The reactions of two different set of parents on learning that their respective daughters had won leadership positions in school was quite the opposite.
The first set of parents were overjoyed, while the latter practically put their daughter down and told her to get on with the housework and the only leadership she should be thinking about is how she will be looking after her future husband.
In my case I remember how my daughter two years ago when in Standard Two was determined to be the class monitor. I think basically it was because her friend, also a girl, was appointed to the position. After bugging me for weeks I spoke to her class teacher who explained that the pupil to fulfil the position is chosen by the teachers but she could stand a chance at a later stage.
Last year she got her chance to take on a leadership role when she was chosen by a different class teacher to guide the class in the end of the year entertainment for the Grade Seven graduation ceremony. Everything went well during practice. On the graduation day she freaked out lamenting that she did not want to be the leader as her classmates did not listen to her, both girls and boys. She added that other students did not like the fact she was chosen the leader. It took half an hour to console her and backing up from her teachers over phone assuring her that she should not worry.
Their performance went very well and it was a nice surprise seeing the same little girl who was in tears leading her classmates without a hitch. Afterwards we had a heart to heart talk and I explained to her that being a leader is a responsibility and that it is not a guarantee that everyone will like you.
The question is how many of us women and girls aspire for leadership positions whether in school or in the community? And for those of us who do not, what excuses do we give? A lack of confidence is the main reason. Whether for cultural reasons or a fixed mindset women tend to feel they were not made to lead.
The three-day conference covered this delicate issue under the theme 'Girl power and the Girl effect'. Speaking at the opening of the Conference, the Executive Director of Femina HIP, Dr Minou Fuglesang, said: "Femina wants to draw attention to the 'girl effect', to the fact that important change in our societies can start with adolescent girls." A timely message especially for the secondary school girls who were part of the 100 students from all over Tanzania who attended the Conference held at Belinda Resort in Dar es Salaam.
Dr Minou emphasised the fact that teenage girls have lots of potential and society at large needs to give them a chance to succeed. At the moment 70 per cent of the youth out of school in Tanzania are girls. Not a surprise if you take into consideration that over half of the women in the country had their first babies before they had reached the age of 20. Not a healthy sign as teenage mothers are at the greatest of suffering and dying from pregnancy related complications.
Studies indicate that investing in a girl can ensure long term economic growth and stability for a country. With solid foundations like a sound education and support from family and the community at large girls end up marrying and having their first child at a later age. It has been proven that a woman will invest 90 per cent of what she earns back into her family and community and those benefits will be passed on to her children, therefore investing in girls makes good social and economic sense.
Minou added it is time we stopped neglecting girls. "We want to learn, discuss and create innovative ways to get girls up on the agenda. We want to educate people in Tanzania, so that they recognise the importance of girls and boys equally." The Guest of Honour, the Deputy Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children, Honourable Ummi Mwalimu, speaking at the occasion said, "I commend Femina for understanding the connection between girl empowerment and the development of our country, the economic and social development, the muscle to say no to risky sexual behaviour that can have devastating results on their lives and their futures."
She further went on to say that the Ministry is committed to the girl power agenda. "We are working to mainstream gender awareness in government and civil society work and we support policies and initiatives that enhance non discrimination," the Minister said.
Outlining the objectives of the Conference, the Minister said the main objective of the youth conference was to equip participants with knowledge and skills on gender, girls empowerment and the girl effect; encourage both girls and boys to think about and acknowledge the value and potential that girls have in society.
Girls with the right support are powerful change agents. Femina HIP wants to increase the number of girls at school and help them stay in school by encouraging them to take responsibility over their sexuality and health. Above all, the Femina HIP would like to see boys supporting their girl counterparts. Boys need to be empowered and speak up against inequalities and traditional practices that serve to harm and subjugate young girls. Girl empowerment is everybody's business.