Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — Khadija Zuberi, 23, from Ruaha Mbuyuni village in Tanzania's central highlands, is a single mother to her four-year-old son, Hashim.
It has been a financial struggle for Zuberi - who has completed high school, but has no further qualifications - to raise her son. While she is still in a relationship with Hashim's father and he reportedly supports them, he doesn't live in Ruaha Mbuyuni village, located in Iringa.
Zuberi has worked all sorts of jobs to provide for her son. She remembers her first job as a helper at a local food outlet. She was paid the equivalent of a dollar a day for a job that started at 5am and ended 14 hours later.
"You find yourself working so hard and when you get paid you can't even meet your basics needs," she told IPS.
Last March, Zuberi became a recipient of a project called Malkia wetu, Swahili for 'Our Queens'. It is a programme run by Kilimo Kan, a local agribusiness that supports the development of smallholder farmers in Iringa. Malkia wetu specifically targets young women between the ages of 14 and 24 from Ruaha Mbuyuni village. After training the young women, they are each allocated a piece of land and agricultural inputs with the agreement that the produce will be sold back to Malkia wetu.
"The programme facilitates young women to use agribusiness to avoid risky livelihood options such as early marriage and pregnancy or prostitution and instead become financially literate, entrepreneurial leaders generating income from farming," the company says on a Facebook post.
Now Zuberi runs her own small food business, selling soup to villagers in the morning and evening and also farming tomatoes.
Many don't have access to critical reproductive health services
Young women like Zuberi aren't an exception here. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), one in four Tanzanian adolescents aged 15-19 have already begun having children and the fertility rate is five children for every women in a country of just over 57 million people.
While women are increasingly using contraceptives to plan their families, UNFPA states "there are still too many who lack agency, education, and access to critical reproductive health services. The unmet need for family planning for married women (aged 15 to 49) stands at 32 percent".
A Department for International Development (DFID) study titled "Barriers to Women's Economic Inclusion in Tanzania" lists these barriers as time poverty (because women spend significant time on household chores); lack of education; and even reproductive health pressures.
While Tanzania remains one of the African nations to experience sustained economic growth, according to USAID this is limited by a high population growth: "High population growth and low productivity in labour-intensive sectors like agriculture, which employs 75 percent of the population, limit broad-based economic growth. "
The Nairobi Summit on ICPD25
With less than 100 days to go before the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25), African and Asian Parliamentarians met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Aug. 5 to 8 to address what needs to be done ahead of the November summit.
ICPD25 refers to a 1994 meeting in Cairo, Egypt, where world governments adopted a plan of action, calling for women's reproductive health and rights to take centre stage in national and global development efforts.
Titled the "African and Asian Parliamentarians' Meeting on Population and Development for ICPD+25", the Tanzania meeting this week aimed to provide a platform for deepening regional parliamentarians' understanding of the significance of UNFPA's work and equipping parliamentarians with knowledge and skills to take concrete measures to advance the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action and Sustainable Development Goals.
The Programme of Action recognises "that reproductive health and rights, as well as women's empowerment and gender equality, are cornerstones of population and development programmes," according to UNFPA. The meeting was organised by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA). While parliamentarians recognised that progress had been made since Cairo, considerable gaps remain within certain countries.
Tanzania's Speaker of parliament, Job Ndugai, said that his country was committed to the ICPD Programme of Action. He also urged Tanzanians to limit the size of their families relation to their economic status so that parents could provide their children with the basic necessities.
"We should look at this on a family level. You and your family... the children that you are [having] do they reflect your financial status? The important thing here is the amount of people we have should relate with our economic [status]," said Ndugai.
Sinichi Goto, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Tanzania, said African countries were making efforts to achieve the SDG's. While Asia currently has more than half of the world's population, Africa is estimated to account for more than 90 percent of the increase in the global population between 2020-2100.
Empowering women means empowering communities
Nenita Dalde, from the Philippine Legislators' Committee on Population and Development Foundation said that African and Asian governments have to ensure that women benefitted equally and participate directly in development programmes and projects.
The gains of this would be far-reaching. "When you empower women you heighten employee morale and it inspires them to give back," she told IPS.
Helen Kuyembeh, a former member of parliament from Sierra Leone told IPS that communities experienced positive impacts when women are empowered.
"The benefits start in the household when [a woman's] income increases," she said, explaining that it will impact what the family ate, their health and the children's education.
She added that when women were empowered to start they are own businesses they usually would employ other women and provide inspiration to them.
She has seen this first hand.
"When I was an MP, I created programmes to support women in my village to become more self-sufficient and this programme has uplifted a lot of women from my village and now they are not lonely and unhappy," Kuyembeh said.
Zuberi, is more certainly a case study for this.
She earned 450 dollars from selling her first harvest of tomatoes, and makes over 300 dollars a month in a country where the mean monthly income for men is 117 dollars a month and 71 dollars a month for women, according to the DFID study. Women's salaries are on average 63 percent lower than those paid men here, according to USAID.
But not Zuberi. With the money she earns she can pay her own rent and is able to support her son.