“The biggest hurdle for girls obtaining an education here is an attitude. They do not see girls as people who should be trained. They should have little training. They are seen as people who should remain at home to take care of their husband. They should not have high education.”
“If you report your husband for domestic violence, how will you eat the next day?”
“Go to the local secondary school and every girl in Form 3 will have had an abortion.”
These are just some of the stories my colleagues and I heard while performing human rights research in Tanzania. Five third-year law students from Washington and Lee University traveled to Tanzania with Professor Johanna Bond in early October. While there, we worked with our local partners, the Women’s Legal Aid Centre, to gather information on early marriage and early pregnancy and their impact on girls’ education in Tanzania.
During our time in Tanzania, we journeyed to rural villages to conduct interviews with students, former students, teachers, doctors, judges, NGO workers, and religious and government leaders. Each of these interviews provided valuable insight into the issues we were addressing. Although we had prepared for our interviews through research and practice before the trip, nothing can truly prepare you for hearing story after story of girls unable to go to school. By the end of the first day of interviews, we realized that the issues we were researching are extremely complex with many contributing factors, as well as the severe impact early pregnancy and early marriage has on keeping young girls out of school.
The law in Tanzania is unclear, but many school officials interpret government policy that the school must expel pregnant girls, regardless of the stage of the pregnancy. To avoid expulsion, many girls will seek abortions. But because abortions are illegal in Tanzania and therefore extremely dangerous, they often do not go well and lead to serious health complications. For those girls who do not have abortions, they are kicked out of school and generally have no chance to ever continue their education. These girls become trapped in a cycle of poverty and often find themselves in abusive relationships with no escape.
Since our return from Tanzania, we have worked hard to compile and analyze all of the data we gathered. We are putting all of this information into a report that will include recommendations to the Tanzanian government for how to improve girls’ access to education. Our partners in Tanzania will use the report for their own advocacy purposes, as well as to include in a report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. It is critical for our research on this issue to be shared because educating girls will change the world. New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof has written this about girls’ education: “[T]here’s no force more powerful to transform a society.” The research we did and the report we submit will hopefully allow more girls to stay in school and thus, transform Tanzania into a more developed and flourishing country.
My colleagues and I will be presenting our findings and recommendations on Wednesday, November 18 at 5pm in Classroom C. We hope you will be able to make it to learn more about this important issue.
By: Emily Tichenor