Tanzania: Maasai Girl Awarded for Fighting ‘Matrimonial Slavery’

HUMAN rights defender organisation has crowned an aboriginal daughter, Ms Mesha Pius Singolyo after becoming a champion of change for the year 2022.

The girl waged a spirited war against child marriages within the Maasai community.

“Mesha Pius Singolyo, an activist against child marriage, is the 2022 Champion of Change and I am honoured to present her with an award,” said the Legal Services Facility Executive Director, Ms Lulu Ngw’anakilala.

Ms Singolyo has been recognised for her broad movement against a regressive Maasai practice of ‘matrimonial slavery’, freeing 120 vulnerable girls from forced marriages in Monduli, Longido and Ngorongoro Districts in Arusha region.

A staunch women’s rights activist, who fights against all forms of gender-based violence within the Maasai community, Ms Singolyo is originally from the Sonjo community, one of Africa’s most endangered indigenous groups inhabiting in northern zone.

Judging from the national census, the Sonjo’s population that lives within the Maasai community does not exceed 30,000.

Like the Hadzabe ethnic group, a surviving relic of the

hunter-gatherers remaining on earth, the Sonjo community basically survives on what nature provides, particularly the wild fruits, honey, wild meat and a little bit of crops.

Having been born and bred where oppression against women is a norm, Ms Singolyo had to fight extremely hard against all odds to study and as luck would have it she has made it to the university level.

Ms Singolyo holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education, majoring in Political Science and Language Studies, a Master of Arts in Gender and Development Studies, all from the University of Dar es Salaam and a Master of Arts in Leadership and Education Management from Arusha University.

As professional women organiser in Arusha region, she has witnessed many girls drop out of school, prompting her to establish a project dubbed ‘My Dream’.

“I prevent teenager’s pregnancies, physical, sexual and emotional violence and engage girls in schools in a bid to increase their self-awareness on biological development,”she said.

Official statistics show that a total of 64 per cent of girls in three

Districts of Monduli, Longido and Ngorongoro drop out from schools because of early marriage and pregnancies.

“This phenomenal woman uses her network of friends to help girls who have fallen into early pregnancy trap by sending them to school after giving birth. As we speak, Ms Singolyo has successfully managed to bring back to school 32 victims of matrimonial slavery, six out of them are young mothers,” Ms Ng’wanakilala explained.

Ms Singolyo believes impregnated girls are more at risk of being married off and conceiving once again before the age of 18.

Thus, she helps them to gain access to education through private schools and enrolls some of their children to childcare centres to relieve the young mothers of parental responsibilities and focus on their studies.

For her, education is the only silver bullet that canprotect the young girls from involuntary marriage.

“I don’t have much resources to provide for all children in need of staying at school. In recognition of that, I’ve been willingly working with my friends to raise some money for buying educational materials like books, pens and mattresses for the girls every year,” she said.

Ms Singolyo dedicated the award to some community leaders, officials and friends who have been supportive to her call of defending indigenous girls’ rights to education in order to realise their lifetime dreams.

Being among the girls in her community, who managed to access rights to education, Ms Singolyo has resolved to advocate for rights of women, children, and youth especially on education and economic freedoms in the Arusha region.

Indeed, through Singolyo’s work, women have attained their economic freedom as they can generate income and make decisions on their lives including supporting their girls’ children in schools.

Women’s economic freedom has been associated with the rights to education for their children.

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