BAGAMOYO Girls Education Association (Bagea), is determined to set girls free to speak out on all cultural, social, political and economic challenges facing them in their daily lives.
According to the association’s Chairperson, Alala Shaibu, the provision of education to girls will make them attain their goals and promote social equality.
Therefore, she said that the association supports education to girls from poor families, where after completing Standard Seven, one has to choose whether to continue to secondary school or go for vocational training. It also sponsors girls at tertiary level.
The chairperson revealed this during a gender and leadership workshop organised by activists in Bagamoyo district, Coast region, recently.
The Bagea chairperson said that just like the Higher Education Students’ Loans Board (HESLB), Bagea sponsorship is in loan form, but the difference is that the beneficiary is required to repay the exact amount of money (without interest) to the organisation.
She said there is no limit for loan repayment time and there is no specific amount set to be repaid, with the exception of beneficiaries who get official jobs. These are to repay only one per cent until the debt is cleared, but still in no timeframe.
“What matters is the fact that the beneficiary repays any amount of money on a monthly basis to enable others in need to be loaned,” Ms Shaibu noted. She further noted that the organisation provides 500,000/-to 9m/-, depending on the level of education one wanted to reach.
The chairperson said that education to girls was important because there were only few women in leadership positions, and failing to report gender-based violence (GBV), to the relevant authorities and early marriage and pregnancy were a result of ignorance. "Not only are early marriages and pregnancy lead to school dropouts, but also traditions, customs and stereotypes oppress girls.
For instance, in the past in the Coast Region, when an adolescent girl started experiencing her monthly period, she was required to drop out and attend an initiation ceremony. She would then never return to school," she said.
She added that as a result, most girls missed on their right to be educated. Still they continued experiencing GBV in their early marriages and failed to stand for their rights. Above all, patriarchy, which is practised in many parts of Tanzania, subordinates women to men and girls to boys.
"We are thankful to the government for introducing free primary and secondary education and stressing the right to education to all children. This has increased school enrollment and has increased the number of Standard Seven leavers, who need our support." she said.
Bagea, which was introduced in 2008, started with 13 applicants. It currently receives over 100 applications due to an increase in the number of schoolchildren.
As of 2018, there were 365 beneficiaries under Bagea sponsorship. Some are in formal employment, but the majority are self-employed, according to Ms Shaibu.
When asked why Bagea supported only girls, the chairperson said: "History shows that for many decades girls have been left behind as far as education is concerned.
The situation leads to lack of confidence for them, and this might be the reason behind the shortage of women in various leadership positions."
Commenting on what should be done to make more women interested in leadership roles and vie for the coming local government elections, Ms Shaibu said political parties should remove some charges, including those imposed on application forms.
She said political parties should also set a budget for contesters, unlike currently where many had been required to pay from their own sources of money, but not all were financially capable of doing so.
She also appealed for patriotism, saying many contesters had been only those with the wherewithal and who would provide food and drinks and give money so that they could be voted for.
“Education inspires women to take up leadership roles, as some of Bagea products contested in the 2014 local government elections,” she explained.
A member of UVCCMKisutu Ward in Bagamoyo, Ms Magreth Masenga, said lack of education was the main hindrance to most women to take leadership positions. “Ignorance, lack of confidence and inferiority complex make the majority of women refrain from vying for leadership positions despite the fact that it is their right to participate in decision-making,” said Ms Masenga.
Apart from lack of selfconfidence, she said some women do not believe that a woman can hold a leadership position and bring about social changes.
"I also serve as the secretary of the Bagamoyo Constituency Member of Parliament. At the beginning of my time in office, people used to mock me, saying I won't make it simply because of being a woman. Nowadays, almost everyone seeks my help, even for personal matters," said the UVCCM member.
She reiterated that the patriarchy was still dominating almost in all households as men hardly allow women to engage in leadership roles. "However, we are thankful to the government which has been collaborating with other stakeholders, including activists to fight for equality in society.
At least women are now able to speak out for their rights. Boys and girls equally benefit from free education," she said.