Gender equality in Tanzania: Beyond political struggles

Posted on 21 August 2011

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By The guardian reporter
20th August 2011

Tanzanian woman entrepreneur: Government and civil society organisations should refocus their strategies and gender equality and put more weight on women`s economic survival instead of political emancipation

In this article, our special correspondent dwells on the plight of poor Tanzanian women. He asserts that it is also unfortunate that the current policy and legal frameworks put more weight on political emancipation than ensuring economic survival of Tanzanian women bearing in mind that a hungry woman lacks confidence and ability to pursue her rights.

Even the increase in the number of Special Seats members of parliament has not served the wishes of poor women, he says, conceding that probably the focus has been on increasing numbers and not voices of the voiceless women.

He cites the current situation in most of our district and municipal councils which portray a contrary picture of what ought to have been a support to women’s economic life, and that instead of supporting them with soft loans, the city militias ‘support’ them with claps on their backs. He stresses that real women’s emancipation begins from ensuring decent income generating works in order to give them confidence and ability.

Although microfinance facilities exist, it seems there is no one interested to ensure that, these women are safeguarded against harsh loan facilities, he contends, and urges the government and CSOs to refocus their strategies and gender dimensions. Read on…

The sunrays could not allow me see her eyes in order connect facial expression and what she told me about her begging routine business. “We are no longer trusted as poor people who can live without others’ support. We are increasingly regarded as lazy and worthless people. Therefore we manage to get only few cents during the day. But that is all what I have to do for my continued existence,” said Mama Salum when we interacted recently.

Mama Salum’s tale holds a lot of meaning and can be analyzed in different ways which could be true or false. Being a case as it may, what is certain at least from various reports is that, Tanzanians face myriads of socio-economic and political challenges.

Of certain is also a fact that, women do suffer hundreds times than men. As it has already been stated, harmful traditional practices are root causes of all these troubles. But again, a lot has been done so far by government and civil society organizations (CSOs). It is not easy to allocate credits to one side without appreciating efforts of the other.

However, a level of support to each part is not certain. Sometimes, one side blames the other of being unenthusiastic and nagging for impossibilities just for purposes of pleasing the donors; while at the same time, the other side complains of dilatory in making positive changes. It is therefore still a partnership in discourse. There is no clear agenda of what we want to do for and with these poor Tanzanian women.

It is also unfortunate that the current policy and legal frameworks put more weight on political emancipation than ensuring economic survival. What is echoed in louder voice is how many women are positioned and entrusted to take political positions, but not how many rural and urban women are able to make their independent untamed husbands’ orders and living out of begging like Mama Salum.

Then, it is time for economic struggle. A hungry person cares much about his or her next meal and not to vote or be voted.

A hungry woman lacks confidence and ability to pursue her rights. We have heard of several cases of gender based violence which end up at family level for a fear of incriminating a bread-winner, who once jailed, the family life is also jailed into more troubles.

A hungry woman cannot also have surplus saving to board a bus or Chinese motorcycle to search for justice which is ‘located’ hundred miles away from her locality. What is best option for her is not a search for imprisonment of her stubborn husband, but to opt for survival of her starving children. The political struggles brought notable achievements.

Today, several rural women can claim equal access to land and other natural resources. Records of legal aid providers such as Legal and Human Rights Centre and Tanzania Women Lawyers Association show that more women are going for legal aid. Obviously the awareness of their legal rights is on increase.

Moreover, numbers of those who are elected directly from the constituencies are on increase to trigger increase of special seats as well in the parliament.

The laws including the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 give them good backing. But it is only for small fraction of women, mostly the elite in urban centres who know relatively little about their colleagues in the streets like Mama Salum or others in the draught villages.

A simple analysis tells that very few could cherish having their fellow women in the parliament because they are hardly heard speaking and fighting for the rights of their colleagues. In fact, some of them remain mute throughout parliamentary tenure. Probably, we have increased numbers and not voices of the voiceless women.

At this critical situation then, collective emancipation of women becomes vital. Apart from guarantee them equal enrolment rates and all other good stuff to fight gender disparity, it is time to think of the aftermath of all those initiatives.

Even if we train millions of them without a guarantee of employment, the efforts become fruitless.

Article 23(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states that, everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Same right is provided for under the constitution of Tanzania.

The current situation in most of our district and municipal councils portray a contrary picture of what ought to have been a support to women’s economic life.

Instead of supporting them with soft loans, the city militias ‘support’ them with claps on their backs. Instead of pouring some ideas and skills for Mama Ntilie initiative, the authorities order pouring out of their beans and rice from the pots.

Instead of supporting them to construct decent sites for selling their stuff to the customers, the city authorities destroyed the khanga and rust iron shits used as walls for their ‘hotel.’ Instead of giving them capital, they collect massive levies and bribes from their two thousands full-day earning.

Those who are working for gain in bars; hotels and residential places do suffer same challenges. The penal laws prohibit trafficking in human for any purpose, but because of same challenge of economic reliance, small girls from Iringa, Mbeya, Dodoma and all over Tanzania are brought in the cities.

Their poor parents who failed to take them to further studies if not primary schools easily accept once the urban ‘job agent’ comes with just few cents and millions of promises.

At the cities, the girls are raped, overworked, killed and so on. Few ‘lucky’ ones escape the ordeals and save as barmaids and beggars like Mama Salum. The world still remains unkind for them. They remain prey for unscrupulous guys who take their poverty for granted. Hence, fall victims of HIV, mothers of homeless children and so on.

Most of the CSOs in Tanzania have failed to address these challenges. They bang doors of the government for advocacy of political and civil rights only. Just few of them understand that real women’s emancipation begins from ensuring decent income generating works in order to give them confidence and ability as said above.

Some which addresses women health rights, fail to address how health issues in particular reproductive rights constrains women ability to earn income. Few which talk about women economic rights do not address how failure of public services such as water and current unreliable electricity impact on women. They do not also make good account of the intensity of labour force which these women face without recognition or payment.

On the other hand, the employment policies of Tanzania do not give good and viable strategies on those challenges and others. For instance, as ILO Report of 2002 indicates, women are concentrated in informal economy which does not guarantee them sufficient future survival. What viable strategies do we have in place to address this situation?

The business of financial processes is booming. Several Financial Institutions are operating on pretext of implementing and supporting the Micro-Economy and SMEs Policies. It is out of context here to question where do they get money in order to trade money. Of relevance is the fact that lots of people including women go to them for loan. They mortgage their domestic utensils, TV sets and furniture.

It is quite easy to access loan from these institutions after all securities are deposited to them. Now, an unskilled woman takes a half million loan to start her Mama Ntilie business. Just within a week or so, the city militia comes with all kinds of violence. The loan capital disappeared and, her utensils and small futures she collected for a decade are sold. She runs off to zero start.

There is no one interested to ensure that, these women are safeguarded against harsh loan facilities. There are government facilities such as Small Entrepreneurship Loan Facility (SELF) under Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. But, it is not known to majority. Probably one has to wait for Sabasaba Trade Fair to get to know all these because it is when they come to display their services.

As for the legal framework, we have laws such as Employment and Labour Relations Act of 2004 and Land Act of 1999 which blankly state that women have equal rights to men to work and own land. But the policies in support to those laws are mute of strategies as stated above.

I am of settled opinion that, it is not enough to mention gender issues and give intrinsic links to poverty without bringing practical solution and mechanisms of achieving the results areas. Obviously, this is why MKUKUTA, MKURABITA, MKUMBITA, KILIMO KWANZA and all those similar stuff remain to be giant sleeping documents.

I think government and CSOs needs to refocus their strategies and gender dimensions. The truth is that, these rural and poor women whom you targeted for so long time actually know most of their rights. They actually know the courts are for adjudication of legal problems. But they do not know how to access it. They now understand that, overdependence to their husbands is a root cause of their mistreatment, but they do not know how to get rid of this situation.

This is why feminists and other rights groups including the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children need to move a step forward of advocacy.

There are good policies and laws to work on. For instance, the Tanzania Economic Empowerment Policy of 2004 talks about capital as driving force for national and individual economic empowerment. The Small and Medium Enterprise Development Policy of 2002 recognizes SMEs as tools for employment, income generation and poverty alleviation. The National Microfinance Policy of 2002 talks about strategies that serves the low-income segment of the society.

We can make use of opportunities provided in those policies to change chorus of our “civil-political-rights” song.

The district and municipal council should stop to be mechanical and blind of real situation. It time to allocate budget for offering soft loans using existing micro-structures instead of investing in city militia to harass our mothers.

It is also a ripe time to sell the City Director’s or DED’s posh VX 8 Toyota and increase development budget for SMEs. We can also stop buying office furniture every year and save for our toiling mothers.

Mama Salum and others depend on just few well-functioning and patriotic heads to have their daily bread and survival without such humiliations they experience. Why can’t we think of others the way we love ourselves? Who is there for our mothers and poor girls?

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania, a legal consultant and human rights activist who can be reached at kipobota@yahoo.com, mob: 0762776281
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN

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