INTERNATIONAL Women’s week commemorations started last Friday throughout Tanzania. This is despite the fact that the day is every year commemorated the world over on 8 March. The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania decided on an eight-day celebration to reflect the important role played by women in the country.
In this wide-ranging interview, the United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC), Mr Alvaro Rodriguez, who is also the UN Champion for the HeForShe Campaign for Gender Equality, explains why the economic growth of Tanzania is dependent on ensuring the equal participation of women and men. He explains why women should not be viewed as a cost but instead appreciated as a vital asset that contributes to efforts aiming to socially, economically and politically grow Tanzania.
Q: In your view, why is it important for Tanzania women differently, setting eight days for the commemoration?
UNRC: It is good that the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania decided to celebrate women longer than just a day. We also know that commitment towards advancing women and girls is an ongoing every day process for the Government and other actors working in the gender equality sector. Importantly, women constitute nearly 52 percent of the country’s population and we need time like this week to reflect on what these numbers mean for Tanzania. Like in other countries, the situation of women in Tanzania is that a significant number of women and girls suffer discrimination and Gender-Based Violence (GBV),. These are factors that often limit women to reach their full potential.
For the United Nations, our position is that when we all respect the rights of women and girls and support them to reach their full potential, we can make significant progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If we look at the 2030 agenda, Goal 5 is specifically devoted to women, which shows that gender equality and the empowerment of women are an important global issue.
Q: Let’s look at the Global theme: Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change and the National theme: Change Mindset to Achieve Gender Equality for Sustainable Development, how does these work hand in glove?
UNRC: I think that it is a wise move that each country defines International Women’s Day in a way that suits its own unique context. The two themes complement each other because underlying each theme is the need for transformation within our society.
In some western countries, we have seen a rise in women who are active in all socio-economic and political sectors while in some parts of Africa, including Tanzania, a number of actions are still needed to experience that transformative change. There are still large segments of women lagging behind and within the principle of leaving no one behind, we would like to work with various actors, including the Government to ensure that development strategies reach all women and girls. Despite the gaps in some areas, we are encouraged by the progress made in improving the status of women in some sectors. The fact that Tanzania has a woman Vice- President reflects that, given an opportunity, women can effectively lead.
Q: You mentioned the challenge of many women being left behind, how can all actors work better to reach and develop these women?
UNRC: One of the challenges we face is that even when you have governments and development partners that are committed, it is not easy to reach all women and girls at the same time. Some of the obvious challenges include the capacity of financial resources, accessibility and logistics. These factors delay the process of development, and it is important to note that this was also the case in countries where the situation is now better.
It is encouraging that Tanzania has set-out the right measures to enable actors to work towards inclusive growth. But let me also say one of the great expectations around the SDGs is that the business of inclusive development should not just be of governments and the United Nations but also for the entire society including the private sector. We can effectively work together to ensure that investment and development also take place in the remote areas, through economic models that will ensure that we reach all women and men and that there are no inequalities in future. These models should ensure that all women and girls access better education, health care, employment opportunities, social protection, and child care support. This can ensure that women are an asset to the economy and not a cost. I believe for Tanzania, the way to go is to strengthen its long-term vision on the role of all women throughout their lifetime. Through this approach we can better understand the challenges that women face throughout their entire life and then put in place mechanisms at every stage of their life. In any case, an industrialised economy requires an educated and healthy labour force and this force cannot just be men without women. That is why it is fundamental for women to have equal opportunities as men to ensure a collective approach and for Tanzania to achieve its goal of becoming a middle-income country soon.
Q: You are a United Nations Champion for the HeForShe campaign for Gender Equality in Tanzania, tell us more about your work in this area?
UNRC: The HeforShe is a wonderful solidarity campaign initiated by the United Nations and seeking to advance gender equality. It encourages both women and men to work as agents of change and to take action against negative stereotypes and behaviors, faced by women. Working as a Champion for two years, I have realised that there are many things I could have done differently in the past had I then fully appreciated the level of importance. For example, when we talk about women participation in all sectors, we also need men and boys to understand why that is very important. I have seen that in some cases, some men do not support the idea of gender equality deliberately and at times because they are simply unaware of the importance of doing so. We also have a segment of men who see gender equality as a threat to their positions in various sectors and our view on that is that women are not a threat to men. All they are advocating for is equality as equal partners in development. In fact, involving women brings together many hands to the development agenda and makes the job much easier.
As a male HeForShe Champion, I think it is important for men to pay attention to issues of gender equality for them to begin to see through the gender lens, as to how equality can create a much better world that is more balanced. My role as Champion has presented great opportunities for me to repeatedly raise a gender-sensitive voice in my campaigns through social media platforms, interviews, community outreach campaigns and in meetings with actors including other development partners. For me, when I refer to people, I am very specific that within the context of people, there are women and men with different needs. I believe that achieving the SDGs without women as equal partners is like working with one hand tied behind your back because society is constituted by both women and men. We need women and men to play different roles in all sectors and to address the challenges making it difficult for many women to make it in the male-dominated sectors such as science and technology. One of the factors related to the SDGs is that they are extensive; and that means countries need the totality of their populations to be involved.
Q: What are the opportunities and push back factors, looking at Tanzania’s journey to gender equality?
UNRC: There are opportunities if you look at common agreements between the government and partners including the UN on many programs speaking to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. There are also efforts to continue revising policies that are key to gender equality such as the ongoing review of the National Gender Policy for the Mainland, improving the legal environment and implementation of national programs that promote and protect women and girls.
Some of the push-back factors that are of concern are Female Genital Mutilation which tends to promote child marriage; and the plight of students who fall pregnant and then drop out of the formal education system.
The education of the girl child is fundamental because it is only when they are educated that they are more likely to make informed choices throughout their lifetime. This calls for us all to put our heads together and continue discussing the creation of alternative formal education pathways for the students to re-enter the system. Parents, families and communities should also be educated to support the girls to return to school through these alternative pathways and to raise children, girls and boys, as equals. This can contribute to breaking the cycle of gender discrimination and violence for the future generations.
When we look at the harmful traditional practices, Female Genital Mutilation is a criminal offence, but also, we need to understand that it is an integral part of these communities’ social fabric. I think it is then critical for all actors to continue strengthening education on the disadvantages it presents on the girls’ health, their future and development of such communities. Our collective strategies should be well formulated and targeted to ensure quick gains and also to gradually change the mindsets within communities that are slow to change. Changing attitudes and behaviour can take many years but we need to continue building on the work done over the years which has produced some good results. At the same time, our strategies should continue pushing for the good education of the girl child, reflecting why that is very important for the development of Tanzania.