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Great strides, challenges of mainstreaming gender equality in Tanzania

A renowned activist wellgrounded in feminist issues, Ms Lilian Liundi, is TGNP Mtandao Executive Director. This is a Tanzania’s leading women’s rights organisation and a major voice for women’s rights, gender issues and equality for social justice in Tanzania. She spoke to a Dar es Salaam-based freelance journalist, Emmanuel Onyango, on various issues pertaining to women’s rights in Tanzania. Excerpts.

QUESTION: What is TGNP Mtandao and when was it formed?

ANSWER: Formerly, the organisation was known as Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), before it changed its name in 2012. It has been in existence since 1993 and has turned itself into a leading member of the women feminist movement for social gender transformation and women empowerment in Tanzania, Africa and beyond. Its overall goal is to contribute to increased gender responsiveness of policy formulation and implementation of various policies.

Q: What are the main achievements of TGNP Mtandao since its establishment?

A: The purpose for which TGNP Mtandao was formed was to look at the welfare of women’s rights in the country. Since 1993, the network was formed in line with preparations of the Beijing women meeting, which was the fourth world conference on women held in Beijing in 1995.

There are many things, which the organisation has done to women, especially marginalised groups in Tanzania. This is because of the wider coverage of TGNP Mtandao’s activities, which have spread and become well-known all over the country. Its reputation has spread within the East and Central Africa region.

Other achievements include women capacity building programmes in line with the needs of women in society. Training programmes provided by the organisation for women on political and leadership issues are among the focal points, which to a greater extent have enabled women to know their basic rights.

Q: What is the most burning issue troubling Tanzanian women?

A: There are still a number of challenges facing women in the country. I cannot say that are over, but the government needs to pull up its socks to ensure the effective implementation of various pieces of legislation that protect basic human rights. The most burning issue is land ownership for women.

This is still a big problem in most communities. Despite having land laws in place, women are still denied access to land bearing in mind the fact that they are the ones taking care of children at family level.

Therefore, it is the prime responsibility of the central government to ensure all these kinds of obstacles are removed to pave the way for a clear way for women to land rights as provided for the land laws.

The government has not yet done enough in this area and a part that still lags behind is monitoring to enable women to achieve their goals. The government has to ensure monitoring is given the attention it deserves as far as women’s land rights are concerned. There are different programmes supervised by the government such as gender desks in the Police Force and in different places. Challenges are there, but we have not yet reached a budgeted statement.

Gender responsive budgeting (GRB), should be reinforced in the country in both private and public sectors. We are pushing for this to enable women to access their basic rights and this must be made open to all genders. Rwanda and Uganda have done well among East African Community (EAC), countries. Tanzania still lags behind in this area, while Rwanda and Uganda learned from us. How come we fail to reach the target?

Q: What can you say about what the government is doing in its move to mainstream gender sensitisation programmes among women in the country?

A: We commend the government for the tremendous efforts it has made so far in its move to address obstacles, which constrain various women’s development issues in the country.

Although there are still some challenges in terms of implementation, at least with punitive measures put in place to defend human rights, women are happy with gender sensitivity programmes implemented in the country in general.

This has enabled many women to be aware of gender issues. We have seen the government’s move to ensure laws protecting human rights are respected in the country. More importantly the government has signed a number of international human rights instruments that recognise women’s rights including the Maputo Protocol Agenda on Gender Development in the SADC region.

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (better known as the Maputo Protocol), is one of the world’s most comprehensive women’s human rights instruments, with progressive provisions aimed at addressing the current realities of girls and women across the African continent, including addressing harmful acts and practices against women.

We also appreciate the move by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), on the Gender and Development Bill, thanks to the government’s initiatives of having highlighted the issue although what has been signed has not yet been implemented.

Q: What TGNP has done to ensure women in the country are accorded with necessary basic rights?

A: Through training programmes, Tanzanian women have been empowered under a special programme coordinated by the network group all over the country. Such training is given for capacity building and has enabled quite a good number of women in the country to know their basic rights.

On gender equality, the organisation has centred its activities mostly on the promotion of omen on specific issues related to their rights and we are proud a lot for this has been achieved to change the socioeconomic life of women in the country.

Q: How can you measure the extent to which a gender networking programme is manifested especially in the workplace in the country?

A: Although the concept of gender networking is in place, the government has not yet done enough in terms of women’s needs in the workplace. An example is where the law and regulations governing the maternity leave are not implemented correctly.

Breastfeeding mothers, for instance, encounter many difficulties and the government has not imposed punitive measures to deter perpetrators. My opinion is that, there should be a separate room in the workplace to allow breastfeeding workers to feed their babies. But this is not implemented, but it is important for healthy child development.

There should be wellplanned space for women kits to be introduced in the workplace. This is not observed as required and it should be maintained in a sanitary manner and in accordance with health rules so that productivity is increased. In the private sector, for instance, little or nothing is taken into account in this regard.

Women are still oppressed to a certain extent in the workplace. In addition, there are cases of sexual corruption whereby women are subjected to sexual abuse. This is a big challenge, which causes resentful malpractices that distress women. During recruitment, disabled women are segregated and are still denied their legal rights for unknown reasons. Disabled women should not be sidelined, but need to be given priority and made to work at the level that can help them.

Q: What can you say about women representation in Parliament so far?

A: Women representation in Parliament is satisfactory, but a challenge still remains in decision-making positions in various of the economy. In Parliament, women representation covers about 36.9 per cent, but this has not yet reached as per our target, which should be at the ratio of 50:50.

Out of the given statistics, 6 per cent comes from constituencies. The main reasons for having fewer women in Parliament is contributed to a certain extent by lack of money to enable them to organise election campaigns and compete with men. We, therefore, call on the government to table a Bill in Parliament that will enable women to be selected at whatever level of decision making bodies.

According Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), statistics, Tanzania ranks second among EAC member countries and at a global level ranks 25th for having 36.9 per cent of women in Parliament, while Rwanda is the leading at global level for having 61.32 per cent. Despite this, we are confident that things will change for better and a good example is having a woman Deputy Speaker.

If women are given more opportunities they perform well although there are a number of challenges facing them in the course of discharging their daily noble duties.

Q: What role do you play to curb female genital mutilation (FGM) in Tanzania?

A: Genital mutilation is a cross-cutting issue at local and global levels. We are actually raising public awareness about the eradication of FGM. We are raising public awareness to make FGM perpetrators desist from practicing it.

We are also raising public awareness to the Police Force entrusted with the duty to protect the welfare and safety of all citizens and their property in the country, the judiciary and traditional leaders, where FGM is practised.

We are also engaged in security matters in relation to FGM by setting up scamps to rescue girls, who fled their families because of FGM.

For example, in Dar es Salaam’s Kitunda suburb, we have set up a ‘community voice’, which is a network of groups campaigning against FGM and for women’s rights so that they are not forced to undergo FGM.

We also cooperate with local leaders in areas that are notorious for FGM like Tarime District, Mara Region. About 500 girls were rescued last one year.

A total of 55 girls in Kipunguni suburb in Dar es Salaam Region have also been rescued during the same period.

So, as you can see there are good things happening, but this shouldn’t stop us from addressing challenges that still face women.

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Author: freelance journalist, Emmanuel Onyango

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