Strengthening NPA-VAWC Committees to Protect Girl Rights
29 November 2023
Life has never been the same for the 18-year-old Minza Charles after she was forced to drop out of school due to pregnancy, last year. Minza, who hails from Sukuma Ward, Magu District of Mwanza Region, was in Form Four when she stopped her studies, an unfortunate situation that can be attributed to harmful norms and values of the sukuma communities.
As Minza explains, the hut in which girl children sleep is located far away from their parents’ bedroom. _" This is part of our traditions that when a girl grows up, for example, at 12 years old, a hut is built around the corner of the yard, they call it "Maaji" in Sukuma. So, because of this, we had all the freedom to go out at night partying or attending weddings and discos (“lyeja”in Sukuma language) without our parents’ knowledge. _
Minza added that such gatherings exposed them to various men who enticed the young girls into sexual relations, leading to the bulk of girls falling pregnant and dropping out of school.
“The pregnancy was a huge blow to me and my siblings because my father vowed never to educate a girl child again, she said. All hope, however, was not lost as the intervention of Hakizetu Tanzania through Tufike Pamoja Project, marked a turning point in her life.
“I am grateful to the efforts made through the project as I managed to return to school this year. But, I continue facing various challenges and am disappointed by people who believe that a girl child should only get married and raise children, as educating them is a loss. My friends who also got pregnant and had returned to school, have all dropped out and I am left alone. The real situation is very difficult. Male children don’t face such challenges as they are not touched at all. There are young men here who have impregnated up to four girls each but nothing is done to them as they continue with their education, as if everything was normal,” Minza added.
Minza’s story is just one of unfortunate situations girls in Sukuma communities and other areas in the country face, leading to their educational dreams being cut short. To mitigate such challenges faced by these girls, Hakizetu Tanzania through Tufike Pamoja Project implemented the first phase of building the capacity of MTAKUWWA (NPA) committees in villages and wards, for them to intervene and push for the protection of the girl child and provide awareness to peer groups in all the neighborhoods and schools of respective wards.
The capacitation through various trainings led the committees in wards to revive and review 21 prohibitions that protect girls and women from harmful practices, that had previously been agreed to by the MTAKUWWA committee at district level and issued to all wards.
Ms. Lilian who represented the District Community Development Officer, during one of the meetings, said that they were forwarding the official prohibitions to the District Security Committee for it to become part of their agenda and also the MTAKUWWA District Committee is determined to make it the first agenda during implementation of the second phase of MTAKUWWA.
“We request all stakeholders to continue building the capacity of MTAKUWWA committees so that they have the ability to manage all the eight areas of NPA work plan implementation. These include traditions and customs, and providing development opportunities for women and girls, not only those who are in school but also those who have finished and those who are not studying," Lilian insisted. Similarly, the project helped girls who had dropped out of school due to pregnancies to resume their studies, while those who had already been married off after falling pregnant have been registered at school to continue with their studies. Some are attending evening classes in preparation for them to resume normal classes by January 2024.
Hakizetu Tanzania, in collaboration with other stakeholders (police, community development, education departments), is currently working on returning 15 girls from Sukuma Ward to school, after their studies were cut short due to pregnancies in the past year.
The awareness campaigns provided through the project have helped women to understand the importance of having representatives in decision-making bodies and village leadership for them to push and manage the interests of the girl child in societies dominated by patriarchal systems.