Teacher, journalist, doctor – many girls dream about achieving these careers. But the challenges can be more than daunting, especially for girls in Africa. For young women in Kigoma, Tanzania -- where JGI partners with communities to conserve forest habitat and develop sustainable livelihoods -- the barriers for girls to secondary and higher education are high.
Through its Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education (TACARE) Program, JGI works to help girls in Kigoma advance through school. Thanks to the Girls’ Scholarship Program, made possible by the Wanda Bobowski Fund, 199 young women and counting have been able to attend secondary school and/or college.
Repairing gender inequality
The Girls’ Scholarship program in Kigoma began in 1998 when TACARE staff decided to address the discrepancy between the levels of education achieved by men and women in the community. For the most part, women in rural Tanzania are expected to marry and start families when they come of age. For a family struggling to make ends meet, spending money on a daughter’s school uniforms and supplies may not be a top priority. As a result, women’s literacy rates are only 50% as high as men’s literacy rates.
But TACARE works to spread awareness of the fact that raising the social and economic status of women through education benefits entire communities. Not only is there a potential for greater earning, but an increase in women’s education levels correlates to lower birth rates, which means women are better able to provide their families with health care, education and other basics.
Families who are able to meet basic needs are also in a better position to care for the environment. To encourage environmental stewardship, the scholarship program trains recipients’ families in sustainable farming techniques, as well as forest regeneration and preservation.
One young Kigoma woman, Petronila Gwakila, needed further education to succeed in her job as an office supervisor. But after having struggled for years to finish secondary school, she was caring for 4 orphans and several family members at home and could not finance further schooling. Thanks to TACARE’s Girls’ Scholarship Program, she was able to get an Advanced Diploma in Rural Planning. She now holds the position of District Environmental Officer in Kigoma.
“I am regarded as an honored woman,” she says, “I say, once again, thanks for the support given to women of Kigoma, who were once segregated and now are made to be known.”
Twenty-five of the program’s graduates are employed in the formal sector working in a variety of fields including law enforcement, human resources, secretarial work, accounting, nursing, community development, environmental work, education, and planning work. Others are working in the informal sector, running their own businesses, and/or farming. In 2008, TACARE’s Girls’ Scholarship Program had 59 students placed in 23 secondary schools and 6 colleges. It is one of TACARE’s most popular programs among the area villages, is growing quickly.
Says Alice Macharia, East Africa Program Manager for JGI: “The scholarship program has been one of the most appreciated programs by the Kigoma villages. There is an overwhelming commitment to ensure that young women take advantage of these educational opportunities.”