RECENTLY, Daily News Correspondent had a conversation with Simiyu Regional Commissioner, Antony Mtaka, on their interventions targeting changing domestic practices, and addressing gender inequality, the following transpired:
Q. In your engagement with development partners, you continue to emphasize the need to prioritise investment as a means of raising awareness on the rights of women in the rural areas of Simiyu region, why is that important?
A. It is a fact that there is a big difference between people living in rural and urban areas in terms of access to information. Majority of rural communities have limited access to radios, TVs, newspapers and other digital means of communication, which promote gender and responsible behaviours and attitudes.
On the other hand, those with access to the various communication mediums are exposed to learning and stand a better chance of becoming more gender responsive. Talking about Simiyu and other Lake Zone regions, messages and programmes, which promote gender equality are crucial to foster gender-equal communities.
It is important to understand that the communities we are talking about are patriarchal, and therefore men command a lot of power, which also make them key decision makers particularly at the domestic front and at community level.
This is why it is critical for outreach interventions to penetrate such communities, and provide education. We are happy that in 2020, Simiyu region had the opportunity to host the International Women’s Day which featured a series of events for the whole week.
Through various platforms, women got the opportunity to interact and share information with women from other regions, and to learn more about the benefits of fostering gender equal communities from partners including UN Women.
They were also given the opportunity to showcase their businesses and to access various health services such as sexual and reproductive health and rights. The key lessons from the event was that such outreach events can help to deliver the right messages and education on the rights of women to a large population within a short space of time.
The event also demonstrated that when, we create business opportunities for women, they participate and can generate more wealth to look after their families.
Interactions between women in positions of power and women from local communities spark partnerships that can inspire young women and girls to aim for leadership positions. I hope we are going to build upon these great key lessons in this year’s International Women’s Day.
Q. Looking at Simiyu, what would you say are key barriers to the realisation of gender-equality in the region?
A: I think challenges emanate from our social institutions and in particular, I would like to point at how we raise our children.
There are some challenges when it comes to educating our children at home on gender equality. Starting this education early can ensure that children grow up understanding that women and men have equal rights to participate in all socio-economic and political spheres.
In my view it is a real problem if in our society, we have some men, who are still uncomfortable with women occupying leadership positions or having access to land, especially when it is a common knowledge that women are key food producers in Tanzania and the rest of the continent.
So I would say, our major barrier is lack of education and appreciation of what we stand to benefit, if we can work towards creating a more gender-equal region. This then brings us to the need to invest more on instilling knowledge early and further expanding our efforts in schools to ensure real change of mindset and attitudes.
I also think we need more programmes that can address gender concerns particularly in rural Simiyu. It is important for such programmes to target men and boys to help accelerate change, which I think can help us to deal with other social ills such as gender-based violence and child marriage.
It is even more critical to ensure that the programmes enhance support to girls and women for them not to tolerate any acts that take away their rights.
Q. How are you making a difference, looking at your passion to protect and empower rural women and girls?
A. I strongly believe that girls should grow up knowing that it is their right to say NO to acts, which violate their rights, in addition to ensuring that they also know their rights. As such, we have a lot of groundwork to do, and I must say that the challenge is how best to reach every woman and girl considering resource limitations.
We are, however, doing our best and have realised that schools provide good platforms for effective learning on gender equality.
Through our regional school boot camps, we are able to encourage female and male students to openly discuss how they relate to each other for us to understand, think and map well-informed intervention strategies in collaboration with various partners.
Through these boot camps, we have been able to train some peer educators who are now working in schools and making a difference in their local communities. The peer educators act as role models to influence their peers to change their negative attitudes towards girls and women.
We also have the Simiyu Jambo Festival initiative, which is a package of sports including cycling and football, dance and debate competitions.
We promote the equal participation of girls in all activities to change their minds and boost their confidence and participate in all activities. That way, they will grow up knowing there is no sector they cannot participate in, and excel to greater heights.