- March 6, 2017
- Posted by: Administrator
- Category: News & Updates
Let’s imagine a father of four children in a rural Tanzanian village is struggling to pay off a debt owed to his middle-aged neighbour: he decides to pay his dues by offering his eight-year-old daughter to the begrudging neighbour as a form of payment. Then a month later, the pubescent girl is informally deregistered from the school system and bedazzled in bridal wear to her demise…
No, actually, that’s not right! It’s impossible to imagine this scenario as if it were another normal day-to-day event in Tanzania. Thanks, in large part, to Rebeca Gyumi!
She is the young lawyer from Dar Es Salaam who pursued and won a landmark case on child marriages, through the petition she filed at the High Court to challenge the Tanzania Marriage Act which allowed girls as young as 14 to get married. But sadly, such is not a reality in many parts of our continent and the world at large. For instance, in Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, South Sudan, Yemen, Brazil and many other countries; child marriage is at an all-time high.
With this tragedy in mind, I reminded Gyumi of the Chibok schoolgirls of whom we’re all still waiting for the Boko Haram to #BringBackOurGirls. I then asked her, as an advocate for the counter cause of the Boko Haram’s agenda, to share what she’d tell the girls if she could talk to them. From the depths of the heart, Gyumi said, “First of all I would like to say, girls, the strength you have shown so far is a definition of how powerful girls can be. We celebrate you for that. In life, our strength is not defined by how much we have overcome easy battles but the opposite. Our truest success lies on the trials and hard times we have overcome and triumphed. But even importantly, our power lies in our ability to refuse to be defined by our failures but the lesson we have learnt from it. Keep rising, this is definitely not the end! But the beginning of your star’s shining. I’d like to encourage you to go back to school when you can, get an education, come back and change your communities’’.
When Gyumi addresses child brides and former child brides – she is in her element. Hence, she has been on my radar since she founded and became the Executive Director of Msichana Initiative, an NGO which aims to empower girl children through education and to address key challenges which limit a girl’s right to education in Tanzania. “I am a lawyer by profession but I’m not practising. Yet I find the knowledge I have to still be relevant in what I do. I have been at the forefront of advocating for youth rights in my community before focusing on girls’ issues only after founding my organisation. In January, last year, I petitioned to change the Tanzania Marriage Act, 1971 which allowed girls as young as 14 to get married. In July of 2016, the High court ruled in our favour and declared the sections unconstitutional and raised the minimum age to 18 for both boys and girls.’’
Due to the impact of her work Gyumi was named the 2016 UNICEF Global Goals award winner for her work in advancing girls’ rights in Tanzania. She has also worked for over 8 years with Femina as a TV personality and youth advocate.
Like the best of us, Gyumi’s life is built on serving others and contributing to making her community a better place with what she deems “small actions’’.
Yet, her impact in society has brought about mammoth change to the landscape in her country. She believes she has a long way to as long as young women in Dar Es Salaam continue being materialistic. “Teenage pregnancy has risen greatly in my community, from 24% – 27% in 2015. One of the reasons is girls falling prey to temptations because they want to have things like mobile phones, trending clothes etc” she says. But this reality does not stop her, “I try as much as I can to use my spare time to mentor young people who aspire to create change in their communities. I also use my voice to talk about issues pertinent to young people and find solutions for the same’’ she says.
In addition to her socio-economic prowess, Gyumi brings light to hearts with her megawatt smile, absolute humility and an inspiring dedication to public management and governance. Even though her work has been celebrated on international platforms such as CNN, Girls Not Brides, Global Shapers, CNBC Africa and she serves as an Advisory Committee Member at UNICEF, as well as United Nations Population Fund’s Global Programme on Child Marriage – her life has not always been golden. Gyumi looks back on her upbringing and remembers humble beginnings. “I witnessed firsthand how my mother sacrificed everything, and I mean everything, she had to send me and my siblings to school. She walked a long distance to sell fish, or sometimes second-hand clothes, so we didn’t have to live the life she lived. I consider that to be first class empowerment’’ she says.
Gyumi loves education and without a doubt considers it to be a powerful to empower the youth. Her personal empowerment story goes something like, “I remember how when I completed my primary education, I was very discouraged with the school I passed into. In spite of the fact that I worked really hard and got good grades, but I was selected to join a ward school in my community which has just started. It had only one building with 3 rooms. I was very ambitious to excel in my academics and this wasn’t very good news, the school had very few teachers and infrastructure to support quality education. My family couldn’t afford to take me to private school, so I had to stay there and complete my 4 years of ordinary secondary education. I, however, made a deliberate decision to not be defined by the environment of the school I was in. I studied harder, take extra hours at school and revise, ask questions from neighbouring schools which had enough teachers for all subjects and laboratories. When final national results came in, I was the only student in Division I in my school, and I passed to join a special school for girls with talents called Kilakala Secondary School. I have grown to really like that ward-school, it taught me so much, it exposed me to a group of very humble and caring individuals who are still my friends until today. If there is anything that amazing high-school taught me, it is how to persevere – I doubt that I would have learnt it better in any other environment.”
For More Information Visit https://smartzargirls.com/2017/03/05/smart-zar-girls-rebeca-gyumi-ended-child-marriage-in-tanzania/