Two Nigerian girl child advocates react to Tanzanian president’s pronouncement on young pregnant girls
In June, the President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, in a public address, banned pregnant girls from returning to school. Below is a response letter to him co-authored by myself and Blessing Timidi Digha II. I hope we get an opportunity to personally deliver this letter to him.
Dear President Magufuli,
I got word of your statement about pregnant girls and education in Tanzania and I felt numb. Days of reflection and discussion, however, have prompted me to un-numb myself and choose to call out your very dangerous and unbefitting remarks.
Before you made such a statement, “girls would be too distracted to concentrate on their studies if they had a child, and their presence would be a bad influence on other girls,” did you stop to consider who got the girls pregnant in the first place? It is unfair that girls continue to carry and suffer the heavy burden caused by harmful/ destructive cultural norms, gender inequalities and a lack of comprehensive sexuality education. In a country where “two out of five girls marry before they reach 18,” expelling pregnant and/or married girls from school will create huge gaps in the academic and economic potential of girls versus boys in Tanzania. This will hinder the country from reaping its demographic dividend and achieving sustainable development.
As a young woman, I refuse to stay silent and let this injustice and blatant disregard for the girl child continue. My amazing friend (Blessing) got pregnant as a teenager and I am grateful that her parents insisted she go back to school after having her baby. This decision has increased her earning and bargaining power. Having a child does not mean the end of life or progress for girls and women. These girls have their whole lives ahead of them and dreams to fulfill which are directly linked to their community and society’s development. As Blessing says “Every girl we help to fulfill her dreams, helps her nation to fulfill [its own].”
For every girl that you are depriving of an education because she got pregnant, there is at least one boy or man who put her in that position. So, why, Mr. President, do you not also impose a ban on these boys/men? Could they, for example, also be expelled from school and/or banned from returning to their places of work?
Girls must be treated like the human beings that they are; they must be given their due rights and accorded respect. Girls should not be relegated as continuous burden bearers and sufferers of punishments that are dictated by the very norms and systems that contribute to their plights. We must give girls the opportunities they deserve to be equal and positive contributors to society. Placing a ban on pregnant teenagers is not the solution to the educational challenges that plague Tanzania. Raising boys and men of sound morals and respect for girls and women is the fundamental solution, in addition to ensuring that boys and girls know their human and sexual rights, including having comprehensive knowledge of sexual and reproductive health. Before people like yourself make dangerous comments and take drastic sentimental actions, please remember that “it takes two to tango.” Hence, responsibility and retribution must be allocated with fairness. More importantly, effective solutions must take everyone into account and address the root causes of our challenges.
Blessing and I applaud your government’s efforts to boost secondary school enrollment through abolishing school fees and other associated costs. We now hope that you will promote transformative policies that advance gender equality to rewrite the future for adolescent girls and young women in your country. Education, empowerment and increased access to life-skills that would positively impact on their health choices, providing girl friendly centres, building and strengthening social networks among adolescents should be priority if reaping demographic dividend will be a reality in Tanzania.
When a girl child is educated, she can (and will) open doors of several mysteries and draw from wells of immeasurable wisdom. She will stand up for herself and her society. She can defend her course and that of her generation. In the long run, she becomes an asset to her society and a pacesetter for her generation. Dear President, this is applicable to all girls, pregnant or not.
This post is republished with permission.