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With votes counted, women still need more representation

THIS week saw the country exercising its democratic rights by going through the general elections, where Tanzanians turned out in large numbers to elect their representatives and head of state.

At the conclusion of the exercise, the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) emerged the overall winner, leaving opposition parties trailing a long way behind.

As the country is still receiving the names of victorious candidates in the parliamentary category, so far a number of women have already been announced winners in their respective constituencies, although compared to their male counterparts, the number is still wanting.

In Tanzania, several organisations, including Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), has been calling for programmes that give women the confidence and space to run for local office, which would in turn increase the pool of experienced female candidates running for national seats during elections.

Even before the elections, TAMWA believed that supporting women for local elections would reassure both potential female candidates and party leaders that women can win competitive elections if they receive enough support from their communities and their male counterparts.

It is on this note that a decade ago, African women had reason to expect change following a muchheralded global conference that set ambitious targets to transform the lives of women across the world. This year marks the 25th anniversary of that milestone event, the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in 1995.

“Like their counterparts elsewhere, African women are taking stock of progress and asking to what extent promised reforms have been implemented. They are also examining why progress has been limited in many countries and are seeking ways to overcome the obstacles,” says TAMWA Executive Director, Dr Rose Reuben.

She says that most African women are denied the equal enjoyment of their human rights, in particular by virtue of the lesser status ascribed to them by tradition and custom, or as a result of overt or covert discrimination. Globally the proportion of seats held in parliament by women has slowly risen from just 12 per cent in 1997 to 24 per cent in 2018.

Amid this, a handful of African countries stand out, and Tanzania is still struggling to enter into this category. The Maputo Protocol was adopted on 11 July, 2003 following advocacy efforts led by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa4 and civil society organisations.

It was designed to expand legal protections for women and imposes upon states a positive obligation to address gender inequality and protect women’s rights with respect to personal and political autonomy, access to education and employment, and the right to be free from harmful practices, among others.

“We are all aware that despite achievements and progress made, African women face major challenges and obstacles,” says Dr. Farkhonda Hassan, chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s Committee on Women and Development.

For example, she says the primary development policies in many countries, known as poverty reduction strategies, still do not take into account differences in income and power between men and women, hampering efforts to finance programmes that reduce inequality.

In addition, she says, the majority of African women are still denied education and employment, and have limited opportunities in trade, industry and government.

Despite the ratification by African states of several human rights instruments protecting the human rights of women in Africa, and the solemn commitment of the African states to eliminate all forms of discrimination and harmful practices against women, women in Africa still continue to experience human rights violations.

A number of women in Tanzania still experience distinct forms of discrimination due to the intersection of sex with such factors as race, language, religion, political and other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other factors, such as age, disability, marital, refugee or migrant status, resulting in compounded disadvantage.

“Most African women, including here in Tanzania, still earn less than men and are more likely to be trapped in low-paid, low-skilled jobs-often in the informal economy,” says Mwanahawa Mrema, a female activist. She says that African women still trail behind men in their ability to access, use, and control land and other resources, making them vulnerable in situations of conflict or during disasters.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights – which has been ratified by every African Union (AU) State party besides the AU’s newest member, Morocco – prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of sex, and requires States parties to remove all forms of discrimination against women and to ensure their rights.

This represents a dramatic shift in representation, inclusion and democratisation of opportunity. For young women particularly, seeing other women in leadership positions and non-stereotypical professions helps to expand their horizons.

For institutions and governments, tapping the full potential of their talent pools brings diver sity of perspectives and experience when hard decisions must be made. “But to enable more women to serve as leaders, we need to redistribute power and ensure equal pay at work,” says Ms Mrema.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that the gender pay gap is higher in sub- Saharan Africa than any other region in the world.

Gender equality and respect for women’s rights starts at home, where power and wealth are still in the hands of men. “Yet women tend to spend more out of household budgets on providing for their families than men do,” concludes Ms Mrema.

POLYGAMY is practiced in many communities across the ...


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