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Youth airing their concerns in Tanzania
Wednesday 9 March 2005
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TANZANIA: Youth airing their concerns in Tanzania


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]



©  Femina

Talk show gives youth a voice to air concerns.

DAR ES SALAAM, 23 February (PLUSNEWS) - In the brightly lit television studio in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, producers issued last minute instructions to cameramen, make-up artists applied final touches to the guests and the presenter scribbled a few final lines on her note before the cameras rolled.

Over the next hour or so, once the talk show guests overcame their initial fear of the camera, the debate began in earnest. The show was one of a series organised by Femina, an arm of the Health Information Project that is a multimedia HIV/AIDS communication initiative targeting the youth. The day’s subject was "Controlling Your Sexual Desire" and the six guests - aged 16 to 30 years - did not agree on which gender bore the responsibility for control.

"I know I should, but I can't always control myself. Taking alcohol doesn't help, I have to say," Respicki Msoka said early in the discussion.

However, Ziberi Bakari said that, as it was often the man who made the first move, it was he who had ultimate control over sex. But, sitting next to him on the sofa, which resembles an enormous pair of lips, Hamisi Hidja, a street hawker, disagreed.

"Girls are the ones who encourage sex. Girls are always trying to get things cheaper, so they have sex to be able to buys things, such as mobile phones," he said.

However, guest Lukia Shabania said that control of sexual desire was the responsibility of the individual, irrespective of gender "If you have to, go and do something else like going jogging," she said.

Although this weekly show was not at the level of those hosted by Jerry Springer and Oprah Winfrey, 18 months after it was set up Femina has brought together young Tanzanians to discuss issues important to them and has attracted national attention.

"There were basic lifestyle programmes, but there was nothing addressing youth issues," Lydia Igarabuza, the presenter of Femina, told PlusNews after a programme recording session. "Most of the subjects that we talk about are sensitive in our culture. We have tackled the issue of condoms, the abuse of students by teachers, sexual desire and, at the end of the series, will be looking at homosexuality."

Igarabuza said while that the initial phase of recordings was dogged by cancellations as programme personnel struggled to get people on the show, young people were now coming to Femina on their own initiative.

"They come to the programme and they want to air their voice," she said. "We try and get young people talking about things that are on their minds. It is about sharing problems. The show is their confidant."

She added: "In Tanzania, our upbringing has meant that we are taught to be polite and formal and it is unusual for a brother and sister to discuss sensitive issues, let alone for parents to talk with their children about such matters."

So, she said, the show provided a meeting place of ideas of the young. HIV/AIDS and related issues are hot topics. However, in order to balance the informative with popular culture in a blend Igarabuza calls "edutainment", the programmes are kept as informal as possible and also allows for discussion of other subjects such as fashion and sport. These discussions are also interspersed with a music video or two.

Femina targets young people with information about sexuality, reproductive health, life skills and job opportunities.

Other elements include Femina magazine, a bilingual magazine distributed free to secondary schools and non-governmental organisations and sold commercially on the streets; Si Mchezo ("No Joke" in Kiswahili), a magazine that targets rural, semiliterate and out of school youth, various other publications and a bilingual Web site.

An estimated five million people will watch the Femina talk show, which is aired twice a week. Femina magazine reaches about 92,000 people and is being used as a teaching and learning tool in schools nationwide. And 45,000 copies of Si Mchezo are distributed free of charge each month.

Therefore, according to Health Information Project Coordinator Minou Fuglesang, an effective awareness-raising machine is being set up using the media and, compared with a few years ago, there is a great deal more debate on these sensitive subjects.

But, as always, there is the need to take it further. "The message is beginning to get out about the ABC of AIDS prevention [A for Abstinence, B for Be faithful and C for use a Condom], but we need to learn the rest of the alphabet," she said.

"What about M for masturbation, O for oral sex and P for pornography? This is the reality and these are the issues that young people have to deal with," she said. "Condoms aren't available in many rural areas, so they aren't always the answer. Young people have heard about the dangers of intercourse and, therefore, chose oral sex, but that also has its dangers. Masturbation should be discussed as a safer sex method."

Fuglesang said she was surprised that, apart from a few faith-based schools that objected to the show, there had not been more resistance to their ideas. The reason, she said, was probably because the show was bridging a gap that neither the government, nor parents were willing to fill.

"Recently a few eyebrows were raised over a photo of people dancing," she said, "some said it was too provocative but we think it is a good thing because it creates debate. There is a reluctance to get sex education in schools. Some people say that it promotes sex, but we say that it just makes people think more about what they are doing."

And a recent Femina study in Iringa Region, in central Tanzania, found that parents were aware of the need for their children to be protected from and educated about sex, but as they found it difficult to do this job themselves, they were happy to let Femina take on the task.

Tanzanian HIV/AIDS specialist Dr Justin Nguma agreed, saying that with little or no sex education in schools, and given parents’ reluctance to assume this responsibility, the Health Information Project was important.

"The traditional system of sending children to their aunts and uncles for education about these sensitive issues has been eroded with modernisation," he told PlusNews. "There is no sex education in schools and parents are not happy to provide, or sometimes aren't even aware of, the important issues."

He added: "They are not comfortable talking about them and want to stay away from sex and sexuality, preferring to tell their children that they would find out over time. But these days, this might be too late."


[ENDS]


 
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