One of the many interlinked issues that COCO is working to alleviate is gender inequality. Such discrimination is often deeply ingrained into community life. Many members, without proper education and knowledge, fail to understand the positive impact women can have on society. There have, unfortunately, been some abhorrent stories about the treatment of women in parts of East Africa, particularly in isolated communities characterized by poverty and lack of opportunity. The main factors that contribute to reduced female societal inclusion are lack of formal education (24%), teenage pregnancies (27%), violence against women and girls (40% physical and 17% sexual), female genital mutilation (10%) and HIV/AIDS, which affects 5.8% of women.
The education of girls is an effective way to deal with these problems. COCO believes that every child, regardless of their race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability or any other factor should have access to good quality education. Educating a girl improves self-reliance and increases autonomy and bargaining power within households and communities. Female empowerment can be a catalyst for change in rural communities, many of which are tied into traditional ways of thinking that hold back development and limit trust and social capital. The World Bank and economists alike have long understood the importance of female empowerment in alleviating poverty and raising the prosperity of local communities.
Lack of female teachers is a continuous problem, reinforcing male dominance in public services. However, many teachers and community leaders we work with are female. Julianna is head of Kimamba CBO and responsible for overseeing all of the projects in the group, including the running of Litisha nursery, community farm, beekeeping and small loans. Meanwhile, Malaika is Director of the Kids are Kings Nursery in Songea, Tanzania. The school teaches children in English and offers scholarships to those who are unable to access government nurseries locally or to afford nursery fees. She, however, has faced significant challenges because of her gender.
“Many people in the community have said that the nursery and I could not succeed because I am a woman. We offer classes at a lower cost than other private nurseries and schools in the area however some people would still rather send their children to schools that they struggle to afford. They do not have the confidence that an organization run by a woman could provide the quality of education for their children.”
“Women hold many roles in Tanzanian life and the expectations on them are very high, yet they often do not get the recognition that they deserve. If given the chance to pursue their goals in life women would do many great things.”
COCO aims to promote the fulfilment of female potential through education, skill development and employment, giving paramount importance to the elimination of poverty, illiteracy and ill health amongst women. The distribution of small loans has improved the ability of women to earn income beyond traditional occupations such as farming, allowing them to achieve financial independence and demonstrate to children that women can achieve just as much as men. Over 6,000 small loans have been given out by our Tanzanian partners, the Hoja Project. Our research shows that borrowers have, on average, experienced a 50% increase in income within the first 6 months of taking out the loan since the inception of the project in 2007.
Adolescent pregnancy led to almost 3,700 Tanzanian girls dropping out of primary and secondary school education in 2016. COCO is working towards ensuring that all our partner Schools for Life are equipped with toilets and facilities for girls such as boarding houses and partitioned dormitories. This will encourage girls who are on their periods or are pregnant to remain in education for longer and promote progressive attitudes towards female opportunity, education and rights.
Agriculture remains the most prevalent industry for women in Tanzania. In 2017, 55.9% of female employment was in agriculture. Educating women and community members properly alongside the Hoja Project through sustainable agriculture training has raised productivity and hence incomes; an internal COCO study has found that average household income increases by 284% as a result of the training. This empowers women to become self-reliant, allowing them to fund the education of their children which is crucial in maintaining progress and raising welfare.
COCO’s work so far in 2019 has focussed on girls in education, who often do not progress as well as their male counterparts due to social pressures at home and inadequate sanitation facilities to attend school during their periods or whilst pregnant. A new gender empowerment centre will use sport, vocational training courses and talks by inspirational women to motivate, build confidence and develop skills for an estimated 18,000 people each year. The Hoja Teacher Training and Learning (TTL) Centre is also ensuring that newly qualified teachers are aware of gender issues that may constrain girls in their educational and social development, as well as providing young women with the opportunity to receive more advanced education that enables them to access high status jobs.
Gender equality is a right. Fulfilling this right is the best chance we have in meeting some of the most pressing challenges facing Tanzanian communities- lack of opportunity, domestic and sexual violence, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. Women are not only more affected by these problems, but also possess ideas and leadership to solve them. Hence, the gender discrimination still holding back women holds back entire communities too.
If you would like to help us out in our mission to provide good quality education to both boys and girls you can donate now to increase the number of children who have access to our Schools for Life or contact [email protected] if you would like to support a particular project!