The Plight of Adolescent Mothers in Tanzania

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.

Women and Girls Who Inspire Us!

March is Women’s History Month, a special time to celebrate and honor women and their achievements around the world. Young Afghan girls participating in Women for Afghan Women’s (WAW) Girls Leadership Program (GLP) marked this month by spending a Saturday afternoon at WAW’s New York Community Center where they shared their thoughts about the women who inspire them.

Photo Credit: Women for Afghan Women

GLP is a leadership and mentoring program for Afghan girls in NY between the ages of 10-14. Girls in GLP take part in various activities including discussions, arts and crafts, field trips, guest presentations and cultural programs that aim to teach them about their rights and culture, and seek to motivate them to become responsible leaders and agents of change in their community. GLP is currently led by two Afghan teens, Gina Rustami and Shabnam Rashedy, who previously participated in the program themselves and were excited to come back and support the next generation of girls from their community.

To set the stage, Gina and Shabnam began the conversation by discussing the women in their lives who inspired them the most. Later, GLP participants wrote down their own thoughts on who has inspired them. Below are some of their thoughts.

Gina Rustami, shared that comedian and LGBT rights activist, Ellen DeGeneres, has been her inspiration. She later wrote:

“From the start of her career, Ellen DeGeneres has been a positive role model to women all over the world. Not only is she a women’s rights advocate, but she also supports anyone who has been or is ostracized in our society. She encourages people to embrace their different personalities and encourages them to be who they want to be. She cares for people who have faced difficult hardships by encouraging them to help their peers. With jokes, special guests and wonderful performances, people everywhere, including myself, have been inspired to be as caring, funny and wonderful as her.”

Safia Hakimi, a fourth grader who recently arrived in the U.S., wrote:

“The woman who inspires me in life is my mother; she is my role model. She is gentle and caring. She went through a lot of troubles so that my siblings and I can have a better life. For ten years, my father was working in the United States while we were living in Afghanistan. My mother had to take care of us with the help of her parents. It’s been only eight months since we moved to the U.S. Even though she is going through many changes, my mother makes sure that my siblings and I are doing well here in our new home. She is taking language classes to be able to help us with school.

Coming to another country and starting a new life in a new school is scary. When I get homesick and miss Afghanistan, my mom helps me by telling me about my bright future in the US. She is my inspiration.”

Crystal Rustami, a fourth grader, added:

“My role model is Gabby Douglas because she believed in her dreams and became the youngest minority girl to win a gold medal. Gabby’s belief in her dreams, hard work and positive attitude made her an amazing gymnast. She inspires me to work hard, try my best and always look at the bright side of things.”

Sahar Rashedy, a seventh grader, wrote:

“My sister, Shabnam Rashedy, is my inspiration and role model. At only 16, she is leading the Girl’s Leadership Program (GLP) at WAW, and she was featured in one of the videos for Catapult. Her individuality and kindness are inspiring. She is always driven to help out. She is always very positive and encouraging. She taught me to be happy about who I am and where I come from.”

Women’s History Month is important because it gives us the opportunity to be reminded of the powerful and hardworking women who have impacted the lives of millions. It is amazing to see how the lives of these young Afghan girls have been touched not only by well-known and famous women, but also by their strong and talented mothers and sisters who have given them the love and support they need to thrive.