In light of a new ruling from the Tanzanian High Court on child marriage, SEGA’s Msichana Kisasa program is important to empower girls and change cultural attitudes.
Nurturing Minds and SEGA celebrated a momentous decision by the Tanzanian High Court on July 8, when the court ruled to raise the legal marriage age for girls to 18. This ruling aims to change Tanzania’s alarming statistics about teen pregnancy and teen birth. (Reuters, citing a Tanzanian government survey, reports 21% of girls aged 15 to 19 have given birth, while global partnership Girls Not Brides reports that 37% of girls are married before the age of 18.) Activists agree that the ruling is a step in the right direction. Still, Reuters reports that much more work is needed to change cultural attitudes about child marriage and adolescent pregnancy in order for the ruling to make a difference. SEGA’s new pilot program, called Msichana Kisasa or “Modern Girl,” thanks to the support of the Imago Dei Fund, is working to empower girls and change these cultural attitudes through counseling and mentorship in small groups across the country.
The Msichana Kisasa pilot program utilizes SEGA graduates to bring the messages of SEGA’s Education for Life (EFL) program to small “girls club” settings in communities around the country. SEGA graduates mentor local girls, ages 10 to 18 & up, teaching life skills with a focus on leadership training and confidence. The curriculum includes things like assertive communication, girls’ rights, sexual reproductive health and pregnancy prevention, financial literacy, and career counseling. Equally important, the Msichana Kisasa mentors provide a support network for their students. SEGA graduates are chosen to be mentors in the program for their outstanding work ethic, understanding of the subject material, and ability to connect with the students, who may sometimes be their own age or older.
We asked Clementina Mwambene, Msichana Kisasa Coordinator, to tell us a bit about the program and how it is evolving. “At the beginning of the program, the curriculum focused primarily on SEGA’s life skills class, with topics such as personal hygiene, HIV/AIDS awareness, female empowerment, and human rights,” she explained. “Recently, the girls in the communities that are being served have asked to learn more about entrepreneurship and personal finance. Most of them are not in school, and want to know what other options they have. Financial literacy opens many doors for the girls in these communities.”
The mentors described feeling gratified at the impact they see in their work. “We are giving these girls confidence,” one of the mentors stated. “They are able to now solve small problems in their lives. Now, because of this program, they know their rights. We are building a trust between us and these girls.” The mentors listed some of their favorite sessions to teach so far — about human rights, puberty, dreams, relationships, menstruation and female hygiene. This past weekend, they started teaching the topic of how to save money. The SEGA graduates are excited to tell their students about the new ruling from the Tanzanian High Court. They will explain that “just because they are not in school does not mean that they have to get married, and that in fact, it is now illegal before they are 18.” We are very proud of the Msichana Kisasa mentors and students, and their hard work to make a better future for themselves and all girls in Tanzania.