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Tanzania: Activists ask World Bank to cancel $500m loan over schoolgirls’ rights concerns

In a nation where pregnant girls and women are expelled from school, rights activists have continued fighting at all fronts to get females who conceive back into the classroom against their government’s wish.

A law dating back to the 1960s allows all state schools in Tanzania to ban young mothers from attending. The Center for Reproductive Rights reported in 2013 that over the past decade more than 55,000 Tanzanian pregnant schoolgirls have been expelled from school.

The law has been more widely applied since President John Pombe Magufuli took office in 2015. The president went a step further in June 2018, to announce that students would not be allowed to return to school after giving birth.

In 2015, the ruling party’s election manifesto pledged to allow pregnant schoolgirls to continue their studies. However, when Magufuli became president he said that girls would be too distracted to concentrate on their studies if they had a child, and their presence would be a bad influence on other girls.

Rights groups despise the ban, to them it is out of touch with public opinion and breaks international human rights conventions.

Recently, Tanzanian activists have written a letter to the World Bank’s  executive board urging them to stop a $500 million loan until the nation passes a law that guarantees the rights of pregnant girls to attend regular secondary schools and ends mandatory pregnancy tests.

The loan is meant to increase access to secondary education, provide responsive learning environments for girls, and improve completion of quality secondary education for girls and boys.

To the campaigners education funding at this time would be ‘inappropriate if not irresponsible’ in light of a ban on pregnant girls attending school.

Approving the loan would deliver a “slap in the face” to women and girls, and would represent a “full-throated endorsement of this violently misogynist regime”, said the organisations.

The letter calls on the bank to postpone the loan until the government has put in place measures to demonstrate a commitment to “gender equality and the rule of law”. The loan will be considered by the bank’s board of directors on Tuesday.

A $300 million educational loan to Tanzania was withdrawn in 2018 over concerns about expelling pregnant girls and the introduction of a law that made it a crime to question official statistics.

The Tanzanian government revised the statistics law last year, but made no formal changes to the way it treats pregnant girls.

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