One on one with Zanzibar Deputy Speaker on her drive for women’s agenda

Saturday August 24 2019

Zanzibar Deputy Speaker Mgeni Hassan Juma

Zanzibar Deputy Speaker Mgeni Hassan Juma (left) with UN Women Tanzania Representative Hodan Addou at the recent UN Women Workshop. 

By Janet Otieno-Prosper @JanetOtieno ajotieno@tz.nationmedia.com

In your own assessment, what progress has been made in addressing gender inequality in Zanzibar?

We have taken a lot of steps in consideration of gender equality. There is also a three-year strategic plan in place on Gender Based Violence (from 2016) - how to stop violence against women and children. We do this by involving community and religious leaders in combating. In addition, we have increased the number of special seats to 40 per cent in the whole constituency. At the moment the number of women in the House of Representatives stands at 36 per cent.

We have also ensured that most bills coming up in the House of Representatives take gender equality into consideration. It is also noteworthy that the number of female graduates from local universities is increasing due to awareness creation we carry out throughout Zanzibar.

What laws would you pinpoint as bad for gender equality?

The Employment Act, which does not give woman working in the private sector job protection while on maternity leave. And most employers take advantage of this to fire women, but we are currently trying to address this issue to ensure it is reviewed.

What important legislation has been passed in the recent past to advance the cause of women?

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There is the Criminal Offence Act, which criminalizes Gender Based Violence, which has gone a long way to act as a deterrent, since the perpetrators know the law will catch up with them.

There is also the Kadhi Law – we have revisited the old provisions affecting women on issues of divorce.

In the past, men were allowed to divorce and leave women with nothing because there was no provision for implementation of the law. Right now there is the provision of implementation in place and wealth can now be shared with wives, thus protecting women and giving them economic security of sort.

What role does Parliament play in addressing issues around gender equality?

In the House of Representatives, we have ensured that when tabling a budget for each ministry, gender issues have to be considered in each sector. For instance if tabling a budget for agriculture, you have to ensure that women in farming are catered for; and if it is health, you have to show clearly how women and children will be taken care of to decrease maternal mortality.

If it is the commerce ministry, then you have to indicate clearly how women will be taught, for example, how to upgrade their products’ quality and boost their entrepreneurial skills. The Women Association in the House of Representatives does this. As women in the House of Representatives, we also conduct capacity training supported by UN-Women for new members who join to boost their confidence, train them on international conventions that the government is signing and on how to address issues from local communities at national level and international level.

How do you feel being a Deputy Speaker and what are some of your achievements in reforming policies to encourage women participation and decision making in their communities?

It feels great and this high position has given me a lot of exposure and the opportunity to speak up for women and discuss their issues and come up with solutions. It also inspires young women that anything can be achieved.

I reach out to younger women leaders in universities and mentor them on leadership. This ensures that they participate in decision-making in their local communities as they aspire to become leaders. I have also motivated women members to come up with issues and address them. I am the first woman to table a private motion on Gender Based Violence in the House of Representatives in my first term and after that, it gathered momentum encouraging other women to continue with the issue in Parliament.

As the chairperson of the women’s organisation in the House of Representatives gave me the opportunity to bring capacity building to other women in the House to be stronger and confident when representing their issues. Women are stronger in the House of Representatives. I also started a campaign for women to come out and contest with men to sit in the Executive committee in the House of Representatives. Five years ago, I was the only woman there but currently we are six.

Do you still experience gender discrimination in your position as the Deputy Speaker?

Some element of discrimination is still there – something I never expected but look, men also voted for me so the bigger group accepted me though there are some challenges. But I am managing, as this is my second term in office.

With elections looming large, do you think women in Tanzania are prepared enough to take up leadership positions?

Women are 52 per cent of the country’s population, a number you cannot ignore when talking about politics as they play an important role.

They are also the majority voters, so there is the need to overcome the challenges they face in leadership to catapult to higher positions. I have talked to young women in various universities across the country and they are expressing their willingness to be leaders.

There is the notion that you have to build yourself in a political party to be elected and this forces many young women shy away from politics. A lot of women in Tanzania are capable of being leaders though most of them are hearing that there is still sexual corruption in politics making them fear to come out and vie. In my mentorship sessions, I try to address these fears and encourage them to come forward as these two things push young women back.

If there was one message you could give to President John Magufuli on gender equality and women empowerment in Tanzania, what would it be?

He has already done a lot though I would encourage him to give more employment opportunities to women as they have the capacity to work. When more parents see women working and delivering big results to their communities, more parents would see the fruits of the educated girl-child.

The President has already done a lot to ensure gender equality though we should work more on implementation strategies to ensure all parties adhere to the law.

ajotieno@tz.nationmedia.com or kikijanty@gmail.com

Janet is the features editor of The Citizen

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