Beliefs and traditions that undermine women should be completely eliminated

Helga, 27, Tanzania

Today, WAGGGS has launched a new partnership with Nutrition International. Together we are working to improve adolescent girls’ nutrition.

Helga Mutasingwa, 27, is a volunteer with the Tanzania Girl Guides Association and she works as a Medical Doctor. As a student, Helga volunteered in both urban, and rural communities. She was able to see first hand how poor nutrition affects adolescent girls.

Helga is one of eleven young delegates representing WAGGGS at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) in New York.

There are many issues that affect girls’ lives in Tanzania. Some girls are free to pursue education to any level they desire and to take on any profession. Not all girls get to enjoy these opportunities – particularly in rural areas, where community members do not believe there is any benefit in sending a girl to school.

Many girls are subjected to marriage at a young age. In some rural families, young girls are forced to marry a man that her parents have chosen for her.

In many tribes, a woman is seen as the one to do all the chores. In some families men are not allowed to attend to any work in the kitchen. This inequality has the biggest impact for rural women. Many young girls remain at home. They cannot attend school because they are supposed to do all the domestic work.

No girl should be held back by poor nutrition 

Gender inequality and harmful customs are also very damaging when it comes to nutrition.

In some tribes, girls and women are not allowed to eat certain foods. Pregnant women are not allowed to eat eggs. Sometimes they are told not to eat certain parts of the chicken.

According to the 2014 Tanzanian Demographic and Health Survey, forty five per cent of Tanzanian women are anemic – as with many other issues, this is more prevalent in rural communities. Levels of anemia are highest for married adolescent girls.

In Tanzania our staple foods are mostly carbohydrates. It is harder to access other food groups and ensure that we have a healthy, balanced diet.

Many families grow vegetables for sale, but rarely leave a portion for the family. They are all sold or only eaten by the father and boys of the family.

If girls have a poor diet they will have poor concentration at school due to fatigue, dizziness, and poor eyesight. This can easily lead to poor academic results.

I was diagnosed with anaemia when I was in my second year of university. I was tired and dizzy and my head ached. I thought these symptoms were because I was studying hard. I was a medical student, yet ignorant.

I came to see the doctor after nearly losing consciousness. It was only then that my aneamia was discovered.    

I had an opportunity to be checked. Many rural girls might have the same problem yet they don’t have access to a health facility that can do the required tests.

Health care in our rural settings might, or might not, be supportive for a girl with a critical condition. If that young girl is married and pregnant, and she cannot access the right care, she and her child are at risk.

We’re speaking out for change

Girl Guides have a tradition of speaking out for change. Nutrition in adolescent girls is a vital topic that needs to be highlighted. This new nutrition programme will do this.

Through non-formal education, community action and advocacy, girls will build awareness of good diet, they will make a difference in their communities and they will bring attention to important issues.

This is a very important project - especially in developing countries. It will help us to have healthier girls who are better able to reach their potential.

I want girls to know that we are equal. We need to agree that certain beliefs and traditions that undermine women should be completely eliminated.

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