EVER since she was a young girl, Evelyne Mtove admired female politicians.
She would sit for hours on end watching speech after speech and debates by influential women from across the globe, and deep in her heart, she believed that one day she would also wow her audience, according to her, it was only a matter of time.
By the time she finished college, she had several awards under her belt for her glowing achievements in debates, from emerging the best at national level in primary school to becoming the chairperson of her debate group in high school.
Evelyne believed her dream was about to be realized when she became the youngest ten cell leader in her area, and it was to be expected when she used the opportunity to horn her political ambitions to perfection. When she finally tied the knot to her high school flame, she knew that her dreams will get a major boost, considering that David, now her husband, was very supportive while in school.
However, when the opportunity to prove her worth in politics came, she was shocked beyond words when her husband, the same person who stood by her all along, stamped his foot down and forbid her to make any attempt in politics.
“A woman’s place is by her husband and her family, and not competing with men on the political platform, you should be concentrating on taking care of your family instead of wasting your energy trying to prove a point,” those, according to her, were words from her husband which damaged her self-confidence.
In Tanzania, despite the remarkable progress of women in many professions, politics is not one of them, and discrimination, just like in the case of Evelyne, is one of the reasons behind this trend.
“The concept of democracy will only achieve true and dynamic significance when political policies and national legislation are decided jointly by men and women with equitable regard for the interests and aptitudes of both halves of the population,” says retired civil servant and political activist, Simon Mbiro.
He says that women’s involvement in government decision making is giving significant political visibility to women’s rights worldwide, and that although women are not a homogenous group, they tend to be supporters of other women and have been instrumental in placing women’s issues and concerns on to the parliamentary agenda.
Across Africa, it has been found that women participate in politics less than men, undermining prospects for gender equality and shared development.
Despite theoretical and practical reasons for concern over the ‘gender gap’, people lack insight into its variation across countries, particularly in Africa, where studies accept women’s lower rate of participation as a uniform background condition.
In a recent report compiled by Women Fund Tanzania- Trust (WFT-T) and Women Coalition and Constitution in conjunction with Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) on election laws, it revealed that although the election system in the country does not sideline women, several factors hinder them from achieving their goals.
“The procedures set by political parties on nominations are not transparent, especially when it comes to nominating women, and apart from that, the law does not compel political parties to consider the issue of gender balance in their nomination processes,” says Professor Ruth Meena, the Chairperson of Women Coalition and Constitution.
She says that with the many challenges women encounter in the political front, they are also faced with enormous financial burdens which discourage them from vying for political office, giving an example of the Tanzanian election act 2015 which requires a presidential aspirant to deposit monetary surety of around 1m/-.
“If you consider this and many more election expenses, you find that a woman who is qualified for political position fails to vie because she cannot afford these costs,” she says. She says that the Maputo Protocol clearly required member states to take deliberate political, policy and planning steps to make sure any form of discrimination is eliminated, which includes financial discrimination.
These sentiments highlighted in the WFT-T report are echoed by UN Women statement, which states that two main obstacles prevent women from participating fully in political life, which are structural barriers, where discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s ability to run for office, and capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources to become effective leaders.
“As countries strive to implement Sustainable Development Goal 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’, the government must also strive to embed gender parity in constitutions and legal frameworks,” says Ms Meena, adding that they must also realize full compliance with the law.
As the country braces for another general election this year, it is important to look at the percentage of women so far, which makes it important for the government and political institutions in the country to put a more conducive environment for women to participate actively in politics.
In 2005/2010, Tanzania voted in only 18 women into parliament, which translated into 8 per cent, while in 2010/2015 the number slightly rose to 21 women who made it to parliament, which accounted for 9 per cent, and in the last general election 25 women were voted in, which is 9 per cent.
“In our society, the media and how women are perceived plays a vital role in either advancing or limiting women participating in politics,” concludes Ms Meena.