By Lottie Howard-Merrill, Africa Programme Research and Documentation Assistant

At the beginning of May 2015 FORWARD staff travelled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to visit our project partners and to share lessons from the work we have done to tackle child marriage, FGM and preventable maternal health complications in Tanzania. On 7th May we made our way through pouring rain, knee high water and long traffic jams to meet with a prestigious list of attendees in a hotel in Dar es Salaam. These included the British High Commissioner, representatives from the Tanzania government, UK Department for International Development, UNFPA, UNICEF, the Canadian High Commission and NGO partners.

FORWARD with partners and meeting attendees in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

FORWARD with partners and meeting attendees in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

In her keynote speech, the UK High Commissioner, Her Excellency Diana Melrose, spoke about the importance of listening to the experiences of girls and women when devising initiatives to help them. This closely reflects FORWARD’s approach and we were thrilled that two young women who had taken part in the project were able to take part in the meeting.

Using examples from their own lives, these young women showed how girls’ networks and clubs can provide girls with the support needed to help them overcome the challenges of FGM, child marriage and other abuses of their sexual and reproductive rights. Knowledgeable and confident, they used this platform to tell decision makers at the national and global level about their ideas and needs. FORWARD was very proud to see the women share their ideas, however, we are all too aware of the barriers that women continue to face in their education. Immaculata, one of the women who presented, has escaped child marriage and FGM, and her confidence has benefitted from the project but she has no means to pay her second year nursing training fees and may be unable to finish the course.

FORWARD staff visit girls who are part of the obstetric fistula programme in Tanzania

FORWARD staff visit girls who are part of the obstetric fistula programme in Tanzania

FORWARD’s director Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Dr. Kanem from UNFPA and Professor Koda from the University of Dar es Salaam shared insights from the research on fistula, the project evaluation and programme analysis. We were also fortunate to hear about the hands on experience of two of FORWARD’s local partners in Tanzania.

Kambibi the Project Coordinator from Children’s Dignity Forum, who is based in Tarime, shared lessons from the project and another  new programme on ‘Men Engage’ . Through this three year project  with multiple agencies at national and local level, she shared evidence of changing community attitudes with girls and young women now more confident to make informed choices about which type of family planning they should use and when, and to whom, they get married. They also shared information about the support, training and advice girls receive when they go to the Masanga Centre, a rescue hub where girls go to escape FGM during the cutting season.

UTU Mwanamke told us about their work with survivors of obstetric fistula. These women, who have undergone successful repair surgery, share information about the causes and cure for fistula with people in their community. Building on the training provided by UTU Mwanamke, these obstetric fistula survivors have created a cooperative, pooling their money so that group members can take out small loans to help expand their businesses.

FORWARD with our Tanzania partners at the meeting

FORWARD with our Tanzania partners at the meeting

Following the presentations, there was an animated discussion about how to use the project lessons to start further initiatives and encourage the action of governments, donors and civil society actors in promoting rights of girls and young women in Tanzania. There was clear agreement that education is the key to keeping girls out of child marriage and school re-entry for child brides and child mothers is a great way to help girls gain more control over decisions about their lives. We discussed ways to encourage the government to create and enforce child protection measures and associated structures to ensure girls are safe in school and when accessing health care.

The next day, having recovered from the five-hour drive home through almost stationary traffic on the submerged roads of Dar es Salaam, FORWARD held a partnership meeting with our partners from Tanzania and Ethiopia. We were all inspired to hear in detail about how through their dedication and commitment, rather than size and funds, these grassroots organisations are transforming the lives of girls and young women in their communities. We were able to share innovative ideas, and give each other advice about how to overcome the challenges we face. By working closely together through partnerships and sharing and learning from each other like this in the future, we expect to see exciting results!  The following week we journeyed to Dodoma, another 7 hour journey to see the project working with women affected by obstetric fistula. Watch this space!