In most African countries over 70% of girls get married under the age of eighteen according to UNICEF, in recent years this has sparked a lot of outrage from different social groups and individuals across the continent fighting to change this.
Rebeca Z. Gyumi, a 31-year-old Tanzanian is one of the people dedicating her life to making sure there’s a brighter future for young girls, one that raises the age girls can get married to a minimum of 18. She’s the Founder & Executive Director at Msichana Initiative, a Tanzanian NGO which aims to empower a girl child through education and address key challenges which limit girl’s right to education. She has worked for over 8 years with Femina, a youth focused organisation as a TV personality and youth advocate. In 2016, she won a landmark ruling to raise the age of child marriage for girls in Tanzania from 14 to 18, won the UNICEF Global Goal Award and was named 2016 Woman of the Year by New Africa Magazine. She’s continued to help girls from all over the continent and has been announced as a winner of this year’s Human Rights Prize awarded by the United Nations.
Today I announced the 2018 winners of the @UN Human Rights Prize. I am proud to recognise the contributions of individuals & organizations that promote & protect human rights @RebecaGyumi @Asma_Jahangir Joênia Wapichana @FrontLineHRD Your work is an inspiration to us all #UN4ALL
— UN GA President (@UN_PGA) October 25, 2018
According to the country’s national demographic and health survey of 2015/16, two out of every five girls marry before their 18th birthday with a prevalence rate of 37% nationwide, giving Tanzania one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
Gyumi speaking on why she decided to take her case to Tanzania’s High Court, convincing them to rule that sections 13 and 17 of the Marriage Act were unconstitutional and that the age for girls to legally marry should be raised to 18, “Lots of people were not amused and thought we were disruptive, saying ‘young people have tried before and failed.’ But when we started attending sessions in court with a positive outcome, organizations came back and said they were willing to work together with us. I felt duty-bound to fight for the girls I had interacted with. They didn’t have enough information to know how to challenge what was happening to them.”
Gyumi works with her NGO Msichana Initiative to help empower girls through education which she strongly believes in, “The fact that I’m here today and doing what I’m doing is due to education. My family didn’t have a lot but they sacrificed what they had to give me an education. Imagine what it’s like for other people in my country, if they’re able to get an education and explore life without limits, without boys telling them ‘you’re a girl, you can only go as far as this,’ those kinds of voices can then be challenged.” she says.
Winning the 2018 Human Rights Prize puts Gyumi on the international stage alongside other activists such as Malala Yousafzai, Denis Mukwege and Nelson Mandela.
Her message to young girls is founded on seeking her truth in the world, “I encourage you today to be brave and stand up for your truth.“