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One More Step, Madam President

Dear President Samia Suluhu Hassan, congratulations on the second anniversary of your presidency in Tanzania. Indeed under your leadership, supporters of gender equality and women’s empowerment have celebrated good progress in this area. Specifically, under the Generation Equality Forum, you made profound commitments. Under the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition of Generation Equality, for example, you committed to create more jobs for women in the care economy, expand decent work in Tanzania, broaden women’s access and control over productive resources, and develop gender-responsive economic plans. These are audacious commitments, and we commend you for them.

Madam President, we worry, however, that despite these big plans, there lays huge barriers to their realization. The fundamental first step to women taking up these opportunities and resources is education. Every woman and every girl needs to have a basic education in order to access these opportunities. Yet the right to education for girls in Tanzania is under threat.

Madam President, the Education Act, enacted through Government Notice No. 295 under Regulation 4 (Expulsion and Exclusion of Pupils from Schools), authorizes the permanent expulsion of pregnant school girls and married girls from public schools. These regulations stand despite Tanzania setting the age of marriage for girls at 14 with the consent of the court and 15 with parental consent in its Marriage Act. This means we have 14 and 15 years olds permanently banned from accessing education by law! The reality, Your Excellency, is that these two sets of laws have been singularly responsible for the destruction of the future of thousands of girls in Tanzania. A 2021 World Bank report, for instance,  estimated that every year in Tanzania, at least 120,000 girls drop out of school for reasons including teenage pregnancy and child marriage.

Your administration, Your Excellency, has apprehended this and even issued circular directions to re-admit girls back in school who have been out of school for the past two years. Unfortunately, Your Excellency, the education regulation still stands and therefore, whilst you are readmitting girls back on the one hand, the laws are ushering them out on the other, either by way of state-mandated child marriage or by barring them from school once they get pregnant.

Your Excellency, being a woman, a mother, a leader and a forerunner, we know that you understand and, indeed stand with the girls in your society. It is therefore, for this reason that we call on you to take that one final and decisive step of expunging from the legal books the most unfortunate and unfair of laws that subject Tanzanian girls to marriage as children. Furthermore, the law then bans them from school on this account, or waits for them to fall pregnant and then bans them all the same. It is only in this way that Your Excellency and, indeed, your administration will address the right to education for girls and the underlying drivers that have so far resulted in girls not accessing education.

Madam President, in 2022 you began the journey of returning girls to school. We implore you in this month when the world celebrates international women’s day that you take one more step and let girls in Tanzania stay in school.