The best three-letter weapon against poverty is spelled not A-I-D but J-O-B.
~Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
WHY MUST WE INVEST IN WOMEN?
Tanzania is one of our planet’s least developed countries, ranking 152nd out of 187 countries by the Human Development Index. It is a male-dominated patriarchal society ranking 119th out of 146 countries on the gender-inequality index. Discrimination and violence against females is pandemic.
From the onset, daughters receive fewer educational opportunities than sons as cultural norms dictate that families invest in educating boys first. Due to extreme poverty, lack of parental investment and the high rate of teen pregnancy (half of all girls have their first child by 19 and those who get pregnant are immediately expelled from school), 80% of all girls only complete primary school. One in 5 has no education at all. Of the 5% of all Tanzanian children who ever enroll in secondary school, a smaller percent complete their studies and of those a tiny fraction are girls. And once in school, gender-based socialization often reinforces negative norms by teaching boys to be assertive and girls to be passive. In poor family homes, girls often receive less adequate nutrition and medical care than boys as it is expected that they will marry young (70% are married by age 20) and leave to live with their husband’s clan. The legal age for marriage in Tanzania is 15 (younger with parental consent), and often the only perceived value of a daughter is her dowry upon betrothal.
Girls and women in Tanzania are at constantly risk. Tanzania has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence after age 15, and 1/3 of adolescents report forced sexual initiation (even higher as sex crimes largely go underreported). HIV infection rates are 6x higher for girls than for boys, and while the constitution is currently being rewritten to better protect women, currently there are no laws protecting women or girls from domestic violence.
Girls and women are also 100% responsible for domestic labor, including the physically burdensome and time-consuming tasks of collecting water and firewood (the average weight of water women in Africa carry on their heads is 50 pounds -HDR) as well as the caring for the young, the sick and the elderly; maintaining the home structure; farming by hand-hoe any small shamba for fruits and vegetables that can be sold to meet the families basic needs; cooking; cleaning; etc.
For those who do receive an education, there are still many obstacles. Customary law demands that land remain in the man’s clan and is inherited only by male siblings or male heirs. As a result, daughters and wives rarely inherit land rights. Also, for women wanting to start or grow their own businesses, getting credit and/or bank loans is extremely difficult due to cultural prejudice and often a husband’s permission and consent is required.
All these factors — inadequate access to proper education, nutrition and medical care; the threat of gender-based violence; burdensome domestic duties; a lack of access to land and credit; and cultural norms and traditions that prevent women from decision making at the family and community levels — work together to keep women trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Together, by investing in women, we can help break this cycle.
Sources: World Vision; HDR – Human Development Report: Nurturing Minds in Africa; Social Institutions and Gender Index; UPPSALA UNIVERSITET “Rape Against Women in Tanzania;” Challenges Facing Women in Election, by Tanzania Women Cross-Party Platform & Demo Finland; United Republic of Tanzania, Beijing +10, Women 2005; The United Republic of Tanzania: Policy on Women in Development in Tanzania; International Finance Corporation; United Nations in Tanzania; UNICEF: 2003 Tanzania Country Highlight. Girls Education in Tanzania; United Republic of Tanzania Ministry of Industry and Trade: Small and Medium Enterprise Development Policy, 2002; International Labour Organization; Half the Sky Movement