I sent my concept paper to a Tanzanian friend, Daniel who lives in the U.S. He texted, “Call me”. I expected some minor clarifications, I called him with the document in front of me ready to make the changes. He answered, “This is nice but it is not going to get you any money”. My heart hit the floor. I took a deep breath and braced myself for what he would say next.
He has been in the US 6 years. He told me emphatically that I had to talk about the negative. He started to rattle off reasons that people should donate money to help girls in Tanzania. I have to talk about female circumcision, albino killings and forced early marriages. I sputtered that I didn’t see any of these things while I was in Tanzania ,“ How can I talk about them and how long ago was this?”. He responded briskly. “Go to google and check it out for yourself, nice doesn’t get you money”. I was so uncomfortable. He was adamant. The conversation left me unsettled.
I remembered my experience in Ethiopia. When I talked about the lack of sanitation people became very angry and unsettled. It created a firestorm of insults. Most people admitted and acknowledged that everything that I said was true. Natives informed me that it was rude and unacceptable to share such information with the general public. The described it as shameful.
Daniel spoke the truth. We can talk about our aims and objectives but unless we clearly identify the problem, we can’t raise funds. Using words like vulnerable girls and not specifying what makes them vulnerable doesn’t touch the hearts of donors.
Female genital mutilation still exists in Tanzania even though it has declined to 15%. I don’t use the term female circumcision because the entire clitoris is removed along with other vaginal tissue. It is excruciatingly painful and it causes urinary tract infection. Sex is extremely painful. There is an increased risk of HIV infection. Many families are quite poor and want to marry their daughters off to receive the dowry of cows. Many Masaai men have refused to marry when they discovered that there fiancé was not circumcised.
When a girl is circumcised, she is considered ready to be married. Some girls are circumcised as young as 9 years old. Some girls die from the procedure. Some girls who choose not to be circumcised are ridiculed and ostracized by their friends. The ritual is generally initiated by the mothers who fear that there daughters will not get a suitable husband without this procedure being performed. Despite the frequent recurring infections that traditional practice signifies modesty and purity.
Tanzanian law gives parents the rights to marry their daughter off at the age of 14. Most girls marry men much older who can afford to give the parents a decent dowry. The parents consider the girls to be a financial asset. A 2008 survey on child marriage by Children Dignity Forum shows that child marriage is a huge problem in Tanzania and is more prevalent in its Coast, Mwanza and Mara regions.
The survey found that child marriage was driven by the desire of a girl’s parents to get a dowry because they are poor, and maintaining culture and tradition. In 2010, The World Bank conducted research which showed that ¼ of Tanzanian girls had experienced a pregnancy or given birth between 15-19 which makes Tanzanian adolescent fertility rate to be the highest in the world. The Tanzania Women’s Media Association estimates that between 20 to 40 % of Tanzanian girls are married before they reach adulthood. Early marriage, premature motherhood, higher risk for disease leads to massive poverty. Girls who marry young tend to be at a higher risk for domestic violence.
UNICEF (2004) report indicates that educating the girl child leads to more equitable development, stronger families, better services, better child health and effective participation in governance. Research findings indicate that girls’ dropout rate from school is higher than that of boys. Tanzanian girls, for religious, cultural, socio-economic and school related factors, are not given a fair chance in the educational sector. In Tanzania, about 7.3 million children do not go to school, of which 62% are girls (UNICEF 2004). The same UNICEF report indicates that girls’ primary school completion rate trails boys, at 76% compared with 85% for boys. Millions more girls drop out of school each year to work, keep house and get married. The majority of children not in school are girls. Mohammed (2004) reported that a girl may be withdrawn from school if a good marriage prospect arises. Early marriage is a sociocultural factor that hinders the girl child’s access to school. Some parents give their daughters to wealthy old friends for a dowry and for the girls security.
Africa isn’t called the dark continent because of the color of people’s skin. There is major exploitation of females and marginalized tribes as well as violence along religious lines. We focus on the progress made in Africa but we have to address the ugliness as well. The disparity between rich and poor is huge.
I like to present information regarding girl’s education from the benefits to the society. The truth is that not educating girls negatively impacts their society as well as negatively impacts the world as a whole.. The time has come for me to step up and talk about why it is important to support girl’s education in East Africa. The sociocultural factors which impede African progress stem from the exclusion of it’s girls in attaining a relevant and meaningful education. When girls receive an education they educate their children and the entire society benefits and moves forward.
No society can move forward when it oppresses half of it’s population. Girls need to be educated and participate in the forward movement of the society. Evolution is happening in Africa now, we must be a part of the change. What affects one affects all.