International Women’s Day 2023: Insights into the continuing journey to women’s emancipation in Tanzania

YESTERDAY, 8th March, 2023 was “International Women’s Day”, so recognised by the United Nations Organisation and celebrated in all countries around the world. Such celebrations are intended to give an opportunity to women to highlight the efforts that have been made towards the achievement of the goal of women empowerment, or gender equality; the successes arising therefrom, plus examining the issues that still require attention. We have devoted today’s presentation to this topic

The word “emancipate” is used here in its usual meaning of “freeing a person from legal, political, or social restrictions”. And we have described this as a “continuing’ process, simply because our women folk have not yet been totally emancipated therefrom, especially with regard to certain cultural restrictions.

Many countries, including the United Republic of Tanzania have, over the years,  been progressively taking appropriate steps, mainly through legislative measures, to emancipate their women citizens from such restrictions, but there are some others which have obstinately remained in place; such as the issue of girls’ cruel ‘genital mutilation’, even though it is against the law of the land.

The traditional role of Women in Society

Traditionally, women in every country, including Tanzania, have always played a significant role, especially at family level, as economic producers and providers of strong stability for the household.  But certain well-known factors, mostly cultural in nature, are what have prevented their meaningful participation in the nation’s public affairs, particularly in matters relating to the country’s governance. They managed to do this, in the first place, by providing obstacles to the education of girls, for example, through early marriages forced upon them by their parents; plus other unreasonable tribal customs, such as that which is widely practiced in my own District of Ukerewe, which forbade women to eat certain types of nutritious fish and meat; as these were reserved “for men only”.

However, such negative factors notwithstanding, the women have always contributed significantly to the democratic process through their active participation in elections, but essentially as voters, not as elected leaders, except in very few isolated cases.  But that was so only until recently, when President Samia Suluhu Hassan, came on the stage, and introduced dramatic positive changes in that respect; which have given the women ‘participation in governance’ spectrum an entirely new fresh look.

Tanzania’s structured efforts in this area

This information has been assembled from various scattered sources; going back to the pre-independence days of British colonial domination in Tanganyika; when the colonial Administration nominate women candidates to enter the Legislative Council (LEGCO).  The Tanganyika Legislative Council was established by legislation cited as the “Tanganyika Legislative Council) Order – in Council, 1926”; which was passed by the British House of Commons on 26th March, 1926; and held its first session on 7th December, 1926, in Dar es Salam.

But it was not until 1955, when the Governor decided to nominate the first female Members to join the Legislative Council. They were:  Elifuraha Mkamangi  Marealle,   K.F. Walker, and S. Keeka.

The post-independence period

Then came the reign of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, “a man of principle”; who had dedicated himself to implementing  the principle that “Binadamu wote ni sawa”.

And, indeed, he was able to overcome   some of these  obstacles, particularly those relating to ‘women participation in matters of the country’s governance’,  when in the 1960 pre-independence parliamentary elections, TANU (the political party which he led as its President), nominated women to stand for constituency elections. These included Bibi Titi Mohamed (Rufiji-Utete constituency); Mwami (Chief) Theresa Ntare (Kasulu constituency); and Lucy Lameck (Moshi constituency).

Their election was greatly facilitated by TANU’s political dominance at the material time, which enabled them (and many other TANU candidates) to be elected unopposed  in 58 out of a total of 71 constituencies countrywide. However, come the next parliamentary elections of 1965, this ‘privileged facility’ had been removed by the new constitution, which had removed the possibility of candidates being elected unopposed, because TANU was now required to nominate two candidates for each and every constituency; which resulted in no woman candidate being elected in any of the constituencies whose number had been increased to 120.

Subsequent to that, no woman candidate was able to win a constituency seat until the 1985 parliamentary elections; when a single woman won the election in a constituency. Further improvements occurred in the 1990 parliamentary elections, when two women won the election in their respective constituencies.

In these circumstances TANU, which was now the only political party (under the then subsisting “One-party” political system) devised a new innovative method of getting women into Parliament; when it caused legislation to be passed to amend the constitution, in order to provide for the establishment of what were called “Designated National Institutions”, solely for the purpose of nominating candidates for election to Parliament. Each of these designated institutions was guaranteed five seats in Parliament to be filled through election by the other Members of Parliament sitting as an electoral college.  These included “Umoja wa Wanawake Tanzania” (UWT).

In addition, the Constitution also allowed the President to nominate up to ten Members of Parliament, among them, five must women.

The provision for ‘designated National Institutions’ was removed from the constitution by the major constitutional amendments which were introduced in 1984.  But still, in order to cater for the need for women’s meaningful participation in Parliament; new constitutional provisions were introduced, which made provision for the establishment of what were, and still are, designated as “special women seats” in Parliament. The initial allocation was only15 per cent of the constituency Members of Parliament, but this figure was progressively raised through further constitutional amendments, to the present “not less than 30 per cent”.

The Gender Forum Coalition on the Constitution (GFC)

As we continue travelling down memory lane,  I must also mention a more recent initiative  that was taken here by the women themselves, following former President Jakaya Kikwete’  establishment of a ‘Constitution Review Commission’ under the Chairmanship of  Judge (rtd) Joseph Warioba, in 2012;  The women took that opportunity to form an Organisation called  the  “Gender Forum Coalition on the Constitution”; which was given the task of ‘mobilising women in Tanzania to raise their voices in demanding a constitution which would  provide for gender equality, particularly in matters related to governance’;  or, in its Kiswahili version, “Uwakilishi wa wanawake  kwenye vyombo vya maamuzi”. Their stated objective was to achieve 50/50 representation in Parliament.

It is gratifying to note that President Samia Suluhu Hassan has indicated that she is desirous of achieving that goal.  But this is, perhaps, more easily said than done.

This objective can, of course, be more easily done by just changing our electoral system, from “First-past-the-post” (FPP) to “Proportional Representation” (PR).

But this is “easier said than done”; because all the stakeholders in this country were brought up under the FPP electoral system, And, to the best of my memory, no such recommendation has ever been made in all of the constitutional review exercises that have been undertaken. It is most unlikely therefore, that such change will be achieved in the foreseeable future.

Advocates of this change can continue to base their hopes on the Bible inspiration given in the Old Testament, that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”.

Mwalimu Nyerere’s speeches and writings.     

There are many people who are presumably aware of Mwalimu Nyerere’s  speeches and writings, in which he reiterated his sincere belief in the “equality of human beings”, regardless of a person’s different gender, race, colour, or creed.

One of his earliest writings published in 1942, while he was a student at Makerere Teachers’ College in Uganda, amply demonstrates his commitment to the liberation of women.  In that Paper, which was titled “The plight of African women”, Nyerere highlighted the hardships and miseries of African women who, he pointed out, “worked almost like slaves”; and strongly condemned the tribal customs which facilitated this existence of undesirable situation.

This was, apparently, a competition essay, and as the records show, it won him a handsome five hundred East African shillings (a lot of money in those good old days), having been the winner of that competition.

It would appear that  his essay was most likely based on his own experience of  his mother’s tribulations in that regard;  for his biography (which was published after his death) also  includes the following information:-

“As a young boy, Julius Nyerere witnessed how much his mother toiled, having to wake up at the first cock-crow to go and work in her own shamba, returning later to her hut to cook for her children (and her husband if it was her turn); thereafter heading to her husband’s communal shamba for further work along with the other members of the family.  In between, she was supposed to collect firewood and fetch water.  This was part of the culture of the tribe, under which women worked like slaves, and in which Julius Nyerere himself was brought up”.

And later in 1967, when he wrote the famous policy document titled, The Arusha Declaration” he said the following: –  “It is true that within our traditional society, ill-treatment, plus enforced subservience, could be the women’s lot. This is certainly inconsistent with the concept of the equality of all human beings, and the right of everyone to live under the same freedom and security as all the others. Thus, if we really want our country to make full and rapid progress, it is essential that our women are enabled to live on terms of full equality with their fellow citizens who are men”.

Attempting to find the core of the problem

With regard to the unsatisfactory condition of women elected representation in the State’s elective organs, what could be the core of this problem?  Why do women generally fail to obtain sufficient votes at the relevant elections, that would them to enter Parliament inn larger numbers?

In my considered opinion, there are three basic reasons which account for this state of affairs. One is the FPP electoral system that is in operation; the other is the people’s   biased mindset; and     the third (in the particular case of Tanzania), is the constitutional provision for “Women Special Seats”.  This provision was actually intended to increase the number of women in Parliament and in Local Authorities Councils. But it produced the completely unintended, and mischievous excuse, for the male candidates to campaign against women constituency candidate by falsely claiming that the women have their own sufficient reserved seats, and should not seek constituencies seats.  “Hiyo ni tamaa mbaya” the male campaigners would add mischievously; thus effectively providing support, for the already biased voters’ mindset.

The FPP electoral system is, indeed, heavily influenced by the voters’ mindset also in some in other respects.  For example, when nominating their candidates for elections, political parties have the   tendency of ignoring women; with the result that very few women get nominated for election in the constituencies.

And if you add the outdated traditional attitudes of regarding women as “made only for the upkeep of the family household”; the total effect of these ‘negatives’ is what provides the major impediment to women’s representation in Parliament, and in the Local Authority Councils.   / 0754767576.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button