Standing Up for What She Believes In: Adele’s Story

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A Hard Life for Girls

In a village in northern Tanzania, children gather in the schoolyard after the end of the school day. They group around Adele, a young leader in the school’s child rights club, and listen as she talks to them about their rights. Adele knows some of the girls in the group, many of whom are younger 18, are under pressure from their parents to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) and get married. Others are facing pressure to drop out of school and go to work to earn money for their families. Adele knows what that pressure feels like, and how hard it is to resist and fight to stay in school. But, she tells the girls, “It’s your right.”

Children nod along as she talks, then share their own stories. For many girls in attendance, this is the first time someone has listened to their concerns. Adele leads the group through a discussion session where everyone contributes, calling out ideas on how to help one another. They end the session by identifying classmates who haven’t been to school lately, and Adele makes notes to check up on them. Junior Leaders like her are on the front lines of helping girls and boys stay in school, and she takes the responsibility seriously.

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Adele’s community used to undervalue girls, but Junior Leaders like her are standing up to gender inequality and discrimination and challenging unjust social norms.

Slowly but Steadily Building Her Confidence

Life is hard for girls in rural northern Tanzania. One in three girls are married before 18, and 40% undergo FGM. Rural and impoverished, the area has been hard hit by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Already-high rates of child marriage, early pregnancies, and female genital mutilation have spiked as families turn to illegal and harmful traditional practices to cope with the social, financial, and emotional turmoil of the pandemic.

Dropping out of school to be married leaves girls economically dependent and at risk of an early pregnancy that could injure or even kill them. Peer pressure helps normalize this pathway, and many girls don’t know that they have the right to be treated this way.

“Like lots of other girls in my village, I was at risk of having my dreams cut short by a marriage or a pregnancy before I had finished school.” – Adele, 17

Growing up, Adele was one of those girls. Men in her village didn’t value women or girls’ voices, and girls laboured under the tyranny of low expectations. The belief was that once they could read and do basic math, girls should leave school and start preparing for marriage and motherhood. For most girls, the pressure began once they started puberty.

“Like lots of other girls in my village, I was at risk of having my dreams cut short by a marriage or pregnancy before I had finished school,” says Adele.

Adele enrolled in a Right To Play child rights club at her local school when she was 11, right on the cusp of when girls start being pressured into thinking about marriage. When she started, she was extremely shy. A lifetime of having her opinions dismissed made her quiet and withdrawn.

The club used games and activities to help girls break out of their shells and learn to value themselves. It also helped them understand their rights. Female genital mutilation, child marriage, and underage sex are all illegal in Tanzania, but many girls don’t learn that until it’s too late. Child rights clubs like the one Adele joined use specially designed games and activities to build girls’ confidence and teach them their rights at the same time. Their messages are supplemented with radio plays and broadcasts created by community members with Right To Play’s support. The broadcasts spark conversations within families and give girls the chance to talk to their parents using their newfound confidence and knowledge.

“Adele has set a very good example for other girls and youth in this community. Adele has stood up for what she believes.” – Adele’s grandmother

“Slowly but steadily, I began building up confidence,” Adele says about her experience in the club. She stayed in the club throughout her teens, and her parents were proud of her participation. While girls around here were being yanked out of school for marriage, Adele’s parents helped her stay in school and encouraged her as she excelled academically.

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Adele teaches girls and boys how to claim their rights and resist pressure from their parents to participate in harmful traditional practices.

Standing Up for Girls’ Futures

When she was 15, Adele became chairperson of her child’s rights club. The new responsibility further unlocked her confidence, and she learned to address groups of her peers comfortably, and how to lead them through games.

“Without the training I got from Right To Play, I would not have been confident enough to stand in front of my peers to educate them on the importance of valuing themselves, and on how to overcome child marriage and pregnancies that cause them to drop out of school,” she says.

She also felt she had to take on a greater role helping her peers. That’s when she stepped up to advocate for them in the community.

“Without the training I got from Right To Play, I would have not been confident enough to stand in front of my peers to educate them on the importance of valuing themselves.” – Adele, 17

These days, Adele is focused on identifying children, especially girls, who are at risk of dropping out of school. When she finds a girl is missing, Adele and other club members visit the girl’s house to speak to her parents and challenge them to let the girl return to school instead of breaking the law.

Sometimes, parents tell her that educating girls doesn’t have any value. Adele won’t accept that. She tells them she passed her secondary school exams with flying colours and, as a result, she will be the first person in her family, and one of only a handful in her village, to go to college. If she can do it, she says, any girl in the village can. They just need to be given the chance.

“Adele has set a very good example for other girls and youth in this community. Adele has stood for what she believes,” says her grandmother.

Adele’s confidence comes from her belief in herself, the power of girls, and the ability of young people of all genders to make a difference. Her work has helped dozens of girls in her village to avoid the limits that discrimination and gender inequality would otherwise place on their lives.