INVESTING in adolescent girls’ education can have very positive impacts as well as lead to both broad and long term positive changes for girls, their future children, their communities and countries as a whole.
In ensuring that the education aspect is streamlined across both the female and male sex, the government of Tanzania under the current administration has introduced the fee-free-education policy to give room for girls from the most vulnerable families to attend school.
However, the girl child continues to face other countless challenges that can prevent them from prospering if left unattended.
They include stigma to menstruation, lack of proper sanitation facilities in schools, presence of clean and safe water that can promote hygiene and lack of effective materials for menstrual hygiene management.
Thus, this has led to most girls to feel less self-confident due to embarrassment and fear of teasing that may result from staining their outer clothes during their menses.
A study on Adolescent Girls and Education: Challenges, Evidence and Gaps of 2013 by Rebecca Calder and Karishma Huda, has identified compelling reasons, both moral and instrumental, for investing in adolescent girls’ education.
They have identified menstruation and access to sanitary pads as challenges that significantly hinder the girl child’s access to continued quality education.
Such is vivid in most of the African countries, and Tanzania is no exceptional. In most scenarios, lack of appropriate sanitation facilities to deal with menstrual hygiene affects girl’s attendance, leading to high levels of absenteeism, poor performance and school dropout.
Reports have shown girls who have no access to sanitary pads due to poverty, misses three to four classes each month during their menses, which adds up to 30 to 40 missed days per school year.
Over the years, numerous interventions have been introduced by civil society and government, which included scraping of taxes on the crucial female wear for women and girls.
The merit behind such interventions is to promote easy access for the marginalized communities’, especially young school going girls.
In complementing the efforts, the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF), jointly with AMREF, Tanzania Youth Alliance (TAYOA) and Tanzania AIDS Commission (TACAIDS), have come up with a programme to support adolescent girls and young women who come from extreme poor households to have access to the important requirement among other basic needs.
The programme targets girls and young women who are in and out of school aged between 10– 24 years, with interventions focusing on cash transfers aiming for those who are going to school to ‘stay in school’ and support the ones who are out with start-up capitals.
In its pilot phase, the programme has first been rolled out in three regions, including Dodoma, Morogoro, and Singida, involving 10 municipalities in the areas.
A form three student at Mitunduni Secondary School in Mnung’una village of Singida District Council, Aisha Kitiku (17), is among the girls who is benefiting from the programme.
Aisha recounts her previous situation where she was forced to cut her ‘khanga’ into pieces and used them during her periods.
“Most times, you are worried of soiling your clothes because the pieces of khanga are neither comfortable nor reliable during heavy blood flows.
“At times the situation would force me to skip school until the periods are over,” said Aisha.
The seventeen-year-old who aspires to become a doctor or pilot can now confidently attend all the school days because the 50,000/-she is receiving after every two months supports her to buy sanitary pads and other school supplies like exercise books, pens and meals.
Aisha’s favorite subjects are biology, physics and mathematics.
Formerly, she would take seventh position in class, but now looks forward to pulling her socks further in realizing her dreams of becoming a doctor or a pilot.
“My performance has further improved as I am freed from any worries and stick to concentrating on my studies only. Previously if my exercise books were filled up, my parents did not have the money to buy me new ones straight away,” she observed.
Another beneficiary, Zanula Kitiku (16), who is in form two in the same school extends her gratitude to the government for introducing the programme in supporting vulnerable girls like them. Zainabu disclosed how the money has helped them to fulfill their most basic school needs, calling on the government to continue supporting young girls to complete their education.
She also noted that there are other girls in their communities who are not in the programme, therefore continue to face similar problems.
The Village Executive Officer (VEO), of Igauri Village in Ntonge Ward, Ms Editha Mbise pointed out that the programme has been very supportive and has offered a huge boost to poor households with the targeted population.
According to the VEO, the programme has relieved the parents and guardians who are benefiting from the other TASAF components from spending the grants to buy sanitary pads among other school needs. Therefore parents/ guardians are further investing the grants on income generating activities and savings group for a better and sustained future for their families once the programme no longer exists.
Since the Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW), programme targets the age group between 10– 24 years, she revealed that the out of school girls and young women who had nothing constructive to do can now have access to a startup capital for generating more income. She noted that the girls and young women have established small businesses from putting up vegetable nurseries to rearing chicken.
Recently, the TASAF Director of Community Support, Mr Amadeus Kamagenge while launching a two day workshop to trainer of trainer (TOT) on the AGYW programme held in Dar es Salaam, said the goal is to reach five million adolescent girls and young women countrywide. He said that once AGYW are enlightened and their source of income raised, conditions which push them to be susceptible to engage in extramarital affairs and lead to HIV/AIDS infections would be minimized.
The Director noted that the programme is being funded by the Global Fund at 883.3 million US dollars, targeting to eradicate poverty in poor households allocated to AGYW.
He revealed that AGYW is a group which is at most risks to be infected with HIV AIDS, which in turn compel them to fight to reduce the rate of transitions.
“Our aim is to reduce poverty, but TACAIDS have come up with an intervention strategy to reduce the rate of virus transmission and increase income generation activities of the AGYW group,” he said.
According to him, the support that the underprivileged communities are getting, including supporting children to go to school, attend clinics and the adolescent program for young girls is helping to steer up the government’s goal.
He pointed out that the adolescent program for young girls enables the group to have access to a special grant of 50,000/-which is given to girls from the age of 10-24 years in a bid to promote social inclusion.
Such grants help the girls to buy sanitary pads for those in school, and the ones out of school to access economic resources and opportunities so that they can stay in school longer and succeed, and at the same time avoid early marriages, delay sexual activity, and prevent unintended pregnancy.
However, education has been framed as a powerful mode of empowerment not a panacea (Adolescent Girls and Education: Challenges, Evidence and Gaps of 2013).
It is being noted in the study that education has the potential to improve a girl’s future possibilities for paid work, her sense of self and confidence, her health and control over fertility and her children. Investing in girl’s education prevents health related costs of childbirth, and improves the health of future generations because more educated mothers have assets, capabilities and urgency to invest more in their children.
Educating girls also postpones marriage, reduces the risks of HIV/AIDS, increases family income, lowers eventual fertility, improves survival rates, health indicators and educational outcomes for future children, increase women’s power in the household and political arenas and lowers rates of domestic violence.