 years ago, African women championed the rights of the girl child and as a result, one of the 12 Beijing Areas of Action focused on the girl child.

In addition to Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the right to education as a basic right is enshrined in several international and regional conventions and protocols, including the Convention on Ending Discrimination Against Women  (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Protocol on the Rights of the Child, Protocol of the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and Goal 4 of new international development framework – 2030 Agenda/Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) all focus on inclusive and equitable education for all.

All these conventions and protocols focus on the right of boys and girls to access quality and equitable education and put obligations on states that have ratified them to protect, fulfil and uphold this human right.

A particular focus is put on girls’ education due to their vulnerabilities as a result of structural and systematic gender inequalities. Unwanted and early pregnancies are a manifestation of such inequalities and an indication of girls’ vulnerabilities where often the blame is always put on pregnant girls rather than on those who made them pregnant or failed to put mechanisms in place to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Tanzania is a party to the above conventions and protocols and to some extent the government has taken steps towards implementing them.  For example the country has an Education Act, Law of Child Act, both aimed to protect and safeguard the rights of each child including protecting them from discrimination and providing the right to services.

President Magufuli’s remarks indicating his intention to stop girls from going to school is a contradiction to laws and policies of his own country and his government’s failure to fulfil its obligation to protect and safeguard the rights of its citizens, especially the rights of its vulnerable citizens. As  Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate and winner of the Sakharov Prize says, “The true measure of the justice of a system is the amount of protection it guarantees to the weakest”.

Magufuli’s contradictions are further exposed by the Government of Tanzania’s Guidelines on how to enable Pregnant School Girls return to school and resume their duties, adopted in 2016. These guidelines affirm the government’s commitment to reduce the high school drop outs caused by various factors including pregnancies among school girls.  4.4 percent of girls enrolled in both primary and secondary schools dropped out due to pregnancy according to Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania (BEST) in 2014.

While Magufuli takes away the right of teen mothers to choose the type of education they want when he says in his address that teen mothers should go to vocational trainings, sewing or go farm, the Tanzania Guidelines on how to enable pregnant school girls return to school and resume their duties clearly state that its goal is to provide an enabling environment for all pregnant girls to resume schooling after delivery.

Magufuli’s remark to push girls into sewing and farming is to push girls into child labour and reinforces gender stereotypes of gender roles leading to gender segregated jobs. This goes against African Union’s efforts of increasing the number of girls in Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) following recognition of low numbers of girls and women in these fields.

When he took up the presidency, President Magufuli was adamant on fighting corruption to ensure equitable development. This almost made me, and many others people, raise him to the pinnacle of favourable African leaders until his homophobic and sexist remarks started.  What he should know is that it’s impossible to achieve development without achieving gender equality as various researches have shown.  When girls are denied the opportunity to education, it limits their chances to access other opportunities including decent employment, leadership and information and to make informed choices. Girls who drop out of schools are also likely to end up in child marriages.

Africa’s women and girls are extremely irked by president Magufuli’s utterances. He was “the president to watch” for mostly the right reasons until now. As the continent galvanises towards frowning at his leadership intentions, President Magufuli can do the following to redeem himself from this recent retrogressive outburst:

  • Retract his remarks and immediately apologise to Tanzanian women and girls
  • Provide child care facilities for all teen mothers to allow them to go back to school without worrying about who will take care of their babies
  • Address stigma and discrimination towards teen mothers in schools, homes, community
  • Educate himself on the rights of girls and women and his obligation as Head of the State to fulfil them
  • Ensure provision of comprehensive sexuality education as a preventive measure
  • Provide youth friendly reproductive and sexual health services
  • Hold those who make girls pregnant accountable
  • Implement national, regional and international  policies, laws and Conventions/protocols on girls education, gender equality and women’s rights
  • Allocate adequate national budget towards addressing gender inequalities.

We at FEMNET in collaboration with our members in Tanzania and across the continent are committed to supporting President Magufuli and his government to achieve the above.

DINAH MUSINDARWEZO is the Executive Director of the African Women’s Development & Communications Network (FEMNET).     http://www.femnet.co

This article has appeared in the East African and Pambazuka News

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Herstory: Soweto uprising and the erasure of Black women

See Thando Sipuye’s brilliant piece celebrating the role of young women in the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa and de-crying the erasure of women’s role in the struggle.  He defines this as being consistent with the Euro-patriarchal elitist approach to writing of history and the ideology of male superiority to women dating back to Aristotle.  Read the piece here     The article was originally published in http://www.pambazuka.org

Dancing at the Party…

Two great articles here, the first on Inclusion by Elizabeth Shaw, including the great quote “diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance”…. although we could take it further and say “it’s also about leading the dance”… click here for the piece.

The second is called The Problem with photo-journalism and Africa: Why African photographers don’t get to tell African photo stories in the Western media.  Please check this revealing piece here

Finally, here’s a nice quote on inclusion from Manish Jain

“In the conventional sense, diversity is often achieved by simply bringing people of different backgrounds and cultures together. Yes, this is diversity, but without inclusion, diversity lacks deeper purpose and meaning. To ensure that individuals are truly included, it is important to understand the backgrounds, cultures, and worldviews of all individuals in an organization.”

Inspiration from Salif Keita

Happiness isn’t for tomorrow

It’s not hypothetical

It starts here and now

Down with violence, egoism

And despair, stop pessimism

Let’s pick ourselves up

Nature has given us

Extraordinary things

It’s not over yet, nothing’s decided

Let’s take advantage of the wonders

Of this continent at last

Intelligently in our own way

At our own rhythm

Like responsible men and women proud

Of their inheritance

Let’s build the country of our children

And stop taking pity on ourselves

Africa is also the joy of livings

Optimism, beauty, elegance

Grace, poetry, softness, the sun

And nature

Let’s be happy to be its sons and daughters

And fight to build our happiness

From Salif Keita, a wonderful and inspirational singer from Mali.  Please check out his music on you tube here

Losing my Religion for Equality

By Jimmy Carter

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

Taken from http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html

I Was Never the Quiet One

An Interview With Gigi Louisa, LGBQ Activist In Kenya – first published by http://www.galck.org

“In Kenya , I always have to be careful. Because I’m attracted to women, because of the work I do and just because I am a woman. I can be attacked at any time, on the street or in my own house. Or I can be arrested on bogus charges. Anyone who is with me is also at risk. So what do you do? Do you bow down, give in to your fears? Not me. This must change.” Gigi Louisa from Kenya is a woman on a mission. She’s fighting for equal rights for sexual minorities in Kenya.

Trouble-Making Skills

“I keep having to explain myself. People think I’ve been hurt by too many men, so I decided to become a lesbian. Or I just haven’t had good sex, so I decided to become a lesbian. Or I’m simply a strong-headed feminist and no man will have me, so I decided to become a lesbian. A while ago, I went to the doctor for a regular PAP-smear. He went: ‘Oh come on nurses, come see, we have a lesbian! Explain to us how you have sex.’ It’s crazy and it’s humiliating. And we’re not just dealing with misconceptions, there’s also a lot of violence and aggression.”

“I was never the quiet type, my trouble-making skills started way back. The little time that I actually spent in college was in a religious institution. They told me not to be too radical when we had discussions on important subjects. They also told me to cover my tattoos and not to wear my piercings. And then, one day, when we got back our essays on human rights issues, mine was returned unmarked. ‘You’ll have to start over’, they said. ‘Gay rights are not human rights.’ That’s when I knew I really had to do something.” The activist in Gigi had awakened.

People Like Me

“I was still completely naïve. I knew I had these feelings, but I didn’t know anyone else who was gay, so I went online and Googled ‘gay people in Kenya’. One of the first search results was GALCK, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. It said ‘contact us’. I had no cell phone, so I went outside to a shop where you give the number and some money to a lady and she places the call for you.”

“I was so scared, I didn’t dare to use the word ‘lesbian’. You can imagine, it was a strange conversation. I said something like: ‘I think I’d be interested in visiting your organisation. I think you are there for uhhh… for people like me. Should we meet?’. I was invited to a movie night. When I got there, I was amazed. I’d never seen a group of queer people together, and there were so many of them! Soon after that, I started volunteering for one of the organizations under GALCK called MWA (Minority Women in Action) where my career in SOGIE rights officially kicked off.”

Taking The World By Storm

“GALCK unites 16 organisations from across the country. I am now an assistant programs officer at GALCK and director of Minority Women in Action, one of the 16 members. I’m proud to say our team has actually made progress. When I started, the community had almost shrivelled out completely, nothing happened. At the same time, issues like increasing alcohol and drug abuse and intimate partner violence were clearly present among LBQ’s. There was a painful sense of aloneness, in general.”

“I said: ‘We have to reconvene. We need to create a space where LBQ’s can come together and have a barbecue, watch a movie, share our experiences.’ After about two years, membership has doubled and we’re taking the world by storm. We’re focusing primarily on sexual reproductive health rights now. It’s almost impossible for a gay couple to have a child at the moment in Kenya, due to the existing criminalizing laws against same sex couples. Lesbians will generally say the father has left the mother and baby. It’s easier and safer than telling the truth. And women need a pseudo-dad to register the child for school, housing, medical care, everything.”

“I’m just a simple girl form a non-privileged background. I only had one year of college, no official training or certificates. Everything I know, I’ve learned on the job. I’m just working from experience. On the other hand, you could argue that my energy is better spent here than in school. Either way, this is the work I’ve chosen. And because of it, I will never have a career outside the human rights movement. No corporate employer will hire me.”

Full Of Hate

“We are still a long way from acceptance in Kenya. Some of my friends are great activists, who break down completely when they come out to their parents and they disown them, they are so full of hate. In Nairobi, there is literally one bar I can go to. In rural areas, the stigma is even greater. There are huge cultural and religious boundaries that we need to break through.”

“When my mother found out I’m gay, her instinctive response was fear and rage. She didn’t see how I could be so selfish and was afraid someone would harm or even kill me. The way we’re raised, you don’t talk back to your parents. So I ran. After about three months, I got up the courage to sit her down and talk to her. I tried to make her see things from my perspective. And she listened. Now, she’s come to understand that being gay is not a choice. But you see, the fact that my mother accepts me means I am privileged and that, of course, is not okay.”

Social Change

In ‘Out and About’, the film that was shown on Saturday 11 March at the Roze Filmdagen, we see Gigi’s mother saying ‘She is exactly the same girl. She just has a different sexuality.’ She also tells her daughter to stop lying about her work and her lover and come out to the rest of the family. ‘They have always loved you and they always will.’ It was an emotional moment for Gigi. “We had never talked about that, about telling my relatives. It was a big hurdle for me, and it made me feel so much better to hear my mother say that.”

When Gigi got the call, asking if she wanted to be in a documentary following the parents of people who had come out in Russia, Indonesia and Kenya, she immediately said yes. “Then I called my mom and asked her if she was willing to participate. I explained it was risky. I’m used to mitigating those risks on a daily basis, she is not. But she said: ‘Back then, when women had no rights at all, it took brave ladies to generate change. Somebody always has to take the first leap. So let me speak up.’ I’m so proud of her. Even though the film is completely hush-hush and it is very difficult to show in Kenya and many other countries, my mother is now helping us to make a difference.”

Platform For Parents

By letting the parents speak, the filmmakers have touched upon an important theme. “In South-Africa for instance, the system looks good but social acceptance is low. That is still dangerous. I think social change needs to go hand in hand with legal and administrative change. So what we really need in Kenya is a platform for parents of LBQ children. A safe space where they can meet other parents facing the same challenges. If parents can talk to parents, family to family, that’s where change is going to begin.”

Just Some Happiness

Where does Gigi see herself five or ten years from now? “I’m 28 now. In five years’ time, I’d like to pass my strength on to the next wave of leaders. Personal and professional strength, for they will need it. Just like we will need young people full of energy and idealism to carry the torch. I’d like to step back then and raise a family. Live on a farm, with some cows and goats, together with my partner and children.”

“Ten years from now, I hope there will be some equality. I just want some happiness for my mother, my friends, my community and myself. Even if we haven’t reached all of our goals by then, I do hope to see the movement still going strong, working together. There is a saying that I like: If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.

We ask Gigi if this could be a dream, a little further along the way: her kids coming together to celebrate her life, saying ‘This was our mother. She was on the frontline fighting for what she believed in.’ Gigi smiles silently for a second. “That would be the happiest dream actually, because it would mean everything had worked out successfully. It would mean justice.”

For more great articles like this one as well as more information on LGBQ issues in Kenya, please visit http://www.galck.org