The month of March boasts International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month – two observances which highlight great achievements of women, both and past and present, that have radically changed mankind. But although women and girls have made great strides worldwide in many areas and disciplines, there are many challenges and hurdles that they continue to face.
In June 2017, President John Magufuli of Tanzania called for the ban of adolescent mothers returning to school after giving birth. His reasoning? Adolescent mothers would encourage the other school girls to have sex.
And it gets worse.
In December 2017, authorities called for the arrest of pregnant girls in hopes of getting them to testify against the men who got them pregnant. Subsequently, five girls were arrested along with their parents. Although the girls and their families were released, these acts have outraged non-governmental organizations around the world. They have also brought to light the challenges that many girls in Tanzania face, such as limited access to education, lack of sexual and reproductive health education, child marriage, pregnancy checks, and predatory male teachers.
Each year in Tanzania, 8,000 girls drop out of school due to pregnancy. Tanzania has no official re-entry policy that allows adolescent mothers to attend school and complete their education and continues the practice of immediate expulsion of girls who become pregnant.
International Women’s Day has passed and Women’s History Month will soon come to a close, but advocacy efforts for adolescent mothers must continue. We cannot sit by idly as the rights of adolescent mothers are violated. Instead, we must continue to raise awareness and support them in their efforts to lead successful lives.
There are several campaigns and petitions geared towards supporting adolescent mothers in Tanzania but more needs to be done. Adolescent girls need a government that understands the importance of completing education and recognises the need for safety in and out of classrooms. They need environments that are free of shame and stigma.
As Michelle Obama so eloquently stated: “There are still many causes worth sacrificing for. There is still so much history yet to be made.”
Equal access to education for adolescent mothers and formal re-entry policies that support them in completing their education are causes not only worth sacrificing for, but also worth fighting for.