Is President Magufuli setting a riddle for feminists?
According to last year’s Human Rights Watch report, 1.5 million – more than 40% of Tanzanian adolescents are out of school with less than a third of girls making it to high school while 8000 girls drop out of school each year.
The statistics are mainly attributed by discriminatory government policy to expel pregnant or married girls and prevent their re-entry in the country’s education system. This fact explains the low literacy level among women.
However, at the very beginning I cannot overlook the important steps the government has taken the past 12 years to increase access to secondary education including the commitment to build secondary schools in every administrative ward, to date when lower secondary education is free across the country. This conforms to article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights.
Not so long ago, we celebrated the International Women’s Day, asking everyone to be bold for change and call on the masses to help forge a more gender inclusive world. If I were to mention women who are using their voices, leadership and influence to make progress for girl’s education globally, it is by no means an exhaustive list. Let it be enough to say access to education is a basic human right regardless of whether or not one is a parent.
Additionally, it should be understood that no school girl can impregnate herself. A law passed in 2002 allows for the expulsion of pregnant school girls and it is clear that for men who marry Tanzanian school girls or get them pregnant should face 30 years in prison. Again, such tough measures the government takes to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy can never be underrated. But at this juncture my doubt is; who is disparate? The girls or men who impregnate them? I’ll respond shortly.
In his recent address at a public rally, President John Pombe Magufuli famously known as “The Bulldozer,” a compliment given for his relentless work ethics rolled-up his sleeves to tell school girls that, “After getting pregnant, you’re done!.” The statement greeted with applause from the crowd has however stirred anger among women rights defenders and re-ignited debates amid parliamentarians and concerned citizens arguing for an extension of free education policy to young mothers.
The controversy leaves two schools of thoughts; I’ll get into each. President Magufuli and the like minded stand on the pedestal of morality to raise an ethical girl child from the family level for maidens to stay as pure as Virgin Mary until they are allowed to eat the forbidden fruit. This concept is given credit by moralists on the point parents who see their daughters as a short-term investment to boost family’s financial position might not even entertain these children being pregnant as having them back to school is now a nightmare.
On the other view, teen moms are said to influence other girls to get pregnant; the opinion that feminists strongly challenge since pregnancy has never been infectious. But how do moral worshippers arrive at a conclusion? Here is how. Girls’ post-delivery re-admission to school is like telling all school girls it’s okay to engage in sex while still in school – it’s no longer an “immoral act”. Such girls are seen as if they didn’t really want to study. In the mid of classes they’d ask for a break to breastfeed their crying babies.
It’s a waste of money educating parents instead of those serious with school. But if we keenly look at this; one cannot simply lose ability to learn after giving birth. And as the matter of facts it is lack of emotional/psychological support to these girls which makes them a complete failure. If we were truly moralists we would first infuse more reproductive health education among schoolgirls to protect them from early pregnancies.
Most of these girls become pregnant following School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) like sexual violence and abuse both on the way and within school localities. We hear it all the time – about the girls being raped, teachers engaging in sexual affairs with students and blessers’ effect leaving behind the possibility of early/forced marriage at home.
We would condemn ourselves as the government and parents at the first place for the failure to control such social evils. And I think we would sound more sensible humans if we help a fallen girl to rise and become a better person to give her baby quality life instead of throwing even more injurious words to the already victimized girls, subjecting them to stigma. Denying these girls’ right to education is as criminal as getting them pregnant. If it’s an issue of restricting girls practicing sex while in school, what about those who don’t become pregnant?
It is time for the government to strengthen cooperation with NGO’s to educate teen girls about their rights and birth control in lieu of stressing to deregister or leaving to them the whole workload.
I believe if we provide optimal learning environment, the girl child isn’t disparate. Women have substantially contributed to the country’s economy and denying their basic right to education is intentionally showing disrespect to our mothers, sisters and wives. We should however set more stringent laws for men who abuse and explore them. More years should be added on top of the present thirty (30) years prison sentence, so offenders could use all of their energy into farming and remain with none to impregnate even upon release.
Lastly, I humbly ask you all to join the campaign by organizing activities, spread the word using media or art to bring awareness and encourage action on this most pressing issue Tanzanian girls embark. Otherwise our leaders will be setting a riddle whose answer is killing without mercy for the sake of schooling.
*Julius P. Kessy is a Writer/Blogger from Tanzania. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org