Investing in girls’ rights in Tanzania: Our Leadership, Our Well-being
International Day of the Girl Child
Op-ed by Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative to Tanzania, and H.E. Kyle Nunas, High Commissioner of Canada.
As we mark the International Day of the Girl Child under the theme “Invest in Girls' Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being", it is crucial to recognize the immense potential and capabilities of girls, particularly adolescent girls, in Tanzania and the pivotal role they play in shaping the nation's future.
In Tanzania, we know that education is the cornerstone of empowerment. It is not just a personal achievement; it is a collective investment in the future of every society.
According to the World Bank, for every additional year of secondary education a girl receives, her potential income increases by about 10-20 per cent. Women with primary education only earn 14 per cent to 19 per cent more than women with no education at all, but those with secondary education earn almost twice as much.
This translates into greater economic productivity, reduced poverty rates, and improved overall well-being of the future generation. It strengthens economies, reduces inequality, and empowers girls to make informed decisions about their lives and contribute meaningfully to their communities and the economy.
As Tanzania has committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality, investing in adolescent girls in particular is one of the most effective ways to bring about the gender transformation needed to achieve the human right to gender equality and the related SDG 5 targets thereby laying the foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable society.
It is heartening to see the Government of Tanzania prioritize the removal of obstacles hindering girls' access to quality education.
We applaud H.E Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of Tanzania, for the great milestones made in curriculum reforms and education financing especially the commitment to increase government investment in education to 20 per cent of the GDP by 2025. The realisation of these commitments including the Samia Scholarship for vulnerable adolescent girls to access tertiary education will provide an enabling environment needed at national and sub-national levels to boost access to quality learning.
We also recognize the Government of Tanzania’s commitment to improving girls' education and its significant achievements in reaching gender parity in basic education. The decision to allow pregnant adolescent girls and teenage mothers to return to school is commendable, as it opens doors to a brighter future for them and their children.
However, challenges persist, and there is more work to be done. In Tanzania, more than 50 per cent of out-of-school children aged 7 to 171 are girls. Of those in school, only 16 per cent of girls are achieving learning basic competencies in Mathematics at Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (CSEE)2.
One of the critical aspects of girls’ education is addressing the issue of child marriage. Girls who are married as children are more likely to drop out of school and face early pregnancies that are risky for their health and their baby’s well-being. Tanzania still faces the challenge of the Law of Marriage Act 1971, which allows girls to be married at 14 with court consent and 15 with parental consent.
We appreciate the commitment and concrete steps taken by the Government through the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs to amend the Law, and it is our sincere hope that the Ministry will expedite the submission of the bill before the Parliament for the law to be changed to set 18 years of age as the minimum age of marriage for both girls and boys ensuring that all children have the opportunity to complete their education before entering into marriage.
Investing in girls' education is a powerful tool for breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality.
Investments in maternal health care and parenting support for adolescent mothers, in digital and life skills training, in comprehensive sexuality education, in survivor support services and violence prevention programmes are key. These areas require increased attention and resourcing to enable girls to realize their rights and achieve their full potential.
To achieve this, it will require multisectoral interventions engaging various stakeholders and investing in complementary initiatives, like comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education, improved school environments, and community support mechanisms for young mothers.
Most importantly, we need to invest in girls' leadership, including creating space and platforms for girls to raise their voices at every level of policymaking, directly resourcing girls’ movements and networks, and centring girls’ voices, agency and leadership in all programmes.
On this International Day of the Girl Child, let us reaffirm our commitment to girls' rights, their leadership, and the collective well-being of this nation. Our time is now, and together, we can empower Tanzanian girls to reach their full potential and shape a brighter future for all.
2 Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania (BEST 2020)
UNICEF supported by Global Affairs Canada, has been supporting the Government of Tanzania’s efforts to enhance education and empowerment for girls.
The Every Adolescent Girl Learns (EAGL) project, which aims to reach over 350,000 adolescents – 80 per cent or 280,000 of which are girls, in both the mainland and Zanzibar, with its focus on improving learning and empowerment, is a testament to our commitment to girls' education. By targeting subjects such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), girl's empowerment, climate change, and menstrual hygiene management, EAGL aims to increase completion rates for girls at the primary and secondary levels.
Through such initiatives, UNICEF’s approaches focus on equitable access to gender-responsive education, teacher training, life skills development, and creating girl-friendly, inclusive learning environments. These approaches are designed not only to improve academic outcomes but also to empower girls as change agents in their communities and the world at large.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.