Archive for the ‘Women’s Empowerment’ Category

A broad coalition of advocacy groups supported by the Tanzanian government is launching a new campaign to end the practice of child marriage in Tanzania.

Even today, nearly 40% of Tanzania’s girls will be married before their 18th birthdays, giving the country one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Often forced to bear children shortly thereafter (according to the World Bank, Tanzania has the highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, based on birth rates among girls aged 15-19), girls’ health is often jeopardized, and their education is regularly cut short.

The “Child Marriage-Free Zone” campaign aims to end this practice, damaging both to Tanzania’s women and to the country’s overall efforts to move into the modern world. Headed by the Ministry of Community Development, Gender, and Children, the campaign has partnered with the United Nations Population Fund Tanzania (UNFPA), the Graca Machel Trust, the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), and the Children’s Dignity Forum.

Graca Machel—widow of Nelson Mandela and a longtime advocate for women’s and children’s rights—spoke in Dar es Salaam at the launch of the campaign (on August 26, 2014):

Longtime activist Graca Machel spoke at an event launching the campaign

“We cannot continue with practices that harm children, because it’s against any human value that we stand for…we have to change the thinking that there’s less value in the girl child,” she told attendees.

Machel pointed to Tanzania’s ongoing constitutional review process as an opportunity for the country to update its laws to better protect women. She argues that the new constitution must clearly state the legal age for marriage. Currently, Tanzania has conflicting laws dealing with legal marriage and age of consent, and enforcement is lax.

With government officials, activists, and both national and international rights organizations coming together to support the measure, hopes are high that child marriage in Tanzania will soon become a thing of the past.

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Recent reports indicate that Tanzania has managed to reduce maternal mortality rates by two-thirds since 2000, an achievement that puts the country well ahead of schedule in attaining this important UN Millenium Development Goal (MDG).

The MDGs were originally outlined in 2000, with all 189 UN then-member states committing themselves to achieving eight goals by 2015:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Each of the goals was tied to specific benchmarks; to achieve goal 5, developing nations couldn’t merely reduce maternal mortality, they had to reduce it by 75% or more from 1990 levels by the year 2015. Tanzania has already achieved this remarkable turnaround, thanks to concerted efforts in recent years to educate women about health issues, provide greater access to women’s health services, and reach rural communities, often most affected by all the problems the MDGs are meant to combat.

Commitments from NGOs, development partners, and the Tanzanian government have all helped contribute to this success.

Speaking at an international summit on maternal and infant health in Toronto, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete indicated that, despite meeting targets ahead of schedule, Tanzania is still working to further improve maternal outcomes. Bringing new maternity wards and operation facilities to all district health centers is one of Kikwete’s top priorities, especially for the over 12,000 small rural villages in Tanzania, many of which currently lack access to adequate healthcare, maternal or otherwise.

Despite significant challenges, chief among them a lack of trained medical workers, gynecologists, and midwives, Kikwete has set a lofty goal for the country: zero deaths in childbirth. If things continue improving for mothers in Tanzania, the country may just be on the path towards achieving that sooner than later.

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In an effort to better catch and treat cervical cancers in Tanzanian women, the Tumbi Regional Referral Hospital—located in the Kibaha District on the coast—has recently installed a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) machine.

LEEP technology is used to burn away the small and mid-sized lesions that are considered the first signs of cervical cancer in women. In the early stages of the disease, LEEP treatments are highly effective.

According to Dr. Alphonse Moyo, departmental director at Tumbi Regional, LEEP technology is “painless and effective by 90%” as a treatment against early-stage cervical cancers. He noted that the machine is a vast improvement over Cryo therapies previously being used in the hospital to treat these lesions.

LEEP machines are among the most effective tools in treating early-stage cervical cancers

Early detection is key, which is why the hospital is offering both screenings and, when necessary, LEEP procedures, for free.

The hospital has been offering free screenings since 2011, in which time over 1500 women have been screened for cervical cancer. About half of the women needed additional treatment, indicating just how necessary both screening and treatment services are throughout Tanzania.

Dr. Moyo admitted that his department faces significant challenges to progress, chief amongst them lack of funding and lack of widespread awareness. He’s urging more women to get tested, as outcomes are very good when the disease is caught early; we’re hoping more hospitals nationwide follow the example he’s setting at Tumbi Regional.

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Three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come together to improve outcomes for runaways and street children in Tanzania. According to recent reports from the groups, 85 children have already been rescued thanks to their efforts.

The project, based in Dar es Salaam, joins Kiota Women, Health and Development (KIWOHEDE); Makini; and Dogodogo Centre [sic]. Launched in 2012, the joint initiative focuses on improving the welfare of street children in Dar, and when possible reuniting children with their families in their home villages.

According to estimates from groups working with street children in Tanzania, somewhere around 10,000 children throughout the country are currently living on the street, where they’re at risk for abuse, exploitation, violence, and neglect. At least 3,000 of those children currently live in Dar es Salaam.

Beyond attempting to reintegrate children with families when possible, the initiative has worked to improve community awareness of the needs of street children and the risks they face. They’ve also opened up drop-in centers, where children can receive three meals a day and first aid kits (which are distributed based on availability).

Children referred to the centers by a social worker are also eligible to join individual and group counseling sessions.

Reintegration into school has been a priority, and KIWOHEDE has started training programs at some of the centers where street children will have a chance to learn vocational skills that can help them reenter society with the tools to succeed.

KIWOHEDE runs counseling and rehabilitation programs for women and at-risk youth, including trafficked women and child prostitutes; works on HIV/AIDS education and outreach; and offers vocational training to women and children looking to improve their lives. Makini (“talent” in Swahili) works with street children in Dar es Salaam through arts outreach programs, helping at-risk youth to discover and develop talents in the arts in an effort to build self-esteem and life skills. The Dogodogo Centre works to promote legislation and influence policy-making to better protect street children, and also provides education, health services, and shelter to children in Dar es Salaam.

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Nations worldwide celebrated International Women’s Day Saturday, March 8, and Tanzania used the event as an opportunity to bring focus to an especially important health initiative for its nation’s women: a push for more cervical cancer screenings.

To kick off the campaign Tanzania’s first lady, Mama Salma Kikwete, spoke in Mwanza. In her speech she urged husbands to allow their wives to visit health facilities and to be screened for cervical cancer there (Tanzania is still a highly patriarchal society, and men often control decision making for the entire family). Mwanza regional commissioner Said Magarula also spoke, noting that healthier women make for healthier families, which leads to a healthier Tanzania for everyone.

International Women’s Day is celebrated every March 8

The first lady also helped jump-start the initiative by giving 16 screening machines to regional medical officers in the Mwanza, Mara, Mbeya and Iringa regions.

Screenings will be provided free of charge, a fact which demonstrates the country’s commitment to improving outcomes in this extremely important area of women’s health. Speakers urged women aged 30-50 to be screened even if they feel healthy, as outcomes are significantly better when cervical cancer is found early, before there are any symptoms.

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8. Since 1996, the UN has chosen a theme for each year’s celebrations. This year’s theme was “Inspiring Change: Equality for Women is Progress for All.”

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