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As women celebrate their day, this should be known

THE month of March this year shall go down to Tanzania Gender Networking Programme's (TGNP) memory lane, as the entire period was dedicated to International Women's Day celebrations.

TGNP Executive Director Lilian Liundi explained that they celebrated all the days, reflecting on the importance of letting women get equal chances of leadership in community. Lilian based her argument on the fact that some people have negative mentality and perception on women participation in political leadership, and there was need to show that women are capable in leadership.

She said there is need to transform the mind-set of girls, boys, men and women that places a disproportionate burden of household responsibility on girls and women, which limits their educational and economic opportunities, and legitimizes the politics of exclusion.

Lilian argues that social, cultural norms and beliefs have continued to create structural obstacles that limit women’s access to the political sphere. She said TGNP has involved different key stakeholders like traditional leaders, religious leaders, local leaders at the community level.

“We thought these leaders are crucial because they have a big number of people under their leadership,” she says. “Our position is that we think if women become leaders, they will be in a better position to defend and fight for their social rights and needs.” According to Lilian, the equal participation of women and men in political leadership is crucial to realizing women’s democratic rights and contributing to the overall economic performance of the country.

Former Deputy Minister for Industries and Trade, Shamim Khan said there was need to let women participate in leadership because development or leadership can’t be translated by women or men only, it should be a participatory leadership.

Mama Khan believes that women holding political positions can bring about gender equality because for a long time women have been left behind in development and leadership, especially in political posts.

“Women are catalysts of development and main actors from family to national levels, but we don’t recognize that because the activities done by them are not recorded.” she said.

Former Speaker Anne Makinda who participated in the forum suggested that it was high time women were empowered so that they can be able to liberate themselves from traditional and persistent social cultural barriers that hinder their active pursuit to obtain positions of leadership.

“In patriarchic societies, women are regarded as the inferior of the species. We need to wake up and show that we can be good leaders,” she said.

She noted that although women constitute two third of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food and above all, bear and rear children, women continue to suffer from all forms of discrimination and from the absence of adequate protection against violence.

According to World Bank report, sustainable and all around development of a society cannot be brought about without the full and unreserved participation of both women and men in the development process, and such a balanced development should also call for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and the protection against all forms of violence against women.

She suggested that there was need now to encourage behaviour change among men with regard to accepting women in leadership positions, thus encouraging women towards realizing their leadership capability regardless of their gender.

While TGNP and other stakeholders were reflecting on the need for women to be trusted in leadership posts, that was the material time the first woman in Tanzania was sworn-in as the sixth president of the United Republic of Tanzania. What a coincidence.

During the month of March, TGNP organized a two-day forum at Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Dar es Salaam where young and adult women met and discussed at length how to take part in leadership in different organizations. Prominent and reputable politicians like Anne Makinda and Shamim Khan were invited and gave contributions on how women can become good leaders.

TGNP Board Chairperson, Asseny Muro who has spent more than half her age on an arduous journey advocating for the rights of women in Tanzania opened the forum. In 1993, Muro was one of the founders of the Tanzania Gender Networking Group (TGNP), a leading women’s rights and feminist organization where they believe, among other social equal rights, women are good leaders.

"There are still barriers to gender equality, equity and social justice. Opportunities for women and girls are still limited in the spaces where we need more women to influence change and development in leadership," she says.

According to Tanzania Gender Network (TGNP) Executive Director Lilian Liundi, the latest Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) figures show that by 2020, Tanzania ranked second in East Africa and 23rd in the world, having 36.9 per cent of women MPs. And in the East African region, Tanzania is one of the best performing countries in women's participation in leadership.

TGNP has this year decided to share its activities with the media in collaboration with its various stakeholders in celebrating International Women's Day on March 8 by running different activities.

"We have not been able to reach 50/50, and so we have to increase our efforts to increase the role of women at various levels of decision-making to achieve the intended goals," says Lilian.

Lilian says so because the representation of women in political leadership positions at council level has remained a major challenge, despite the efforts of various stakeholders such as government, civil society, and development partners. Statistics released by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) last year showed that the number of women councillors elected from the ward is 204, which is equivalent to 5 per cent of all councillors.

Elected councillors are the ones who have the opportunity to run for, and hold position of chairman of the council, the person who is also the chairman of the general council which has the authority to discuss and approve the council's budget. It should be noted that more than 80 per cent of the population lives in rural and ward areas, and the source of the country's development is at that level.

Thus, the limited participation of women in these important and strategic positions is a challenge in bringing about inclusive gender equality and sustainable development.

This year, the global theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in Leadership: Achieving Equality in a World of Covid- 19”, while the national theme is "Women in Leadership: Yeast for an Equal World".

TGNP insists on changing attitudes to bring about equality. Lilian argues that this year’s celebration is unique in the revolutionary women's liberation movement, as women and women rights activists come together to celebrate what they have achieved.

"We are reflecting on the ongoing challenges facing women and strategize on how to address them using the opportunities at the individual, group and national (systemic) levels," says Lilian.

It should be noted that Tanzania had the first woman to be vice president, Hon. Samia Suluhu Hassan who has held the position for two consecutive terms, from 2015- 2020 and this phase 2020-2025.

"This is a commendable move. For the first time in our country’s history, the 10th parliament has been able to get a female Speaker of the House, Hon. Mama Anne Makinda, and in the 11th and 12th parliament we have a Deputy Speaker who is Dr Tulia Akson. However, Parliamentary committee’s representation of women as committee chairpersons is still limited "says Lilian.

TGNP plans to hold this World Women's Day celebration for the entire month of March under the theme of global and national theme, with their main message being "Change Attitudes to Equality".

This year's International Women's Day celebrations are aimed at recognizing and celebrating women's achievements in combating unfriendly systems in various sectors, says Lilian.

This includes setting strategies aimed at increasing the number of women in leadership positions of various kinds - political, private sector, to ensure that Tanzania has a gender-equitable system. "We hope to discuss in detail the importance of valuing women's contribution to society, and further highlighting the increase in unpaid work and strategizing to reduce that workload for women," says Lilian.

The aim is to increase dialogue in society on oral and nonconstructive and productive statements on the well-being of women and the development of society, and to influence society to increase their participation in creating positive stories. The TGNP Director says a total of five major events were held in March as part of the International Women's Day celebrations.

These events included a visit to media houses at national and social level from 5-30 March, 2021. These visits aimed at continuing to provide education to the community and to spark debates that will lead the community to take action towards positive change.

TGNP in collaboration with Information and Knowledge Centres in 18 Councils in 9 regions countrywide will hold community- based celebrations to recognize and celebrate women who have brought change and development in their areas.

"Through this celebration we will be able to document and celebrate the heroic women at the community level from those councils, who will be introduced by the community members themselves," says Lilian.

She added that those in the Information and Knowledge Centres will also be connected to the media at the community level to be able to inform the public about their agenda to recognize and celebrate these women in order to encourage community members inside and outside their areas.

In collaboration with the YFF Youth Forum, TGNP hopes to visit four universities in Dar es Salaam (University of Dar es Salaam, Mzumbe, Mwalimu Nyerere and IFM) to recognize and celebrate women's leadership in the field.

"We will attract young people to join this forum while in college but also, to establish such platforms in their communities to bring about change in the communities they come from. In this celebration, these young people will have various messages that will reach the community as well through social media and various media outlets," says Lilian.

IPU figures (2019) show that as of January 2019, the heads of state (Head of state) were 10 out of 152 presidents (6.6 per cent). The heads of government were 10 out of 193 (5.2 per cent).

On the African side there have been four women presidents, who are former Malawian president Joyce Hilda Banda (April 2012- May 2014), former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (January 2006-January 2018), former Mauritius president Ameenah Gurib -Fakim (June 2015- March 2018) and the current President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde (October 2018 to date). Lilian says that by 2020, there was an average of 24.4 per cent women MPs in sub-Saharan Africa, which is an increase of 14.6 per cent since 1995.

Despite efforts to ratify declarations and agreements, she says, women still face various challenges that hinder their development, especially their participation in decision-making positions.

"Wealth and gender disparities are increasing in developing countries with limited resources, knowledge and technology. Poor urban and rural women are increasingly being marginalized, seen as not part of society," she says.

Studies show that African countries lose about 105 USD million a year by not including women in the economy, and statistics also show that women make up more than 70 per cent of smallholder farmers who feed our country. Women in the informal sector are 51.1 per cent while men are 48.9 per cent, and similarly, only 20 per cent of women own land.

Access to social services is still a challenge, especially for women, despite efforts to free a woman from walking long distances in search of water every day. Health care, especially reproductive health is still a challenge, as women are still dying in large numbers of maternal deaths, whereby among 100,000 women giving birth, 556 of them die of delivery complications.

In terms of education as well as commending efforts of free education, girls are still failing to attend classes due to lack of towels to protect themselves while on their menstruation period.

If women are responsible at the decision-making levels, these problems will automatically disappear.

“THE person standing before you is the ...

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Author: DEOGRATIAS MUSHI

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