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Reducing Adolescent Girls’ Vulnerability


...above all, it is because of serious gender inequality and the way the girls are vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse.



Support by Healthcare’s Positive Action program, TAMASHA has been implementing a program in the context of combating HIV and AIDS among young people in Newala to make the world a safer place for girls and enable girls to protect and develop themselves.  From 2013 – 2017, TAMASHA has reached to 30 wards of Newala districts training a total of 95 young artists in theatre for development, 90 peer educators in life skills, peer education and animation skills and 60 adult guardians.

So why Newala?

Newala is situated in the deep south of Tanzania on the border with Mozambique.  Until recently the roads were very poor and Newala was a largely neglected district.  It’s one asset is cashews (more of them later) which they sell once a year so their economy is confined to a short boom and a long bust every year.

Why girls?

Not only globally but also in Newala, girls are most vulnerable to HIV.  This is not because girls have worse behaviour than boys, or even because of greater physical vulnerability.  Above all, it is because of serious gender inequality and the way the girls are vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse.  Therefore this program has prioritized girls at every stage starting with the initial stage where we trained 7 girls (aged 18-22) to be the principal researchers.

Girls face many dangers in Newala:  (Girls are very vulnerable)

In Phase One of the programme with funding from ViiV, TAMASHA worked with International Centre for Research on Women, started with a research into vulnerabilities of adolescent girls based on the hypothesis that by addressing these vulnerabilities, the issue of HIV will also be addressed.  The research showed that girls are vulnerable in many ways:

  • Sexual harassment and abuse is very common.  Boys expect them to agree to have sex and if the girl refuses she is in danger of being raped.
  • Apart from the mosque and the church, no place is safe.
  • Girls are often left in charge of their younger siblings while their parents move to the farm for several weeks.  In the end they have to have recourse to sex to get money to feed their younger siblings.
  • Girls are more likely to be taken out of school or drop out of school than boys.
  • Girls are often married off when still children (either by force, or sometimes with their won consent as they believe that may be marriage will give them a better life.
  • As a result, some girls are already divorced with children even before they become adults themselves.
  • Many girls have unexpected and unwanted pregnancy. This is also a major reason for them to drop out of school.
  • Men can act with impunity and if a girl gets sick or pregnant, or both, it is the girl who is blamed.
  • Girls are not given any education to enable them to cope with the multiple vulnerabilities they face.

All of these are major drivers of the continuing spread of HIV.  Even marriage, especially at such an early age, is not a protective factor, as has been shown by researches in Kenya, Zambia, Uganda and Ethiopia.

This was borne out also by the young people who took part in the research.

Phase One: Reducing vulnerability

Based on the research, TAMASHA and ICRW, again with funding from ViiV, in agreement with local stakeholders implemented the following programme:

  • Support to 4/28 wards.
  • Promoted the need for a community youth centre to be run by the young people themselves.
  • Trained 4 peer educators (2 male, 2 female) and 2 adult guardians for each ward in life skills, Sexual and Reproductive Health and leadership.
  • Followed up and supported the programme.

Where did the boys come from?

The research also showed clearly that the vulnerabilities of the girls cannot be addressed without involving the boys also.

  • One of the keys to combating gender based violence is to improve the quality of communication and relationships.  This has to be from both sides.
  • A safe environment cannot be developed without the participation of the boys who are currently the ones often responsible for the lack of safety.
  • Gender really is about girls and boys.  Boys also feel marginalized (by the elders) and can take it out on the girls.
  • The endemic gender based violence denies girls of any opportunity to participate in the development of their community or access other opportunities.

Who are the guardians?

The guardians are two adults who are chosen by the young people in that community (youth-friendly adults) who:

  • Give advice to the young people when necessary (but have no decision making powers).
  • Act as the intermediary between the leaders and the young people.
  • Work with fellow adults to make the environment safer for young people.

What happened?

After 6 months a participatory evaluation was carried out using the Most Significant Change methodology, and involving the girl researchers from the original research.  The evaluation found that:

  • Communities are taking steps to make places safer for girls.
  • There is more frequent communication on sensitive topics.
  • Young people are more aware of their attitudes and behaviors.

VITU Newala II.

This phase aimed at reaching more girls and more communities in the whole district of Newala.

The objective was to empower girls through the acquisition of knowledge, life skills, solidarity, increased social status and a protective environment to enable them to develop themselves as they wish without placing themselves at risk of HIV or other situations that impede their development.

Why Young people from the community instead of implementing the project directly?

There is a saying that, ‘Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.’

From the saying, TAMASHA believes that, young people of certain community know better their community and the situation therein, therefore they are the better actor in working on the problems.

Young people have been underrepresented in all spheres, from family level to community and to the national as whole. And no one knows better the pinch they are feeling as the results of underrepresentation as they themselves.  Lack of participation of all youth has more effects on girls as it holds them back, keeping them from taking part in social, economic and political life within their families, communities as well as nation.

Now the situation is worth to girls in a community like Newala where masculinity and gender inequalities within the societies are regarded as the way of treating girls and women. Young people can easily reveal the source of risks with their own community, how and when it happen, but also they are better at identifying the solutions that cannot be reached by conversational researchers or project implementers from outside the community.

How was it done?

Advocacy materials development.

Formulation of advocacy materials that were used to enable decision makers and stakeholders to understand the rationale for the second phase of VITU Newala. Apart from having these materials in place, the discussion meetings were held with district officials including 10 wards implementers, cultural officers, youth officer, NGOs, youth network in Newala and Newala NGO network.

Selection of youth representative for attending Participatory Learning activities, community theatre as well as Peer facilitator and guardian trainings, the activity which involved youth themselves and supervised by the Ward Executive Officers and being closely followed by people from department of youth, culture and social development, as well as two representatives from local NGO. The reason for this was to create ownership and responsibility on the project.

The selection was done in three groups, whereby:

  • The first group was for the youth artist in the community. Where the Ward Executive Officers conveyed the news to all villages in their wards, informing young people to participate in audition for the selection of young artists. On the day of performance youth in the village voted to select those who would attend the training, 3 female and 3 males from each ward to make a total of 60 young artists.
  • The second group selected was peer educators whereas 2 females and 1 male was also selected for peer education training.
  • Adult guardians also nominated by young people, 1 male and 1 female for the same purpose of training.

The training focused on the following:

  • Community theatre for development.

Finding out the situation.

  • Youth lead interactive performance.
  • Training of young people as peer facilitators.

Life skills, peer education and animation skills.

  • Training to guardians.

Roles of guardians, life skills, communication skills and coaching.