How the 2022 Tanzanian Census / Sensa will impact efforts to reduce FGM in Serengeti

In August 2022, there will be a national Census, also known locally as a Sensa, in Tanzania during which time there will be school and business closures throughout the country in order to facilitate data being captured. 

According to Dar Portal, the Census 2022 will be the Sixth Census to be held in the country after the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. Others took place in 1967, 1978, 1988, 2002 and 2012.

What is the impact of the Sensa / Census in Tanzania on children?​

Throughout the month of August and even beyond, there will be school closures, this will be longer than in a standard year when a Census is not being conducted.

A key risk during this period is to girls whose families will use this extended period of being away from school to carry out female genital cutting/mutilation (FGC/M). This period is known as a ‘cutting season’ – a time during which a higher number of girls will go through FGM/C due to circumstances that make it easier to do so.

Cutting is illegal in Tanzania and therefore extended school holiday periods are often targeted to ensure girls have had an opportunity to ‘recover’ or begin the process of recovery, before returning to schools.

Many schools and even fellow students in Serengeti region have now been educated to know what to look out for and will report families suspected of harming their girls. 

How Hope for Girls and Women will reduce the number of girls going through FGM this August

Hope for Girls and Women has been on high alert throughout 2022 and has been anticipating an August cutting season and therefore an increase in girls requiring our support this year because:

  •  2022 is considered to be a blessed year for cutting as a result of the year being an even number, so dividable by two. For this reason, families and communities in the Serengeti region are more inclined to cut their girls this year
  • The 2022 Sensa/Census means there is an extended holiday period allowing girls to be cut away from educational officials, and means the process of recovery will have started and girls will often not need to be kept off school 
In recent weeks we have identified 200+ girls who are at risk of being cut in August across the Serengeti region. We have been working with the regional police department, including Serengeti District Official Commander Mr Mathew Mgema, and gender desk police including WP Sijali, to conduct meetings in local communities. 
WP Sijali talking to families in Serengeti
WP Sijali talking to families in Serengeti

These meetings are taking place with the families (and associated villagers) in which girls at risk have been identified. The purpose of these meetings is to:

  • Educate on the dangers of FGM/C and the risks this puts on the girls. This ranges from disease transmission to excessive bleeding, difficulty with reproductive health and even the risk of death
  • Clearly explain that cutting is illegal in Tanzania and therefore going ahead with this practice means families will face legal action which can result in jail time and hefty fines
  • Warn families that if we and the police services are not convinced that girls will not be cut, the child will be removed and placed in Hope for Girls and Women’s care throughout the subsequent weeks and months
Serengeti District Official Commander Mr Mathew Mgema
Serengeti District Official Commander Mr Mathew Mgema talks to families

Removing girls from their families is not the ideal solution but is very often the best resort if there is significant concern that FGM/C will take place. In May/June Hope for Girls and Women was already housing 135+ girls across two locations, so we were already incredibly overwhelmed with limited resources, but we have a duty to help as many as possible. 

On 28th July 2022, 24 new girls arrived at Hope For Girls and Women in Mugumu, Serengeti, having been removed from their families for their own protection. 

They have been provided with essentials on arrival such as clothes and sanitary items, and every girl will receive counselling. 

Girls receiving essentials and welcome in Tanzania

They will also be involved in training within the safe houses during the school holidays until education in the region resumes.

We will begin the process of trying to reconcile girls with their families in a few weeks once the risk of them being cut has reduced. They will also either return to school as soon as possible along with other girls from the safe houses. Where that is not an option (if they are not enrolled in a school, have been removed from school by their family, have finished school, or are too far away from their school), they will continue training within the safe houses. 

We will continue to post updates on our social media channels. 

If you are in a position to contribute to help our work during this challenging period, please visit this page.

Rhobi Samwelly selected for Human Rights Defenders Award

Rhobi -Samwelly image Human Defenders Award

Hope for Girls and Women’s Founder and Director, Rhobi Samwelly, has been selected by France’s President Macron for a prestigious Marianne Human Rights Defenders Award.

Rhobi will travel to Paris, France, in February with the awards ceremony taking place in March 2022.

The Marianne initiative for Human Rights Defenders was launched in December 2021 and will provide collaborative support and resources to help those involved do more and do better.

As stated in the launch announcement in December; The initiative’s international pillar will support on the ground those committed in their countries to defending fundamental rights and civil liberties. 

We are very excited for Rhobi and Hope for Girls and Women to be involved with the initiative and look forward to bringing you further updates in due course.

Hope’s 16 Days of Activism against GBV and FGM

Between November 25th and December 30th 2021, Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania worked with the Serengeti District Office (District Community Development Officer, District Social Welfare) and Gender Desk Police Officers to create awareness of FGM and GBV, through meetings, roadshows and village outreach.

Rhobi talking at community event during 16 Days of Activism

These sessions were organised to bring awareness to Mugumu-Serengeti villages such as Itununu, Rung’abure, Manyata, Gesarya, Kebanchabancha, Gwikongo, Merenga, Tamkeri, Mbilikiri, and Bisarara, which have been identified as having a high number of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) cases recently. Our work during this period focused on educating the communities on the impact of GBV and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and Alternative Rites of Passage to the community. There were a total of 9,723 men and 15,009 women reached directly through the sessions.

A collaborative approach to ending GBV and FGM

Hope for Girls and Women organised a forum in collaboration with Serengeti District Office (District Community Development Officer, District Social Welfare officers), Gender Desk Police, Serengeti District Commissioner, and District Judge, which a total of 100 people attended.

The forum attendee list included retired cutters, retired elders, Digital Champions, church leaders, village executive officers, community members, and other partners. The purpose was to have a dialogue on the best approach to mitigate FGM and GBV by law, in order for communities to abandon these traditions, which hinder the safety of girls and women and their rights.

The discussion was held as a dialogue for both sides to share their insight about the issues of GBV and FGM in our community from the District level to the community level. The Dialogue was led by the District Commissioner.

The outcome of the FGM and GBV forum

We all agreed on working closely together to make sure education about the impact of GBV and FGM can be given to the community starting at a family level, church, schools, and even through the media.

Police and court officers, village executive officers, and community members were encouraged to work together to ensure all parties are collaborating to rebuke GBV and FGM in our community.

Encouraging girls to stand up and say no

On December 15th 2021, 150 members of Tanzania and Zanzibar Gender Police Desks, accompanied by the Regional Police Commander, visited Butiama Safe House and spoke to the girls to encourage them to stand against all odds. They shared insight on how we can work together on helping the fight against GBV and FGM in the Mara region.

Tanzania and Zanzibar Gender Desk Officers

If you would like to make a donation to help us continue our important work in Tanzania, please find out more here.

If you are interested in sponsoring the education of girls in our care, please read more here.

If you wish to get in contact, you can find our contact details here.

A weekend of education and empowerment for girls in the Serengeti District

On the weekend of 29th and 30th May 2021, the Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania team collaborated with Grumeti Fund to provide empowerment sessions for local school girls in the Serengeti District.

On Saturday, 288 girls at Chamriho Secondary School were invited to take part.

Amina, who has stayed with Hope, bravely told her story to the girls gathered. This was an opportunity to inspire other girls and encourage them to seek help if they know that plans are being made by their family to have them cut.

Empowerment event

Amina has been able to reside at a Hope Safe House away from her family home, and acted as a proud spokesperson on Saturday.

Smaller group sessions took place throughout the day:

  1. Form four girls took part in a discussion about human resources
  2. Form three girls took part in an entrepreneurship workshop, which provided direction and skills to support them in setting up their own businesses, allowing them to be more independent as they move into womanhood.
  3. Form two girls took part in sessions focused on the importance of having personal plans and being committed to making the best of your own future.

To support menstrual hygiene and environmental sustainability, the girls in attendance were all given re-usable pads.

On Sunday, 703 girls gathered from schools close to Rigicha. During this session, we covered:

  1. Reproductive health and the menstrual cycle
  2. Gender, the effects of gender based violence (GBV) and female genital mutilation (FGM)
  3. Distribution of pads to all of the girls gathered

This was an important weekend of outreach and education, reaching 991 girls. We have found events like this are incredibly helpful for informing not just those gathered – but also their family and friends, as the girls will often go home and confidently discuss what they have learnt.

Thank you to The Grumeti Fund, Amina, and everyone on the Hope for Girls and Women team, as well as everyone who attended the sessions.

Cutter jailed for 10 years, with victim to receive compensation

In April, a female genital mutilation (FGM) cutter from Kitarungu Village, Tanzania, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay 1,000,000 TZS (c. $430USD / €350) to the victim. The girl’s parents were also jailed for 5 years for their involvement in arranging for the cutting to take place. The case was heard at Mugumu District Court on April 22nd 2021, with the cutting taking place in April 2020.

Police Officer Sijali and Mgesi, the cutter, is sentenced to prison for 10 years
Police Officer Sijali (left) and Mgesi (right), the cutter

FGM was criminalised in Tanzania in 1998 but still happens, particularly in rural areas where it is easier to conduct the practice away from authorities. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to schools being closed which in turn opened a longer window for girls to ‘recover’ away from the eyes of the education system. School holidays will routinely be exploited for this reason, and these periods have come to be known as ‘cutting seasons’. They will often lead to an influx of girls in the Hope for Girls and Women safe houses.

In this case, the victim was admitted to hospital after being rescued and brought to the Hope for Girls and Women safe house in Serengeti. When girls are brought to the Hope safe houses, they are first given a health check, to identify if they have been cut. This is carried out by a health care professional, with action taken accordingly, as seen in this case, to get the necessary treatment where needed. Counselling is also provided to girls at the safe houses, regardless of whether they have been cut or not.

We hope that this will act as a powerful lesson for both cutters and parents alike, who are considering continuing this practice. We truly believe that the changing of mindsets towards this archaic practice through education is a key way to eradicating FGM in Tanzania. We have been conducting programmes to re-educate cutters and support them in making new, more positive life choices. You can read more about this important work here.

Rhobi Samwelly participates in women’s health talk

On 5th December 2020, East African Education Foundation and TUHEDA hosted a Women’s Health Talk to discuss the impact of female genital mutilation (FGM). Hope founder, Rhobi Samwelly, joined a panel with OB-GYN specialist Dr. Leila Rusamba and international broadcaster Zuhra Yunus. Together, they educated attendees on the health risks of FGM and the strides being made to educate communities.

They stressed the biological implications of cutting girls without consent across the four types of FGM. When girls lose their clitoris, they essentially lose a part of their body that they don’t yet understand. They do not comprehend what they have lost, and how this practice will redefine their attitudes towards intimacy, which in turn increases the potential of domestic violence. In addition, while the clitoris may be considered a small part of the human body, it is served by an artery that contains a major blood supply, so when the artery is cut, there is the potential to bleed to death.

FGM also affects childbirth, particularly due to the extent of cutting and the scarring left behind. In the most severe case, when genitalia is completely closed, there is no passage for the baby to come out. Thus there is a high likelihood for the woman to suffer a hemorrhage, and for the death of the woman and child. In cases of partial removal, the scar tissue that has healed does not stretch as much as normal tissue, increasing health risks and pain levels during birth.

However, Rhobi discussed how our work has visibly changed attitudes towards FGM in rural Tanzania. She can see girls standing up for themselves and refusing to undergo this rampant practice, with a prevalence of around 32%1 in the Mara region. Parents have also started refusing for their girls to be cut, and laws have been more strictly enforced to send cutters to prison.

She also highlighted the support received from boys and men. While Mara is a male-dominated area, men are a part of our FGM clubs and attempt to educate other men about the effects of gender-based violence and harmful traditions. Boys have increasingly refused to marry girls who have been cut after learning about unwarranted health risks. There have been challenges in educating families who value the income generated from cutting. Families receive higher dowries when girls who marry are cut. Yet through our community dialogue, and awareness generation, Rhobi believes that progress is being made.

Rhobi then discussed some of the Hope initiatives taking place during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, including a village debate with men around gender-based issues, a mapathon during Human Rights Day, and a girls’ march in front of government leaders. These actions are designed to raise awareness around the issue of FGM. Rhobi summarised:

“You have to create awareness. You have to teach them about the effects of FGM. Change is slow, but one day FGM will be history.”

Watch the full recording here:

1 UNFPA report on FGM

Find out more about FGM in Tanzania here.

See which upcoming events Hope for Girls and Women will be involved in here.

To get in touch with the team, please visit this page.

Fighting FGM in Tanzania with Maps

On November 16, Crowd2Map founder Janet Chapman and Hope founder Rhobi Samwelly, discussed how they use mapping tools to rescue girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in rural Tanzania during the How Mapping Can Protect Girls from FGM virtual event.

Rhobi talking at an earlier event
Rhobi talking at an earlier event
in Northern Tanzania

Tanzania has been a quiet champion against FGM since its independence and criminalised the practice in 1998. But despite its unwarranted health risks, some families – particularly in remote, rural communities – still force girls to undergo FGM to secure higher dowries and align with cultural practices.

FGM cases particularly accrue during the school holidays, otherwise known as “cutting seasons.” Rhobi mentioned that forty-one girls were rescued during the day of their webinar alone, and two girls were in the process of being rescued by local officials. The team expects to rescue around 350 girls in December based on their intel from educators, community programs, and local activists.

Hope runs two safe houses in Mugumu and Butiama to harbor girls at risk, while also conducting outreach, re-educating families, and supporting prosecutions against gender-based violence. Rhobi estimated that teams are currently supporting around 20 prosecutions, primarily with families and cutters.

Mapping has been a critical step towards fully combatting FGM. Since these FGM cases occur in unmapped regions of Tanzania, local officials are forced to drive through unmarked roads during the middle of the night to retrieve girls. Maps visualise their areas and enable officials to secure the safest routes for driving girls to safe houses.

For five years, Crowd2Map has been working to ensure that every village and person is counted. They now have a global team of around 14,000 online volunteers who map buildings and roads from satellite images. These maps are then shared through a collaborative geodata platform called OpenStreetMap. Janet and Rhobi have also facilitated Youthmappers groups in eight universities across Tanzania. 

In addition, Crowd2Map and Hope have trained local volunteers on the ground with funding from WomenConnect. A woman in each of 87 villages was trained on how to use a smartphone, map their village, and use open-source data collection (ODK) to report gender based violence for authorities in their district. These Digital Champions have continued to be a force for change. They provide the locations of victims, monitor case reports, and follow up with girls after being returned to safer environments. With ODK, Digital Champions can securely submit forms offline and easily visualise data. Anyone interested can read about their work with the University of Nottingham.

When “cutting seasons” end, Hope coordinates with local police to meet the families of girls staying at the safe house. They strive for a period of reconciliation and request parents to sign an affidavit ensuring an environment free from gender-based violence. If families refuse to sign, Hope continues to support the girls in the safe house and encourage them to attend a nearby school.

During the webinar, Crowd2Map and Hope recounted other pertinent initiatives. Rhobi described her speech at the UN General Assembly and the launch of UNFPA’s annual report Against My Will about defying practices that harm women. She also mentioned her interview with BBC World Service. Teams are also working to standardise health centers’ response to FGM by providing guidance on how practitioners discuss FGM with a girl’s parents. They also explained their efforts towards providing girls with education, since many girls face profound difficulties in attending secondary school.

Watch the full webinar recording here:

It is always inspiring to hear about Janet and Rhobi’s work to empower and elevate girls at risk. For anyone interested in being a part of the mapping community, Janet and Rhobi recommend visiting the Crowd2Map website. Anyone linked to a university is suggested to visit the Youthmappers website to create a group of mappers against FGM. You can also visit the StoryMap article to learn more.

Bringing Hope to ending FGM, via film

Earlier in 2020 we were joined by Liz and Alex as they concluded their round the world trip. They came to Hope for Girls and Women to share their skills by producing a film that would reflect the determination, energy and compassion of the team and the work delivered here. Watch the film here:

The film is about an amazing Tanzanian woman, Rhobi Samwelly, and the organization she founded that is rescuing young girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage in the Serengeti district of Tanzania. It highlights the stories of girls who have fled FGM, as well as the staff and community leaders involved in this effort. We learn about Rhobi’s story and what led her to create the nonprofit, Hope for Girls and Women in Tanzania. The organization manages two safe houses among many other initiatives and programs, such as school and community education, and community mapping. In this film, we sought to highlight the individuals involved in this effort to rescue the girls, and to show the audience all the amazing collaborative work they are doing.

Alex and Liz with the Hope team
Alex, Liz, and Herry Kasunga of the Hope for Girls and Women team

My husband Alex, and I (Liz) were taking a career gap to travel around the world full-time when we learned about Hope for Girls and Women in Tanzania. When first planning our around the world trip over 5 years ago, we knew we wanted to spend some time working with a nonprofit in Sub-Saharan Africa. Having both spent time volunteering in Sub-Saharan many years prior, we knew we only wanted to volunteer if we were able to bring a unique set of skills to the table that would have a lasting benefit to a nonprofit.

We both have had an interest in video creation for years, but had only put together a few videos for fun mostly related to travel before we left on our around the world trip.

We created a YouTube channel to document our travels and develop skills that would enable us to create documentaries, which has always been an interest of ours. I have spent most of my career working in the nonprofit/public sector so while I was learning editing and video creation, I immediately saw the potential to utilize these skills to benefit nonprofits by highlighting the amazing work they do which could then be used to reach additional funders and donors. While not everyone can visit rural Tanzania, we thought a film that brings to life the work being done would be the next best thing. 

We had a very strict set of criteria for the type of organization we were looking to work for and we both could not have imagined a more perfect organization than Hope for Girls and Women in Tanzania. We were looking for an organization that is:

  1. community run;
  2. working to improve a human rights issue;
  3. focused on women and children.
The Hope team
Liz (right) joined the wider Hope team including FGM survivor and Hope founder, Rhobi (middle)

Hope for Girls and Women not only met, but completely exceeded all of our criteria. We loved that it was founded and led by an amazing, passionate Tanzanian woman, Rhobi, who was such an inspiration.

I had some background knowledge about FGM in Tanzania, having written my final cumulative paper on it while completing my Master of Public Health.

So not only did it align very well with my interests, I also was able to see that they were implementing all of the best practices I had learned. They were the first and only organization we reached out to, while we were living in a van and exploring New Zealand. We had a quick phone call with Janet and Rhobi after sending a few samples of our work. We were then invited to come to the remote town of Mugumu in the Serengeti district of Tanzania. Getting to Mugumu from New Zealand was quite the experience! Our total travel time was over 60 hours consisting of 5 flights, and a very long car ride.

Our experience in Tanzania at Hope for Girls and Women will remain as my favorite experience on our around the world trip.  The entire team was so welcoming and accommodating to us following them around with video equipment. Without their language translation, logistical support, and the stories shared by the girls, the film would not have been possible. We really appreciate the kindness that was shown to us by the whole team while we were in Tanzania. 

While we were in Mugumu, COVID-19 was declared a global health pandemic. American citizens were urged to come home or plan to stay away for an indefinite time period. We were so torn and heartbroken about this, but made the hard decision to return home. As a result, we were unable to finish filming everything that we had set out to film. However, while quarantining in the United States, we had enough footage to compile and edit the film over the next two months. 

We are extremely grateful for this opportunity to highlight the work of an organization that truly deserves it. We were so inspired by the girls and all of the staff there. We will forever cherish this experience. 

Thank you!
Liz & (Alex) Clark

Against my will: A collaborative effort to end gender inequality

Front cover of State of World Population 2020: Against My Will

Rhobi Samwelly tells her harrowing story of experiencing near-fatal female genital mutilation and seeing it kill her friend.

She recounts how this galvanised the founding of Hope for Girls and Women and the team’s ongoing work. Rhobi is featured from page 67 of the report.


There is a wealth of important information about gender inequality within the document.  We were therefore keen to share it as a wider reading resource for those campaigning for an end to FGM and those interested in learning more about this and other practices that aim to prohibit the rights of women.

The full report can be downloaded via the UNFPA site from the button below:

Improving the impact of our data on FGM in Tanzania

‘Female Genital Mutilation’ and ‘data visualisation’ might not be two terms that you would immediately put together. However on June 1st, the Viz5 team and makeovermonday.co.uk did just that. Their global community of data enthusiasts were challenged to help communicate some of Hope for Girls and Women’s critical stats through a range of different visualisation techniques. 

Created by: Priya Padham

Data can, at times, be quite impenetrable and dry. Being able to identify a logical flow and narrative using data visualisation techniques on a webpage, presentation or report, can help the information become more digestible and intuitive for the audience. According to t-sciences.com,  ‘the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.’ 

Created by: Liam Spencer

As part of the monthly #Viz5 data visualisation challenge, the team featured data from Hope in an effort to support our advocacy work and raise awareness of the fight to end FGM. There were so many great data visualisations produced! These were reviewed by Eva Murray, Technology Evangelist & Tableau Zen Master at Exasol and Seth Cochran, Founder & CEO at OpFistula.org.

  • You can see and hear the feedback they provided here.
  • The shortlisted visualisations are also available to view here.

Hope for Girls has a relationship with the Viz5 team through our association with the Tanzania Development Trust and Crowd2map. They have supported with our data collection and mapping of Tanzania, and were keen to use their platform to help us drive awareness around the challenges we face with FGM and the support we provide through the safe houses. Viz5’s passion comes across in the feedback session – we look forward to collaborating again soon!

To read more about the outstanding efforts and this important collaboration, please find the Viz5 article here.