By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM (IDN) – Despite efforts to promote gender equality, women and girls in Tanzania are still marginalised and largely under-utilised citizens – often suffering from discrimination and violence from their male counterparts due to a biased male-dominated system which often pushes women to the brink of survival.
However, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), various initiatives are being implemented to empower women, although they still face obstacles that prevent them from reaching their full potential.
Among others, the SDGs call for women’s empowerment, greater access to education, health care, decent work and fair representation in political and economic decision-making processes, and the following are just some of the initiatives in these directions currently under way in the East African country.
Security and gender desks in public schools
Rita Robert was 16 when she was raped, became pregnant and subsequently kicked out of school, crushing her dreams of becoming a lawyer.
“I was a hard-working student but all my dreams had been shattered,” said Rita, now 19.
The former student of Inyonga Secondary School in Katavi region in south-western Tanzania is one of many girls expelled from school after falling pregnant.
In June 2017, President John Magufuli had faced criticism when he said girls who become mothers would not be allowed back in school.
Katavi region has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country, with 45 percent of girls aged 15-19 becoming pregnant, according to 2016 data from Tanzania’s National Bureau of Statistics.
However, as part of its nationwide campaign to fight gender violence, the Tanzanian government is now setting up “Defence and Security” desks in public schools to protect adolescent girls from pregnancy.
Two or more teachers are being picked in each school to handle sexual abuse cases and report them to the relevant authorities, the government said.
According to Ummy Mwalimu, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children, the selected teachers will be trained and equipped with knowledge and the skills needed to relay accurate and useful information on various sexual and reproductive health issues and help girls avoid sex predators.
“All schools should have these desks which will be manned by teachers capable of handling gender violence issues,” she said.
According to rights campaigners, a culture of silence, outdated cultural practices, lack of reproductive health education and distance to school, are some of the factors fuelling teen pregnancies in Tanzania.
Female students are often exposed to widespread sexual harassment or, in some schools, male teachers coerce them into sexual relationships. Officials rarely report sexual abuse to police, and many schools lack a confidential reporting mechanism, a 2016 Human Rights Watch report showed.
However, the government hopes that the new initiative will help reduce the number of girls who fall pregnant and drop out of school. The plan is to expose them to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education covering puberty, gender identity, sexual abuse, pregnancy and risky sexual behaviour, according to officials.
While underage sex is criminalised in Tanzania, poor parents often marry off their daughters using a special dispensation granted by the 1971 marriage law, which allows a girl as young as 15 years to marry with parental or court consent.
Referring to the government’s initiative, Faiza Jama Mohamed, Africa Director of Equality Now, said: “This is a welcome move … nevertheless, the government needs to focus on arresting and holding sex predators to account instead of its emphasis on ‘protect girls against temptation’.”
Women mentored to take corporate leadership positions
In an effort to bridge the gender divide by breaking male dominance in corporate management, the Association of Tanzania Employers (ATE) is training women executives with a view to propelling them to take senior leadership positions.
Companies with strong female leadership deliver a higher return on equity compared with those without women at the most senior levels, according to a recent MSCI World Index survey. In Tanzania, women hold only 35 percent of all senior leadership positions.
Under the initiative, called Female Future, women in corporate firms are being mentored to acquire leadership skills which will help them climb to key decision-making positions while inspiring and challenging them to work harder and deliver on set organizational goals.
Lilian Machera, coordinator of Female Future Programme, said the programme aims to increase women’s capacities in the workplace so that they become more competent leaders capable of making important corporate decisions.
“Our main focus is to enable employers to have an effective business environment and risk management at the helm,” she told IDN. “We develop ladies to become more potential leaders capable of overcoming fear and managing fright when negotiating in various issue for their organizations.”
According to Machera, by involving employees in this programme, their companies will be able to develop non-gender based leadership at the top to increase effectiveness and risk management through developing and implementing growth strategies.
Under the initiative, which started in 2015 and is jointly implemented with the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises (NHO), several women leaders from different corporate organisations are being exposed to business development practices and also introduced to the concept of leadership and board competence.
Juliana Swai, one of the course participants who works as General Manager (Operations) with Akiba Commercial Bank, said that through the initiative she has made a significant shift in her professional life and is now “a better person and a better leader”.
“Female Future has created a total mindset shift in me, I look at things from another angle, with curiosity, compassion and objectiveness that was not always present in the past,” she said.
Awareness campaign curbs gender discrimination in markets
In the bustling Mchikichini market in Dar es Salaam, female traders have always battled abuse and humiliation from their male counterparts because of their gender.
But ever since Equality for Growth (EfG) – a Tanzania-based non-profit organisation – launched its awareness campaign seeking to empower women in the informal sector to enable them to increase their incomes and reduce household poverty, their confidence has improved remarkably.
Women working in the informal sector in Tanzania often experience violence as they go about their daily business. The informal and unregulated nature of their working environment is worsened by the absence of a mechanism for reporting violence.
A 2009 survey by EfG showed alarming levels of violence experienced by women market traders. According to the survey, 40 percent of women traders in Dar es Salaam markets had been sexually harassed, 32 percent verbally abused and 24 percent had experienced other forms of violence from male traders and customers.
To curb such a situation, EfG is training female market traders to understand how to fight for their rights as well as putting a mechanism in place whereby market traders work without fear of violence and are protected by the law.
Dubbed “Mpe riziki si matusi” – Swahili for “Sustain her with income not abuse”, the UN women-funded initiative rolled out in market places across Dar es Salaam has helped reduce gender-based violence, officials said.
According to EfG programme officer Shaaban Rulimbiye, the programme which started in 2015 has transformed the lives of hundreds of female traders in Tanzania’s largest city, making the market safer and enabling them to enjoy their economic rights in a safe environment free from violence.
“We have also trained female vendors to become legal community supporters so that they can raise awareness about violence against women,” he said.
Aisha Shaaban, a female trader at Ilala market in Dar es Salaam, said the training has helped her understand her rights and how to report men who try to violate her rights. “I now know how to report anyone who uses abusive language or attempts to sexually abuse me. No one tries to abuse me these days.”
According to Rulimbiye, EfG has trained several legal community supporters who assist women to report cases of abuse in the markets. The project has also created guidelines which bring together various community stakeholders – including the police, market officials and vendors – to discuss issues of common interest.
“The perpetrators of gender violence are being fined and women work freely without the fear of being sexually harassed,” Rulimbiye said
Jane Magigita, EfG Executive Director, said the organisation hopes to see the informal sector in Tanzania free of all forms of gender-based violence.
“This project not only supports women’s rights to live a life free of violence but also empower them economically. A safer market means more women can do business safely,” she added.
Helping girls stay in school
Faiza Omar lost all hopes when she failed her final exams. However, these were rekindled when she returned to school after she had received advice to re-sit her exam.
With the support of her teachers and parents, she resumed classes with confidence and subsequently passed her exams, thanks to the ‘Room to Read’ education programme for girls – an initiative seeking to support girls to complete secondary school education and also learn relevant life skills.
“I would not have finished my studies had I not received encouragement from the teachers,” said Faiza.
While Tanzania has made significant progress overall in primary school enrolment, few girls, especially in rural areas, complete their secondary education because of early marriage, teenage pregnancy and poverty, women’s rights groups say.
In Tanzania, 76 percent of girls often drop out of secondary school due to pregnancy and early marriages. Under the initiative, girls are introduced to life skills education, child rights, mentoring and gender response.
The ‘Room to Read’ programme collaborates with local governments, schools, communities and families to ensure that they understand the important of literacy and how they can play a role in enabling the girl child to reach her full potential.
According to Jamila Mrisho, a social mobiliser and focal teacher at Kiromo Secondary School, said the programme has played a central role in helping girls to remain in school.
“ When a girl is at the highest risk of dropping out, we talk to them and advise parents to take necessary actions so that their daughters remain in school,” she said, adding that the programme aims to help girls from poor families to access career and leadership couching, reproductive health studies and life skills.
In Mlingotini village, where Faiza lives, women find it increasingly difficult to support themselves and their families due to scarcity of water and they generally lack awareness and motivation regarding education, creating an obstacle for girls who want to learn.
Under the ‘Room to Read’ programme, girls interact with teachers or instructors who act as the focal persons for organising various life skills, mentoring and gender response activities.
“My role is to ensure that girls do not drop out from school due to peer influence or some economic reasons. I must work hard to ensure that they finish their education,” said Mrisho. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 January 2018]
Photo: Aisha Shaaban sits in her wooden stall at Mchikichini market in Dar es Salaam waiting for her customers. She’s among women recently trained on women empowerment and how to avoid Gender violence. Credit: Kizito Makoye | IDN-INPS
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