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Tanzanian Teachers Worry About the Future of Girl Students

Tatu Mhinzi and Agnes Mapunda are primary school teachers in Temeke, in the poor outskirts of Dar es Salaam. They talked about the futures of their girl students, and they think girls’ rights are not paid enough attention in Tanzania.

I met the teachers in Mwembe Yanga football field, at the first UN International Day of the Girl Child celebrations on the 11th of October. “I want to make sure that my girl students learn from the beginning that they are equal with boys”, Agnes Mapunda says and continues: “it is a strange thought for many, because they are secondary in comparison to their brothers.”

Many girls are forced to marry

Teachers think plays made and acted by children themselves are a good way to deal with gender roles. In the Mwembe Yanga party secondary school students present their play about a family whose father forces his underage daughter to marry because he sees educating girls as useless. Children gaze at the play with same intensity as the snake dance and acrobatic shows before it.

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“This play is real life for our girls. A tenth of my girl students get married after primary school, only in the age of 12 or 13. Can you imagine that?” Tatu Mhinzi asks, and I can only shake my head in disbelief.

She tells that 90 percent of the students in Mabatini School are Muslims. She still thinks that poverty and the irresponsibility of men are more important reasons than religion. “Many families don’t have enough money for their girls’ school fees, but the fact that mothers don’t have any say in the spending is a bigger issue. If the husband is an alcoholic and drinks the money meant for food, it makes no difference if he’s a Christian or a Muslim.”

No help to violence in the families

Domestic violence, drinking, and abandonment are all examples of male irresponsibility. “Many of my students come from divorced families, where single mother tries desperately to take care of the children. For saving the other children they have to sell their daughters to grown men.” Agnes Mapunda tells unhappily. “I know some men that take good care of their child wives but there’s more of the kind that abuse and abandon them. The social standing of abandoned women is terrible.”

Women are especially vulnerable because officials rarely interfere in matters that are seen as inside the family. Teachers say they have contacted many families when the children have acted out. Police attitudes to domestic violence are indifferent.”I don’t know a single case where a man would have been imprisoned for abuse. Sometimes police questions them, but even a small bribe is enough to buy them freedom.” Agnes Mapunda says.

Education and political debate empower women

Teachers agree that education is essential prerequisite in improving egality. In their opinion highly educated women have fairly good possibilities in Tanzania and they aren’t so dependent on their husbands. The importance of family planning and understanding their rights can also be improved by education.

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“At best one of a hundred of my girl students makes her way to university. Encouraging examples are rare in these girls’ lives,” says Tatu Mhinzi, “but I also tell the girls often how also women can be successful, if they try hard enough. Famous women are an inspiration to my students and many girls dream to become a doctor, a lawyer or even a politician.”

Tatu Mhinzi is herself interested in politics, but says that she does not participate in party politics, because discussing issues with the women in her neighbourhood is a big enough role for her. “I don’t want to say that men are bad or evil, but they have too much power inside the family and not all men use that power in the right way.”

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