International Day of the Girl Child: Addressing challenges limiting girls' access to education in Bagamoyo District, Tanzania
As a girl, Mariam [not her real name] believed that education was her only hope if she wanted to live a better life. The fact that her father abandoned her and her mother added to her resolve to study hard. She put more efforts into her studies and made sure she was always among the best four students in her class. Unfortunately, her plans did not come out the way she expected. Mariam did not pass her final secondary school exams in 2012; all the effort she put into her studies ended with the exam results.
When she completed her secondary education, her mother and uncles asked her to get married, but she refused. When they insisted, she ran away and didn’t come back for three days. This worried her mother and stopped her from asking her daughter to get married. Mariam wanted her mother to send her to a vocational training program or pay for her to retake the form four exams, but her mother did not have enough money to pay for both Mariam and her brother, who had started secondary school this year. Mariam is still hoping that one day, she shall go for further studies.
Her journey to become educated and its ultimate end was not an easy one. Her mother had no permanent job to earn money. She worked as casual laborer to pay for Mariam’s secondary school tuition fee and to provide food and other needs to Mariam and her brother. In 2010, when Mariam was in form two, her mother fell sick and couldn’t afford to pay for her daughter’s tuition fee and other school supplies for the remaining years of her studies. Fortunately for Mariam, the Most Vulnerable Children Committee and the Fukayosi Ward authorities came to her aid and supported her throughout her secondary school education.
The USAID ASSIST Project is working in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to strengthen the capacity of community systems to provide care, support and protection of the most vulnerable children. In 2010, the project trained the Most Vulnerable Children Committees (MVCCs) in three wards in Bagamoyo District to apply quality improvement approaches to deliver quality services to the most vulnerable children and their households. The MVCCs were also trained to analyze their systems and processes of service delivery to most vulnerable children; to identify and test changes in the organization of care that could result in improved quality and efficiency; and use data to document and understand the effect of their changes to improve on the areas that needed to be improved.
Using the quality improvement knowledge, each MVCC conducted a meeting to discuss problems facing most vulnerable children in their community and prioritized the areas that needed improvement. They then identified the priority changes and discussed ways to address them. The MVCCs have demonstrated commendable results in addressing challenges facing vulnerable girls and boys. Despite the fact that both girls and boys need quality care, support, and protection, MVCCs have learned that vulnerable girls face many more constraints that limit their access to education and other needs than boys. For example, girls are left behind in education and are exposed to violence and early marriage.
In April 2014, the MVCCs in Fukayosi and Kiwangwa wards collaborated with the wards’ authorities and journalists to break up a marriage of a sixteen-year-old girl who was in standard six. The girl got married to a man in another ward. Both her parents approved of the marriage but the fact that the girl was young and was still going to school made other people unhappy with the marriage. They reported the matter and it was successfully handled. The marriage was annulled and the girl was allowed to return to school.
In order to help girls to access education and to protect them from early marriage and other types of violence, the MVCCs are raising awareness among parents at household and community levels on the importance of giving equal opportunities to both girls and boys.
“Most parents think that boys are more important than girls. We have come across many events where parents prefer a boy child for education than they do for girls. For example when a girl passes exams to go to secondary school, the parents refuse to pay for their school fees, but when the boy passes, they become happy and are ready to pay any amount of money. When it comes to the side of a girl child, parents spend more time planning how much to charge for the bride price but they don’t care about the girl’s education,” said one MVCC member.
As the world marks the ‘International Day of the Girl Child,’ USAID ASSIST and the Department of Social Welfare continue to work with the community systems to address gender inequalities among vulnerable girls and boys. USAID ASSIST is honored to work with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the communities of Bagamoyo to improve the well being of the vulnerable girls and boys in Tanzania.