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“Changing the law is not the ultimate end to child marriage” in Tanzania, says Activist

If Tanzania capitalized on the momentum of the ruling, in 20 to 30 years it should be possible to reduce the number of girls being married off early

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FILE - A woman protests against underage marriages in Lagos, Nigeria, July 20, 2013. The African Union is to convene a summit in Zambia this week with a view to ending child marriage. VOA
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London, November 4, 2016: An activist whose petition earlier this year triggered a Tanzanian high court ruling against child marriage said social transformation was needed to end the longstanding custom many families use as a “survival system.”

“Changing the law is not the ultimate end to child marriage,” said Rebeca Gyumi, founder of the Msichana Initiative, a Tanzanian charity promoting girls’ rights. “Changing mindsets and trying to trigger the shift of customs and traditions is the next thing we are planning to do,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London.

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The High Court of Tanzania ruled in July that two sections of the 1971 Marriage Act, which allow girls to marry at 15 with parental consent and at 14 with the permission of a court, were unconstitutional.

The landmark ruling, effectively raising the legal age of marriage for girls to 18, was made in response to a petition by Gyumi who argued that the act violated girls’ rights to equality, dignity and access to education, as granted by the constitution.

Attitudes must change

The real challenge is to shift attitudes in communities where parents marry off their daughters so their sons can to go to school or to ease the economic burden on their families, Gyumi said.

“The issue is deep-rooted in a male-dominated, patriarchal system where a girl child is not really treated as an equal person,” she said in an interview.

She described child marriage as “a sort of a survival system” in a society where poverty is entrenched. “Sometimes parents see marrying their kids as the only solution to the issues they have,” she added.

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Tanzania has one of the highest rates of child marriage globally, with nearly 2 in 5 girls getting married before their 18th birthday, according to campaign group Girls Not Brides. It says the practice is particularly prevalent in rural areas where girls as young as 11 are married.

Child marriage deprives girls of education and opportunities, and puts them at risk of serious injury or death if they have children before their bodies are ready. They are also more vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence.

Gyumi said if Tanzania capitalized on the momentum of the ruling, in 20 to 30 years it should be possible to reduce the number of girls being married off early.

Men must be involved

“We have to change the story from Tanzania being among the countries with the highest percentage of child marriages to being the country that really tries to solve the issue by changing the law and educating the community,” she said.

Gyumi said men’s involvement was essential for the campaign against child marriage to be successful.

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“Sometimes it’s not just about what you’re saying but who is saying it. Women alone can’t win this war.” Each year more than 15 million girls worldwide are married before they turn 18, Girls Not Brides says.

In June, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for an end to child, early and forced marriage, and recognizing child marriage as a violation of human rights.

Ending child marriage by 2030 is one of the targets contained in the new Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders at a U.N. summit last year. (VOA)

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Savitribai Phule: The Pioneer Of The Women Education In India

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life

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Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
  • Savitribai Phule was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India
  • Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra
  • Savitribai Phule started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848

Savitribai Phule is India’s first Modern feminist and a well-known social reformer who along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women’s rights in India during the British Rule. She was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.

Savitribai Phule was born on 3 January 1831 in Naigaon, Maharashtra, British India. She was married to 12-year-old Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine. Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra.

Battling for women education

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life. She worked towards tackling some of the then major social issues like women’s liberation, removal of untouchability and widow remarriages. Due to her efforts for women empowerment in the society, Savitribai Phule used to be followed by orthodox men and was abused by them in obscene language. People would target her with rotten eggs, cow dung, tomatoes, stones but she ignored all that, just to reach her school. After suffering so much, she once decided to give up but her husband, Jyotiba Phule came in full support for her. Jyotiba Phule encouraged his wife to continue with her cause.

Also Read: 15 Amazing Facts About The Revolutionary Bhagat Singh

But still, both husband and wife faced fierce resistance from the orthodox elements of society. Savitribai Phule got herself admitted to a training school and came out with flying colours with another Muslim lady, Fatima Sheikh. After that, she started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848. Although, the response Savitribai Phule got was not that much uplifting but she was determined by what she was doing.

In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons

With the passage of time, people started to accept them and hence both husband and wife were able to open 5 more schools in the year 1848 itself. Taking a note of Savitribai Phule’s hard work, British government honoured her for her educational work. Jyotiba and Savitribai were also opposed to idol worship. For their work, both husband and wife were socially isolated and were attacked by the people whom they questioned.

The next big step that she took was to take a stand for widows. In those days, if a man used to die of old age or some sickness and the girls they had married were left, widows. The windows were treated like an unwanted piece of dump in the society. Widow’s head was shaved and they were not allowed to use any cosmetics that may make them look beautiful. Such a condition of widows moved Savitribai Phule and her husband. Thus, they went on for a protest to stop barbers from shaving the heads of widows.

Also Read: 10 Facts You Need To Know About Homi Bhabha

Here are some of the facts related to the life of Savitribai Phule and her husband, Jyotirao Phule during there struggling for various social causes.

  1. In 1897, Savitribai Phule with the full support of her son, Yashwantrao Gupta, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Nallasopara. As per records, she used to feed two thousand children every day during the time of the epidemic.
  2. Two books of her poems were published posthumously, Kavya Phule (1934) and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (1982). Savitribai Phule wrote many poems against discrimination and advised to get educated. Being a poet and a philosopher and wrote on the importance of education and knowledge and removal of caste discrimination.
  3. In 2015, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University to her honour deeds.
  4. Savitribai Phule died on 10 March 1897 while serving a plague patient.
  5. Google India Celebrate her Birthday January 3, 2017, with Doodle.
  6. Savitribai Phule was herself a victim of child marriage as she was married to Jyotirao Phule when she was only 12 years old.
  7. Savitribai Phule opened ‘Infanticide prohibition house’ care centre for pregnant rape victims and helped them to deliver their babies. She put up boards on streets about the “Delivery Home” for women, who were forced for their pregnancy. The delivery home was called “Balhatya  Pratibandhak Griha”.
  8. Savitribai Phule worked towards abolishing the caste-based and gender-based discrimination in the Indian society.
  9. In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes.
  10. After her marriage, Savitribai Phule enrolled herself in a training centre at Ms Farar’s Institution at Ahmednagar and in Ms Mitchell’s school in Pune.

Also Read: 10 Must-Know Facts About Subhas Chandra Bose

In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons

Savitribai Phule fought against all forms of social inequalities for any section of the society. They even moved by the plight of untouchables in the society. As untouchables were not allowed to take out water from the wells, meant for the upper caste. So, Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule started their own reservoir of water for the untouchables in the vicinity of their house.