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Tanzania, United Republic of: Newsline

Girls’ Champion Joins Camfed Tanzania

©Camfed International
Executive Director of Camfed Tanzania Professor Penina Mlama

“Professor Penina Mlama … is a true champion of gender equality and girls’ education in Africa.”  - Per Engebak, Regional Director, UNICEF

December 2007 – The Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) is delighted to announce that Professor Penina Mlama – one of sub-Saharan Africa’s leading champions of girls’ education and gender equality – has been appointed as Executive Director of Camfed Tanzania.

Professor Mlama has dedicated her working life to improving girls’ lives across Africa. For nine years, she worked as Executive Director for the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), which empowers women in 32 countries across Africa.

In May 2007, she was honoured by UNICEF for her years of dedicated service to the cause of girls’ education.

Speaking out for girls’ education

Before joining FAWE, Professor Mlama served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics at the University of Dar es Salaam. A published playwright, she combined her passion for theatre and development when she co-founded the TUSEME (let us speak out) model for empowerment of youth for gender equality, which has been widely applied in schools across sub-Saharan Africa.

“Using theatre, we developed a model that’s geared towards helping girls to acquire skills to stand up for their gender rights,” she says.

“One of the key skills is to speak out. Girls in Africa are encouraged to be quiet and not speak out. Girls have lost the confidence and self esteem because they are socialised to be inferior to men.”

Professor Mlama believes it is crucial to involve men and boys in the process of challenging the status quo.

“If we don’t involve boys, it’s a battle half won,” she says. “They have been socialised to be superior to girls.  So they need to go through a process to change the perception of their roles. Once we do that, boys become supporters of the process.
It makes them realise it’s not right if girls do all the chores while boys can play or study – they start seeing it’s an unfair system. They start seeing it as a fight for the rights of girls.”

So why is Camfed’s work in rural Tanzania so important?

“What appeals to me is that Camfed is operating at a community level, they are working with the girls themselves,” says Professor Mlama.
“Girls have been empowered through their scholarship and now are empowered to set up their own businesses and speak for themselves.”

“In Tanzania, the majority of girls live in rural areas,” she says. “That is where the challenges are. It’s in the rural communities where girls aren’t going to school that deeply patriarchal attitudes are entrenched – keeping women at an inferior level.”

And how did she get involved in girls’ education?

Professor Mlama grew up in rural Tanzania until the age of ten. Her father was a teacher and he impressed upon her and her six siblings the importance of education.

“My Dad insisted that all the children should be sent to school,” she recalls. “I can remember my relatives saying: ‘why waste money on girls’. He would say: ‘I don’t want to discriminate. Let them take their brains as far as they can’.”

This paternal support gave Professor Mlama her first glimpse into the lack of opportunities facing many girls – and the difference she could make to girls’ lives.

“The first banner carrier for gender equality is women,” she says. “I’ve seen many women who aren’t empowered. Their rights are trampled on because they accept gender oppression and perpetuate differences because they accept the status quo.”

“Empowering girls not only to believe in themselves but to believe that they can overcome many hurdles makes a big impact,” she adds. “I have seen the difference it

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