Eight years ago I moved to Tanzania to teach at a failing international school. This past summer, I went back to Tanzania to carry out my own research. It felt amazing to be back in a country that I love. I had the opportunity of working as a research intern for 10 weeks at Ubongo in Dar-es-Salaam. I spent my time assisting with finding curriculum resources, helping to write curriculum for episodes, being a soundboard to the full time staff with early childhood related items and lastly, I was able to carry out my own research that I designed.
My two research questions were 1) What are children’s attitudes on gender and gender roles? and 2) Can Ubongo Programming serve as an intervention? These question emerged because I believe and research also shows that cultural norms that stratify boys and girls are still alive and well in Tanzania. Additionally, Tanzanian society is largely patriarchal and women are socialized to become homemakers and child-bearers and less value is placed on their economical and educational attainment. This also means women and girls are less represented. This history puts women in the roles of being submissive and men to be stronger and dominant. My focus is to disrupt this.
The research design was created by me with language and cultural support provided by three full-time Ubongo staff. This research could not have happened without them and the autonomy I was given, so I am forever appreciative of that. The research design was simple and child-friendly. I created three different activities that served as both the pre-test and post-test. The activities included drawing, a survey and storytelling. The responses to the activities provided insight into what children thought about gender roles and the possibilities of boys and girls. After the pre-test activities, children watched five short Ubongo episodes over the course of two days. The same activities where administered again for the post test after the children watched the episodes.
Findings from my pre-test study revealed that both boys and girls believed 1) a girl can never grow up and be President, 2) a girl will grow up to be a woman whose main job is to have children and take care of the household and 3) jobs are gendered and a girl can only have specific jobs (i.e hairdresser, selling food on the street and or being a teacher). Their responses portrayed the emotional, financial and physical vulnerability that girls face in East Africa. Additionally, the data revealed that girls internalize these norms more than boys and seem more challenging to shift. The post test showed a shift in thinking: 1) maybe boys and girls can grow up to have similar jobs, 2) a man should also help around the house, and 3) women are just as strong as men and can be stronger.
I feel proud of what I did in Tanzania with Ubongo because it showed me the work that still needs to be done and what is possible. Additionally, it reaffirmed my desire to pursue this opportunity with Ubongo because the work they are doing is clearly changing mindsets and opening up opportunities for change. My work is inspired by a vision of Black girls being able to live and exist freely but I realize this work cannot be done without chipping away at masculinity and hetero and patriarchal beliefs that are bigger than just gender. My findings helped me realize how socioeconomic status, cultural history, religion and etc. can be at play in concert with one another. This realization has helped be even more curious and read more, so maybe I can return to Tanzania for the 3rd time and do something even bigger and better.
Maureen Nicol is a PhD candidate in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Early Childhood Education. Her background is in teaching. Her research interests include education throughout the continent of Africa, Black girlhoods and Black female teachers.