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Tanzanian Women: Fighting for change

Wednesday, March 08, 2017 11:38 AM | Emma Hill

Every March 8th, International Women’s Day raises awareness of the continued need to push for gendered equity around the world. This year, the theme is #beboldforchange.  Yet the campaign leaves “how” open to activist interpretation. 

Tanzanian women know how. Tanzanian women activist groups have been determinedly pushing for social, political, economic and health improvements since the country’s founding in 1964.  They’ve won significant victories, including raising the minimum age for brides to 18.  Child marriage is now illegal in Tanzania thanks to tireless activists.   

Here are the top five issues Tanzanian women are fighting for:

Property rights & land rights: The central focus of this fight is educating rural women on their existing property rights, and pushing for more inclusive, fair laws. Despite a 2014 constitution change to increase women’s access to land inheritance,  it’s still not the norm.  It’s not traditional, and most women access land and property through a husband, brother, son, or father. If that male relative dies, the land could be seized, and the woman loses her farm, business or house.  These challenges are compounded if the woman is illiterate or if the family has no paperwork to validate their claim to the land. Activist groups hold workshops to educate communities on land rights. A side benefit of this struggle is that the flaws in the land registration process (corruption, inefficiency, complexity) are being reveled, and new technology is being developed to make it easier to register property.  

Regional trade access: Increasing access for East African business women to regional trade is a newer issue. A bill recently passed by East African Community (EAC) partner states, is intended to address women's safety in border areas, increase economic opportunities and legal support for women entrepreneurs, and remove gendered barriers to trade. Women empowerment groups have been fighting for this issue for several years. The participating governments also want to see women's businesses succeed, as that means an increase in regional trade, economic growth and job creation. However the means by which this bill could achieve these goals has not been clearly described, partly due to a lack of data on how many traders are women, and how exactly women are affected.  There's also no clear way to hold participating states accountable to increasing women's access to trade. At the very least, this bill could be a vital stepping stone to increasing visibility on the issue

Bookkeeping and entrepreneurial skills:  Many women in Tanzania, whether rural or urban, find it necessary to start their own businesses to have work and earn enough money to care for their families. Even when their husbands have work, one income isn’t enough to support a household. Women are also significantly more likely to invest more of their income back into their families.  On average, women in developing countries spend 80 cents of every dollar on family needs, while men, on average spend 30 cents. This means that the success of women’s’ business is critical for children’s health and education.  Additionally, as the number of women owned business increases, as well as the number of wife-managed businesses increases, women have more economic power to voice their opinions and concerns in the public sphere. 

However, these entrepreneurs often have no experience or training and struggle to scale their business. To address this challenge, a wide range of women’s empowerment groups, businesses and international organizations offer programs to offer mentorship, training and resources. Ensuring women have the skills and resources need to succeed professionally is critical for advancing several agendas, such as women’s rights, children’s’ health & education, as well as national poverty reduction and economic growth


Reproductive Rights: Tanzania, like other east African countries, has made a deliberate effort to improve the quality  and reach of its medical infrastructure .  With the help of NGOs, there has been some success, but there is still a chronic shortage of medical professionals and medical infrastructure.  This deficiency disproportionately affects women, as sexuality, birth control, and menstruation are taboo topics. Even when clinics with birth control options are available to teen girls, they may not seek out these services for fear of censure. It is also commonplace for public schools to expel pregnant students.   Over 50% of all births in Tanzania take place at home.  Despite innovative solutions (LINK) to help get pregnant women into clinics & hospitals, 8000 women still die in childbirth, many of which are teen girls.  Human rights activists and health care NGOs, both Tanzanian & international, work to decrease social stigma and increase access to health facilities with trained professionals.

Secondary School EducationTanzania has made exceptional progress in achieving similar enrollment rates for boys and girls in primary school.  Yet there are still significant obstacles for girls to enter and complete secondary school. These include long distances to school, poverty, traditional gender expectations, pregnancy and early marriage, especially in rural areas. Tanzania has 1.5 million teenagers out of school. While primary school is critical for ensuring literacy and numeracy, it’s secondary school that opens the door to higher-paying office jobs, as well as access to university education.  There is also limited access to vocational training for girls.     

Women leaders in Tanzania are building schools that target disadvantaged populations.  (Brighter Tanzania is lucky to work with one of those leaders, our head teacher Grace, who worked hard to get her teaching credentials and runs a free school for improvised and orphaned youth, Saving Grace Day & Boarding School.)  Some of these new schools in Tanzania target teen girls who were denied education because of pregnancy or poverty. 

This is a challenging issue to address, because it’s not just about discrimination. It’s about limited resources, and the challenge of how to build a fair education system with a broad reach in a nation where more than half the population is under 25.  Increasing access to education has been a consistent drive for Tanzania since their founding. Yet the effects of widespread gender discrimination is a blind spot for many public schools.  

Brighter Tanzania Foundation is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. Donations may be tax-deductible.

Phone: (608) 886-9160

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Middleton, WI 53562

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