Investing in Africa's teenage girls - making them agents of change
Today 11 July is World Population Day, and we want to appreciate ACORD’s work with adolescent girls in pastoralist communities in Tanzania.
Many teenage girls around the world face enormous challenges, especially if their communities or parents consider them ready for marriage and motherhood. This used to be the norm in many parts of Tanzania where 37% of underage girls are married. A recent high court decision ruled marriages for both girls and boys under the age of 18 as unconstitutional. This is positive and might bring change in future. Previously girls as young as 14, could legally wed with their parents’ consent.
Laws and legal decisions, important as they are, are not enough to change harmful cultural practices. ACORD and other organisations working to end early or forced marriages know this from our own experience working in rural remote areas. It is possible to transform social and cultural norms, but it takes time and requires sustained long-term efforts. Working with communities themselves and local change makers makes a difference.
For the last three years, ACORD is implementing a programme for Increasing access and utilisation of integrated sexual and reproductive health services for women and adolescent girls in pastoralist communities Tanzania. An important part of this programme which benefits from DFID funding, is increasing access to information with a view to change attitudes and practices positively.
Access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information has increased through resource hubs established by ACORD’s project in Ngorongoro region in Tanzania. The resource hubs are equipped with audio-visual equipment and documentaries on maternal, child, sexual and reproductive health issues and HIV/AIDS.
Nemayian, a 17 year old girl from Malambo Village (she is already married like most of her age mates in this region) gives the following testimony:
“…I visited Malambo health facility for antenatal care services. While waiting for the service I heard some local music from that metal house (the resource hubs are made of shipping containers) and was attracted. I decide to pass through the place after the service. A young lady welcomed me and I entered the room. I was further impressed to see the music was from the TV in the hub and with good message on HIV/AIDS. After the music there, another person appeared on the TV and was speaking Swahili. I could pick some of it and I sought clarification from the lady in charge of the resource hub. I was very interested with the way messages were delivered especially through that video documentary. I learnt many things during that day especially on the importance of family planning and use of modern contraceptive methods. I also managed to convince my husband to also visit the resource hub. Nowadays me and my husband are among the frequent visitors to the resource hubs and we have gained a lot of new knowledge on many SRH related issues through watching audio visual documentaries. Some of our friends are also joining us when we visit the resource hubs and they are also interested with different SRH information available there….”
ACORD is currently finalising the handover process of the resource hubs to the District Health Department, which ensures a continuous supply of relevant information, education and communication materials to the resource hubs. In each hub youth volunteers generate a small income by charging mobile phones using the solar system available in the hubs. This money is an incentive to the volunteers to manage the hubs and the additional funds are used for maintenance. This will support the sustainability of the resource hubs after the project ends.
The testimony of 17 year old Nemayian echoes the words of the UNFPA Executive Director, Babatunde Osotimehin: “When teenage girls are empowered, when they know about their rights and are given the tools to succeed, they become agents of positive change in their communities.”
“Investing in teenage girls, the topic of this year’s World Population Day certainly makes sense”, concludes Kristin Seljeflot, Director of Funding and Partnership Development in ACORD.
ACORD is committed to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in Africa. This includes the domestication of SDG5 and Beijing objectives and their adequate resourcing. ACORD will also contribute to good health and well-being and access to universal quality health services, including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in marginalized and hard to reach communities (including for refugee populations)
Read ACORD’s Strategic Plan 2016-2020 here.
In Uganda, ACORD in partnership with UNFPA is providing dignity kits and related services to South Sudanese refugees. Read more here.
ACORD publication – voices of women and girls – read more here