Source: The Guardian
While Tanzania has made significant success in bringing about women equality, a lot remains to be done. Whereas there is close to gender parity in enrolment in primary education, only few girls endure to the level of tertiary or university education, the battle to fight maternal mortality rate remains a blunt as statistics show that while HIV/Aids prevalence rate is going down, more women are affected than men.


The problem, our analyst asserts, is that the struggle has mainly been a struggle of women and for women but beneficiaries have only been elites and urban women. The rural women know nothing about hundred year of struggle and are still in repression of harmful cultural practices. Time is now ripe for gender activists to revisit their strategies to bring in more practical ways of assisting poor women in the villages. Read on…

On the eighth of March this year, Tanzania joined the rest of the world to commemorate hundred years of struggle to emancipate the women. Statements and testimonies given during the day by different people, mainly elites in urban centres, show that it is victorious struggle apart from some challenges ahead of the way.

Indeed, it is a century of success. At least there are legal, policy and institutional frameworks to address specific needs of women. The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 now guarantees equality between men and women and also, supports their full participation in economic and political activities.

This is in tune with international human rights instruments which require all states to adopt some policy and legislative measures to address specific needs of women and other special groups.

The Development Vision 2025, National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty (MKUKUTA) as well as different policies and strategies have given directive to recognize gender as cross-cutting issue to give attention to women issues.

As for legal framework, feminism struggles have influenced change of mindset of the lawmakers. Most of the laws including the Economic Empowerment Act, 2004; Employment and Labour Relations Act, 2004; HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act, 2008; Penal Code, Chapter 16; Land Act, 1999 and the Village Land Act, 1999 give specific protection to women.

The said policies and laws have tried to address some cultural setbacks which hinder full enjoyment of women’s rights.

At institutional level, there is specific government Ministry which takes care of what goes on and therefore inform the government on appropriate measures. Currently, the Ministry keeps custody of operation of the civil society organizations (CSOs) as well, probably to ensure that they deliver right information to the right group.

However, little is known on how this Ministry is actually supporting the good work of the CSOs apart from governing their registration and operation.

The initiatives described above have yielded some fruits. More girls and women are given education opportunities. The surveys show that there is close to gender parity in enrolment in primary education.

The net enrolment of boys and girls is now almost the same. Thus more girls and women are accessing education, a situation which increases their chances to other social, economic and political opportunities. But, it is unfortunate that lots of girls drop out at early stages of their primary school. Only few girls endure to the level of tertiary or university education.

Health rights for women are guaranteed by policies but not the laws, therefore not enforceable. The battle to fight maternal mortality rate is blunt. At least 578 die for every 100,000 live birth in every year (equivalent to more than one maternal death every hour). Unskilled personnel and lack of proximity to health centres are some of the factors for these deaths.

The HIV and AIDS pandemic is yet another burden on shoulders of women. The statistics show that the prevalence rate is going down, but more women are affected than men. The national prevalence rate stands at 6.8 percent and 4.7 percent for women and men respectively. Lack of information, poverty, harmful traditional practices and illiteracy are some of the factors for this situation.

The number of political and administrative positions for women is on increase. The constitution of Tanzania sets a mandatory requirement of minimum of 30 per cent for women special seats in the Parliament. Different other laws put same requirement in decision making bodies.

A good work done by the government itself and CSOs can be seen. Unlike in the past, today some of the women can speak openly about their rights. They can even challenge men. The Legal and Human Rights Centre’s legal aid records show that number of matrimonial cases filed by women is on increase. This means, more confidence is acquired.

But again, despite the fact that feminists have influenced all these positive things to happen, it is obvious that a lot is still desired.

The main challenge is lack of holistic approach in feminism struggle. That is, it is a struggle of women and for women but benefits elites and urban women. The rural women know nothing about hundred year of struggle. They are still in repression of harmful cultural practices, which some of them are still enforceable under the Law of Marriage Act, 1971 and others. This makes them inferior and therefore unable to speak.

The dominance of male in decision making and politics has manipulated not only the traditions and the policies, but also the religious cultures and its teaching. In this way, a fear to come out for decision making or political contest is magnified.

As I have said in other previous articles, apart from this challenge though, women have to bear the blames as well for failing to stage properly their advocacy agenda.

Firstly, most of the CSOs in Tanzania, which advocate for women’s rights, exclude the counterparts (men) from the platform. Even the leadership of their ‘gender agenda’ is exclusively for women. Now, how can you fight with a distant enemy?

Secondly, women themselves do not support each other. In 2005 Ms. Anna Claudia Senkoro who tried her luck to contest for presidential position through PPT-Maendeleo, was heard lamenting that, none of the women rights groups did even state a word to congratulate her for picking nomination forms. She ultimately received only 0.17 per cent (18,741) of votes while majority of voters in Tanzania are women. In 2010 election, no woman dared to try a presidential race. Probably Ms. Senkoro’s situation sent a strong message.

Thirdly, the privileged women have failed to speak well for the rights of their colleagues. They are more than 30 per cent in the parliament but little influence is heard from them. They betray the unlucky fellows by remaining mute throughout the sessions.

They cannot even speak of simple and vivid facts of girls’ pregnancies, drop outs, early marriage, female genital mutilations, maternal mortality rate, gender based violence, unrecorded economic burden on shoulder of their colleagues and so many other issues.

It is important to view this progress in terms of outcomes instead of outputs. Otherwise we will have increased financial resources to pay for their allowances and posh vehicles in order to cerebrate for quantities instead of qualities, while our mothers in the villages are suffering from agonies caused by lack of hospitals, water pumps around and capital to run their small ventures and the like.

Fourthly, most of the CSOs which fight for women rights are based in Dar es Salaam and other major cities with very limited connection to the grassroots. In this way, they speak more of theories than practical issues. They address policies from theoretical point of view.

Moreover, meetings to discuss poor women’s affairs are conducted in air-conditioning rooms. Therefore, most of the advocacy agenda are hypothetical. That is, they do not have weak voices of the rural women.

I think while we mark this day as feminists, we need to revisit our strategies to bring in more practical ways of assisting poor women in the villages. The situation is still bad. It cannot be measured by a mere increase of women in positions or enactment of laws and policies.

The critical question to answer is how those numbers or laws or policies bring sense to the poor women. Right Based Approach in our programmes could help as it commands mandatory inclusion of all groups in planning and implementation of our programmes.

We have heard a lot of theories in the cities; in fact, they become normal and therefore cause compassion fatigue. It is time that we ground our theories into grassroots. We have women suffering in Loliondo, Lindi and elsewhere.

They will never appreciate our struggles if we continue to remain Dar es Salaam’s ‘war-fighters.’ Let us wipe the tears of those who are in the villages by going to them, talk to them, hear them and pursue their voices.

It is a moral and professional betrayal to waste lots of donors’ funds to research for their needs and then leave them in jungle. Finally, let us translate our myriad theories into practice. People do not want to hear admonitions every day. They want actions and real fruits.

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