06.04.2017 - Education Sector

Muslim community leaders in Tanzania vow to enhance support to girls’ education

© UNESCO/Jennifer Alima Kotta

Child marriage, early pregnancy and unclear policy are some of the issues preventing girls in Zanzibar from completing their education.

To address this, 120 key community members from the Micheweni District in Pemba, Zanzibar, developed a comprehensive workplan to remove key obstacles to girls’ educational attainment. 

The absence of a law on the minimum legal age of marriage, social and cultural norms intertwined with religious practices and a lack of education from parents mean that a girl can get married as early as 12 to 14 years old.

UNESCO has developed a socio-cultural approach aimed at addressing harmful cultural norms and practices and promoting gender equality. It works through demonstrating that cultural norms and practices are ever-evolving and can be changed organically by involving key religious and community leaders who then pass on their knowledge to the wider community.

The UNESCO Dar es Salaam Office organized two workshops in February 2016 in Micheweni District to sensitize communities on their crucial role in supporting girls’ education by stopping child marriages and pregnancies of adolescent girls. The workshops formed part of the project Crowd Sourcing Girls’ Education funded by the Packard Foundation and with support from the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

Workshop participants were actively engaged in a critical analysis of the challenges to girls’ empowerment and transformation into catalysts for change. Community members were introduced to the concepts of culture, gender equality, education, law and regulations, and the role of parents and community members in supporting girls’ education. In response to contradictory interpretations of the holy books and government education policy that enforces basic compulsory education, madrassa teacher Khalid Abdallah Khamis stated that in the Holy Quran, marriage is ‘sunnah’ (traditionally optional) while education is ‘fardhi’ (meaning obligatory). He said: “Wisdom with reasoning is required to ensure that we protect and provide formal education for the girl child, enforcing the rights of our women and our children”.

The workshops resulted in a comprehensive workplan developed by community members to address the obstacles to girls’ education. Micheweni community radio will complement the initiative through programmes that aim for social behaviour change. Shaban Ali Abeid, Community Radio Micheweni presenter at the workshop, said: “Community participatory education helps to delay the age of marriage for girls and to keep them in school until they complete secondary education. The problems exist, we know them and we can address them because they are within our capacity”. UNESCO will continue to mobilise community members as key agents to support girls’ education in their communities through similar initiatives.

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