Girl child still uniquely at risk: Society must step in as a team

08Nov 2018
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Girl child still uniquely at risk: Society must step in as a team

MANIZA Zaman, the UNICEF Representative in Tanzania, this year penned an opinion article specifically as part of the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child – October 11.

The thrust of the piece was on the need for countries and nations to make sure that it was ‘for every girl, an opportunity’ even in the midst of the most daunting of social, cultural, economic and other challenges.

Hers was an impassioned appeal for everyone to help girls realise their full potential, including having access to as many resources as humanly possible as would be needed to ensure their dreams came true.

The envoy shared reflections on the “privilege” she herself had as a girl child of having enjoyed a family background of golden opportunities and juicy options, so to speak.

An illustrative excerpt from her testimony: “I grew up in a safe environment. I had all the encouragement and support from both my mother and my father as well as my teachers and the community around me. What a privilege.

“I wonder what course in life I would have had if that had not been the case. How would I have coped if at every step there were an obstacle and I lived in fear? How would I have coped with the realisation that I had many more obstacles than my male peers just because I was a girl?”

The UNICEF Rep then dwelt on a few facts, one being that girls under the age of 18 constitute a quarter of Tanzania’s population – and all have hopes and dreams.

She said: “They have the potential to be the next generation of talent, innovators and motivated citizens in a fast-changing world. All they need are opportunities to be heard and supported to make the right choices for themselves. We need to come together to ensure that the story of girls in Tanzania is one of hope, and not missed opportunities.”

There is no way that, given her position, the envoy is a stranger to the progress Tanzania has made in pulling the sting of misery and helplessness from the lives of the population generally and girls in particular.

To be sure, things are not as good as one would have wished, but it would be neither fair nor realistic to dismiss the achievements made as inconsequential.

This is with regard to all sectors and, indeed, all aspects of life, as manifested in the likes of the state or delivery of communications and transport, health, education and other services.

Yet, there is also no denying that a conspiracy of various pressures makes it impossible for some of our people, a sizeable number being girls, to pursue higher studies or advanced training while some do not even get a chance to be in school, even less to complete their education.

Maniza Zaman will not have been wide of the mark in saying that only around 40 per cent of girls who go to secondary school complete their education, with the others dropping out for reasons ranging from inadequate family support, the need to contribute to family earnings, gender-based violence, perceived lack of relevance, teenage pregnancy and practices such as child marriage.

We concur with the UN agency that this cruel reality needs to change by having the theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child – ‘With Her: A Skilled Girlforce’ – “marking the beginning of a year-long, worldwide effort to bring together partners and stakeholders to advocate the importance of addressing the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls”.

Fortunately, and this is no coincidence, the government has long seen the building of skills as one of the most dependable ways for our country to achieve its Vision 2025.

This should serve as an opportunity to change the life course for millions upon millions of our young girls many of whom would otherwise find things unmanageable, with horrendous consequences.

In this regard, there should be no shame in stealing, again, from UNICEF’s Maniza Zaman: “This change will require heart. It will require that each one of us sees value and potential in every young girl, that we nurture and not demean or assault, that we encourage more and punish less, that we listen more and dictate less, that we open up spaces for the engagement of girls and restrict less.”