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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