Calista knew, however, that making and selling bricks was never her calling. Rather, she aspired to be an electrician.
Many teased her, saying this was a man’s job. But she was fortunate to have a mother who encouraged her curiosity.
“I had no formal skills that I could use to find employment as an electrician. So, it became a hobby,” says Calista. This was until her mother registered her for a vocational skills programme.
Calista spent nine months undergoing training in electrical installation, wiring and maintenance. She graduated from the programme and soon earned a reputation as a skilled electrician in her village.
Since then she has been slowly saving money, her dream being to buy land one day and build a house. It can happen – I am sure it will happen.
As we mark International Day of the Girl Child, I share my reflections. I too was once a girl child. I had opportunities. I had options.
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?
In Tanzania today, girls under the age of 18 make up a quarter of the population. They have hopes and dreams.
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.
Though Calista was not able to pursue higher studies, there are girls who don’t even get a chance to be in school, much less to continue and complete their education – this owing to multiple pressures.
Only around 40 per cent of girls who go to secondary school complete their education. The others drop out for many reasons, including inadequate family support, the need to contribute to family earnings, perceived lack of relevance, teenage pregnancy and practices such as child marriage.
About 30 per cent of the girls in the country get married before 18, and 27 per cent become mothers too early (girls between 15 and 19 years).
Violence and sexual assault against girls is as high as 11 per cent in the 15 to 19 age group. Eighty per cent of the new HIV infections in adolescents and young people are in girls. Transitioning safely to adulthood is a precarious journey for many Tanzanian girls.
This reality needs to change. In 2018, the theme of the International Day of the Girl Child is “With Her: A Skilled Girlforce.” It will mark 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.
With the government’s emphasis on skills-building to achieve its Vision 2025, there is an opportunity to change the life course for millions of young girls in Tanzania.
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.
Calista is making her mark and charting her journey of positive contribution in this country. Imagine if families, communities, schools, workplaces and leaders across Tanzania would support many more girls like Calista to shine in whichever field they have talent. It is within reach – if we believe that ‘yes – SHE can”.
- Maniza Zaman, the UNICEF Representative in Tanzania, penned this piece specifically as part of the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child – today.
Prior to this assignment Zaman was Deputy Director in Programme Division in UNICEF, New York. Her responsibilities included developing strategic management initiatives, planning and monitoring, leading the Division’s field engagement strategy, as well as providing specific programmatic and policy guidance for the Young Child Survival and Development cluster. As part of UNICEF’s re-focus on equity, Zaman led the organization-wide initiative to improve programmes and prioritize the most disadvantaged children.
Between 2006 and 2008, Zaman was the Deputy Representative in Vietnam where she coordinated the development and implementation of the Government of Vietnam-UNICEF Country Programme of Cooperation. Here, she supported the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) to develop its first One Plan as part of the Delivering as One reform initiative.
From 2000 to 2006, she served in UNICEF Kenya in different portfolios including Chief of Nutrition. In this post, Zaman provided technical leadership and managed the nutrition programme, focusing on reducing malnutrition, emergency preparedness and response. Prior to this Zaman worked with UNICEF and WHO in Ethiopia.
Zaman is a dual national of Bangladesh and the United Kingdom. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Oxford, UK, and Master of Science degree in International Nutrition from Cornell University, USA. She is married with two children.