An 18 year-old Tanzanian woman who escaped being forcibly wed was at the United Nations recently to press for an end to the practice of forced marriage. Neema Laizer, a Masai who now lives away from her family at an NGO education center in Arusha, was in New York for a conference of the Commission on the Status of Women. She was a delegate for the Maryknoll NGO, a Catholic mission dedicated to improving the lives of the poor.
The teenager is in her last year of high school and wants to pursue university studies to become a doctor. Voice of America English to Africa reporter Cole Mallard tells the story.
In New York, VOA UN correspondent Peter Heinlein asked her if attitudes toward educating girls are changing in Tanzania. Laizer says they are, but many Masai girls are in remote areas and are not aware of opportunities for education. She added that information about education is available in magazines and other media but many girls don’t know about it because they can’t read and don’t have access to the media.
Laizer says few girls get the chance to learn because it’s hard to get to an education center from remote Masai areas, so many of the girls are married as young as six years old and “look after the cows and whatever, but they are not coming to be educated, to go to schools.”
FROM FEW TO MANY
Laizer says she plans to continue her studies at the university level “and to get my job,” which is to be a doctor. She adds that even though there are only a few women doctors in Tanzania, “they want to add to their number so that they can become many.”
The Tanzanian girl says at the moment only ten percent of Masai girls are being educated and get into professional work. She says efforts are underway to educate girls, but there is still a way to go. She says the learning centers in Tanzania are “trying their level best to do things to educate these Masai girls.”
The young Masai activist says she wants to use her education and her achievement as a (future) doctor to gain experience working in a hospital and to encourage other women. She says violence against women continues: “They are not being treated very well, but when I become a doctor I will treat them well, and I will make sure that no one will die again.”