YOUTH Education Through Sports Tanzania (YES TZ) in collaboration with other partners are implementing a project called ‘Girls Get Equal Integrated Approach to Ending Child Early and Forced Marriages’ in Rukwa region that complements Rukwa region and the country’s efforts to end child early and forced marriages including teenage pregnancies.
The five years’ project is funded by NORAD from Norway. Available statistics show that in Tanzania, 27 per cent of girls are either pregnant or have a child before the age of 18. Rukwa region is above average and has 29 per cent, this puts adolescent girls at risk and shatters their dreams.
Pregnancy and childbirth related complications are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls in the country. Kenny Simbaya, Director of YES TZ recently spoke to Antony Tambwe, who wanted to know why investing in adolescent’s sexual reproductive health and rights is key to poverty alleviation and the country’s development. Read the excerpt.
Q: Why is it critical to invest in adolescents and youth (young people) sexual reproductive health and rights?
Ans. Investing in adolescents and youth has the potential to result in growth of the economy. Tanzania aims to be a middle-income country by 2025 through industrialization; given that youth account for 70 per cent of the population (23 per cent of total population are adolescents), this agenda will be primarily driven by youth.
To achieve this goal, there is need for Tanzania to take advantage of its demographic dividend by utilizing the youth boom to drive economic transformation. The economy’s productivity is dependent on the reduction in fertility rate and child dependency burden to encourage a boost in the working-age population, SRH is one of the sure ways of realizing this. Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) plays a major role in the lives of young people, enabling them to decide freely and responsibly on all aspects of their sexuality.
SRHR is also important to the socio-economic development of communities, societies and nations at large In Tanzania, the urgency to respect, promote and fulfill young people’s SRHR is highlighted by the number of young people in the country: it is estimated that adolescents and young people in Tanzania constitute 70 per cent of the population.
Addressing young people’s SRHR in Tanzania is also vital, given the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS, the high rates of teenage pregnancies and the risk that those pregnancies may lead to unsafe abortions, morbidity and mortality.
Tanzania has made a lot of progress on this area, like having Adolescents Sexual Reproductive Health Strategy 2004-2008 and 2008-2015, National Accelerated Action and Investment Agenda for Adolescents Health and Well Being 2020/24-2023/24 (NAIAAHW) in draft form, to mention but a few, NAIA-AHW aims to accelerate the improvement of adolescent health and wellbeing to support the growth and development of healthy, educated, and empowered adolescents as the transition into adulthood.
However, despite these achievements, SRHR still remain a non-priority issue on the development agenda of many regions in the country, due to limited political leadership and commitment to the realization of SRHR, and inadequate resource allocation. NAIA-AHW is likely to catalyze investment on adolescents. The language of rights in SRH is still controversial in parts of the country, which continues to undermine SRHR policy and programmes.
On this I would like to hail Rukwa region secretariat led by the Rukwa Regional Commissioner Joachim Wangabo, for unanimously agreeing as a region to prioritize ending teenage pregnancies and early marriages through the region’s Strategy for Ending Teen Pregnancies, as a lever to catapult the region’s socio economic developments.
I am still searching for any other region in the country that has this political will on addressing this social problem affecting many regions and countries as well. Access to SRHR information and services does not seek to grant a licence to young people to engage in early sexual activity as opponents of SRHR education suggest, instead, it is an effort to build the capacity of young people and to avail the necessary tools to them so that they make responsible sexual decisions to protect their health and that of their future children.
Economically, SRHR allows young people to realize a return on investment made by parents and government in providing education to young people, by enabling them to complete their education and to find decent employment that will make better lives possible.
YES TZ is working with and for young people in collaboration with partners like Plan International and the government to ensure adolescents and young people’s increased access of SRHR information, commodities and services, including STI and HIV testing and teen pregnancy prevention.
It would be unforgivable for a nation, a parent or the whole global development community to make a 13-year investment on the education of a girl, only to hold back the services and information that would prevent her from having an unplanned pregnancy, and dying from the complications of unsafe abortion, pregnancy and childbirth. Adolescents need comprehensive, accurate and developmentally appropriate sexuality education.
This will provide the bedrock for attitude formation and decision making. Today there is an unprecedented opportunity to improve adolescent health and to respond more effectively to adolescents’ needs. The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016– 2030) identifies adolescents as being central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (1).
Q: YES TZ together with other partners are implementing a Girls Get Equal: Integrated Approach to Ending Child Early and Forced Marriages in Rukwa region, why girls?
Ans.: It is all about gender equality. In Tanzania and perhaps elsewhere in our communities, girls and women are undervalued, and as they grow their autonomy, including reproductive autonomy is robbed, they can’t make decisions as to when to marry, who to marry, how many children to have and at what interval. Unlike their counterparts’ boys as they grow, their autonomy grows as well.
Therefore, Girls Get Equal Project aims at empowering girls through various ways, including advocating for gender equality, with the intent of creating families, communities and a world that is equal for everyone. Women’s rights are human rights. Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all is crucial to achieving gender equality and Tanzania development goals, including eradicating poverty as stipulated in Tanzania Development Vision 2025.
For gender relations to be transformed, the structures that underpin them have to change. Women and girls should be able to lead lives that are free from violence, they should have opportunities to expand their capabilities and have access to a wide range of resources on the same basis as men and boys.
This includes quality services, information, education and social conditions that allow women and girls to maintain good sexual and reproductive health, and realize their sexual and reproductive rights are needed to advance gender equality and enable the empowerment of women and girls.
To achieve this, Girls Get Equal Integrated Approach to Ending Child early and Forced Marriages Project is using evidence based best practices to empower girls, such as keeping girls in school, child protection, economic empowerment, provision of SRHR and Life Skills education, as well as engaging influential people, religious leaders and men and boys among others.
Evidence shows that when men and boys are engaged as equal partners and agents of change for gender equality within sexual and reproductive health programmes, transformative change occurs. Tanzania has made great strides in gender equality, we have a woman Vice President, we have special seats for women Members of Parliaments, we have women district and regional commissioners, to mention but a few, but still, we have harmful gender norms and stigma that hinder women and girls from realizing their dreams. Inequality is pervasive.
This is a barrier to realizing Tanzania’s development plans as well as sustainable development.
YES TZ recognizes that investing in gender equality is essential both as a means for fulfilling SRHR and as an end in itself. Sexual and reproductive health and rights will only be achieved when there is gender equality. Conversely, gender equality is only possible when individuals can fully exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.
Therefore, overcoming gender inequality is a pre requisite for the achievement of the Girls Get Equal Integrated Approach to Ending Child early and Forced Marriages Project goals. We know the world we want our children to grow up in, one that is gender equal and gender just, where all people, in particular women and girls, are empowered to exercise their rights to make free and informed choices about their sexuality and wellbeing. When adolescent girls win, everyone wins.
The primary motivation to improve the health of and health care for adolescent girls must always be the wellbeing of girls themselves. But girls are also agents of positive change for their future families and communities. In many parts of the world, not in Tanzania only, many girls are married as children, a manifestation of their powerlessness and a driver of health risks and poverty.
Q What is your call?
Ans: Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights breaks gender inequalities. As long as women and girls are subjected to harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage, they will never be able to fully enjoy their SRHR. Eliminating these harmful practices allows women and girls to have control over their bodies and be free to make decisions about their SRHR and their lives.
Therefore, our call is
1. We need to acknowledge that women’s rights are human rights, therefore they need to be protected, promoted and upheld.
2. We need to improve health and wellbeing of both adolescent girls and boys by providing them with SRH and Life Skills education that is comprehensive and age appropriate.
3. Increase access to technical and vocational institutions for skills development.
4. Support adolescent girls and young women enterprises by promoting innovation hubs and tax incentives for youths’ businesses.
5. We need to include youth in decision-making spaces prioritizing adolescent girls and young women.
6. Enforce anti-discrimination policies and laws to increase female participation in the development process; legislate against early marriage and mobilize communities to encourage girls to progress to secondary and tertiary education.
7. Involve men and boys as agents of change to promote and realize women and girl’s reproductive rights.
8. Ensure that there is high quality integrated and gender sensitive SRH services for all women and girls, and develop in particular youth friendly services aimed at meeting and promoting the needs and rights of adolescent girls and young women.
YES TZ believes in local solutions. What works in one community context to transform the lives of women and girls, will not necessarily have the same impact in other communities, we have noted this through intergenerational dialogues and community meetings activities.
Therefore, strategies to advance gender equality and women’s rights must be adapted to each context to break down harmful practices and beliefs.