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Rabia Saad: Taking Action to Challenge Harmful Gender Norms

Rabia Saad: Taking Action to Challenge Harmful Gender Norms

Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to land in Tanzania to speak with Rabia Saad, founder and executive director of Action Girls Foundation (AGF). AGF is working hard to improve UN SDG #3: Good Health & Well-Being. Let’s see how they are doing it!

Spiffy: Welcome Rabia! Can you start by telling me what challenges you’re addressing through your work with Action Girls Foundation?

Rabia: Thanks for inviting me here, Spiffy! Action Girls Foundation (AGF) works to promote adolescent awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). An estimated 1.7 million youth lose their lives due to pregnancy-related complications and violence. In Tanzania, young girls face significant SRHR challenges such as limited access to youth-friendly services including information on bodily autonomy and comprehensive sexuality education. This has led to risky sexual behaviors resulting in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV prevalence, early pregnancy and marriages, gender-based violence, and deaths. By addressing these issues, Action Girls Foundation creates sexual and reproductive health and rights champions both in school and community settings.

Spiffy: It sounds like a significant need—and challenge! What motivated you to do it? 

Rabia: The biggest motivation for me has been seeing adolescent girls and young women achieve equality by making informed decisions about their health and future. Growing up as a girl in Tanzania, I observed societal norms that encouraged the submissiveness of young girls and women, placing their health and wellbeing at risk. Being part of awareness creation in solving their challenges is very fulfilling for me. I am delighted to keep doing this work through AGF, reaching communities and adolescents in both rural and urban areas, and challenging the harmful gender norms.

Spiffy: How else would you say you are working to create a more equitable world? 

Rabia: AGF runs school clubs in the Mpwapwa District of Tanzania’s Dodoma Region where girls and boys meet and discuss issues regarding adolescent sexual and reproductive health, bodily autonomy, goal setting, menstrual hygiene, mental health, gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Most of these issues are also associated with early marriage and pregnancy. We also facilitate community events and sensitization meetings to engage with caregivers to encourage parent-child communication. Our radio programs reach even more people to create awareness and encourage partnerships in bringing about positive change. AGF partners with health providers to use storytelling with young mothers in a village dispensary to think about family planning.

Spiffy: Can you talk about some of AGFs initiatives and milestones and the kind of impact you anticipate?

Rabia: AGF reaches girls who are both in and out of school. We have equipped over 1,000 adolescents in Mpwapwa district secondary schools, 10 club matrons, five caregivers, and health providers as champions to advocate for youth sexual reproductive health and end menstrual shaming through capacity-building training. AGF has also engaged more than 300 out of school girls, training them on HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence prevention. We’ve reached 500,000 people in the Dodoma region through local radio programs and interactive theatre to change negative perceptions towards the girl child. Notably, we’ve built a  partnership with the Ministry of Health and other relevant stakeholders to execute related interventions.

Spiffy: I like to hear stories about how entrepreneurs deal with failure. What about you, Rabia? Have you faced failure, and what did you learn from it? 

Rabia: The recurring challenge so far is funding—the work I do through AGF runs without donor support, which somewhat hinders long-term project planning. However, I have been able to tackle this by volunteering, mobilizing local resources as a means to fund the activities and make deliberate efforts to seek relevant donors who will support the work that I am doing. All this time I have learned that passion, consistency, determination, and empathy for others is a surefire success, and this gives me the courage to keep pursuing my dream to see girls and young women making informed choices about their health and future.

On International Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 2021, Rabia Saad urges students, teachers, and parents at Chunyu Secondary School in Mpwapwa, Tanzania to support girls by providing menstrual pads and ending the stigma and shame associated with menstruation. (Image courtesy of AGF) 

Spiffy: Have you been inspired by anyone lately?

Rabia: I recently heard a young school boy speak at the International Youth Day 2021 commemoration, and he said, ''God gives every bird his food, but He does not throw it into the nest...'' In reflecting on this, I've realized that getting out of our comfort zones really works in terms of pursuing our dreams and goals. So I urge young girls all over the world to go out there and step up—because they can break all the barriers that are set to hold them back.

Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our readers? 

Rabia: Well, Spiffy, right now I am working to better understand mental health awareness and integrate it as a component to AGFs areas of interventions. I participated in the 2020 Global Idea Pitch Challenge to change the narrative on mental health. I’m super excited about this opportunity because it further promotes health and well being. I’ve also been learning facilitation skills related to advocacy for behavioral change. 

Spiffy: It sounds like you never stop learning, Rabia. Thank you for showing how you’ve taken action, continue to take action, and encourage girls and young women to take action. It's been an honor!

 

Rabia Saad is the founder and Executive Director for Action Girls Foundation, an NGO that works to promote adolescent awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights. With a background in health systems management, Rabia is highly motivated to see young girls and women achieve equality by making informed decisions about their health and future, and creating support systems. She is a member of the National Team on Positive Parenting which affiliated with Tanzania’s Ministry of Health. (Nominated by RBA Initiative. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 26, 2021.)

 

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.