Students in Tanzania Turn the Tables on “Open Day”
SEGA is a residential secondary school for Tanzanian girls who otherwise are unable to attend school due to extreme poverty. SEGA’s mission is to provide a high-quality education that fosters strong values, self-esteem and critical thinking skills and to empower students as agents of change for themselves, their families and their communities.
SEGA is a partner of AMPLIFY – a cohort of community organizations working to promote gender equity in East Africa – including the EAGL program, the year-round leadership and social action program culminating in the annual East African Girls’ Leadership Summit in Kenya.
Armed with mini-grants from CAI, the girls of SEGA and their mentors have been hard at work, replicating EAGL trainings and applying creative techniques they’ve learned to stage community actions promoting respect for girls’ human rights.
OPEN DAY In Tanzania, 4 out of 10 girls are married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage is deeply embedded in society and girls are generally considered ready for marriage at only 10-15 years old. The practice is often viewed as a move for financial security and a way to prevent loss of family honor due to pre-marital sex and pregnancy. Child marriage limits girls’ life opportunities and severely undermines their ability and confidence to make informed decisions about their lives.
Traditionally, “Open Day” is a cultural practice where girls who are considered to be of marriageable age are openly “presented” to the community to signal their status as potential wives and that the parents are ready to receive marriage proposals. Once the girl is “seen,” it’s nearly impossible to “undo” her status as a potential wife. This time, the students of SEGA had other ideas, successfully reframing the story of Open Day as an opportunity to engage more than 100 parents, teachers and members of the media about the many negative effects of early marriage for girls and to advocate for their right to continue their education.
SINGING OUT Students lifted their voices in unison, calling upon respect for sisters, mothers and daughters, calling upon the chance to determine their own future, calling upon their recognition, not as a burden, but a blessing. This song was also performed on International Women’s Day in another community action.
ACTING OUT Forum theater entails the dramatization of specific scenarios (for example, a father instructs his daughter that he has received her dowry and must be married). The action is halted at critical turning points, and the audience actively engages in identifying various possible solutions to the situation. Students applied this creative method on Open Day to illustrate in an interactive way the dehumanizing consequences of inequality.
PEERS MENTORING PEERS An essential element of the EAGL program is the training of women partner staff in creative mentoring and facilitation techniques grounded in the CAI curriculum designed to address the unique needs of adolescent girls. SEGA students are applying the EAGL mentoring component to support each other in a peer mentoring program. Form 3 students have completed three days of training in how to effectively mentor and support younger students. Mentors select a topic to discuss during weekly meetings with their younger sisters to check in and provide guidance.
Entrepreneurship is a valuable life skill for SEGA students, as many Tanzanians supplement their salaries with small businesses. Income generating activities can be especially beneficial for girls to develop independence and for parents to understand the practical values of an education. Among the many ways SEGA fosters these skills is a Business Club - where students learn to generate and create products such as food items, clothes and textiles and engage in small scale marketing at school and in the wider community. In addition to helping younger students navigate through their school journey, peer mentoring is also supporting the development of these practical skills. (Below: students sell shoes and popcorn; mentors instruct in making sheets).
All of us at CAI are heartened and inspired to witness the enthusiasm for creative social action embraced by SEGA students and their mentors and the endless possibilities for knowledge transfer and replication beyond schools and into the wider communities and regions of Tanzania. When given the opportunity, girls can light up the world with truth and action to empower themselves and influence hearts, minds and policy.