At the end of September, the government of the United Republic of Tanzania announced to international agencies that they should “stop with immediate effect airing and publishing any family planning contents in any media channels” running any family planning content in the media. A letter was then also issued to FHI 360 to immediately stop the adverts it was running with USAID’s funding.
This announcement came one week after the President, John Magufuli, said that ‘those going for family planning are lazy…they are afraid they will not be able to feed their children’.
The United Republic of Tanzania, a country in eastern Africa, has a population of around 53 million people. Forty-nine per cent live on less than $2 (£1.50) a day. On average, a woman in Tanzania has more than five children, which is among the highest rates in the world. Pregnancy rates are also high among teenagers: a quarter of Tanzanian girls aged 15-19 are pregnant or have given birth.
At this point, there is little doubt about the policy position taken by the President. When he announced the launch of free primary and secondary education in 2016, he said: “Women can now throw away their contraceptives. Education is now free.”
In 2017 he also announced that as long as he is in office “no pregnant students will be allowed to return to school”. This has a huge impact on girls’ education opportunities. Official statistics record that between 2003 and 2011, more than 55,000 girls dropped out because of pregnancy.
It is important to remember, as we showed in our latest Gender Review on accountability for gender equality in education that countries have made legal commitments to gender equality in education. Within the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), for instance, Article 10 lays out state obligations and establishes acceptable norms, including on access to educational information on health and family planning. The current turnaround in Tanzania is in direct opposition to this Article, just as the turnaround on allowing pregnant girls from going to school sits in opposition to multiple other articles related to eliminating gender discriminatory practices.
Going against human rights obligations in this way has its comeuppance. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called Tanzania’s policy on pregnant school girls “shocking,” while the African Commission special rapporteur on the rights of women in Africa and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child have also voiced their concern.
Media announcements on family planning are a form of education, of course, raising awareness of options, and teaching to improve access. As we detailed in the GMR 2013/4 and again in the GEM Report 2016, education’s influence on empowering women is particularly strong in countries where girls are likely to get married or give birth early and have a large number of children. Such empowerment not only benefits women’s own choices, also improves their health and that of their children. Quite the reverse of President Magafuli’s belief that his country needs more people to avoid being ‘short on manpower’, empowering women to have choices on family planning benefits societies by bringing forward the demographic transition to a stable population with lower fertility and lower mortality.
We believe that women’s autonomy and empowerment forms the crux of gender norms, values and attitudes. This is why, since 2015, we have included the need for the ‘degree of decision-making on family planning’ to be included as a key indicator for measuring progress towards gender equality in education. Changes such as these in the U.R. Tanzania are a step backwards from a path towards lifelong learning for all, and a black mark on the move towards achieving gender equality in education.