As 2018 comes to an end, we take a moment to recognize some of the women who made headlines in different fields in Tanzania this year. These are influential women whose endeavours directly and indirectly have an impact on society.
Jokate Mwegelo – District Commissioner
First on our list is Jokate Mwegelo. The former beauty queen, actress, entrepreneur and media personality, made headlines after she was appointed District Commissioner for Kisarawe. On 28 July 2018, President John Magufuli appointed Jokate Mwegelo as the new District Commissioner of Kisarawe District in Coast region. The appointment was part of the changes the president made in the government. It came just a year after she was chosen to be the Youth League leader of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), a position she held until her recent appointment as DC.
Mwegelo’s endeavours as an entrepreneur included owning Kidoti Company Limited. Launched in 2012, Kidoti dealt in the production of braids, wigs, slippers, school bags and other fashion accessories. She also introduced the Be Kidotified campaign under her brand to empower students. Mwegelo’s efforts have garnered attention, recognition and praise from society.
Rebeca Gyumi – Founder & Executive Director, Msichana Initiative
Rebeca Gyumi is one of the most recognized faces in Tanzania’s fight against childhood marriage. She famously challenged Tanzanian laws that permitted child marriage with parental consent. Gyumi is the Founder and Executive Director of Msichana Initiative, a non-governmental organization that deals with empowering the girl child through education. Her career path has seen her work with Femina, a youth-focused orgnaisation as a youth advocate.
A lawyer by profession, Gyumi famously pursued and won a landmark case on child marriage. The petition filed at the High Court of Tanzania challenged the Marriage Act, 1971 which allowed girls as young as 14 to get married. Her victory saw the minimum age for marriage raised to 18 years for both boys and girls.
On 25 October this year, at the United Nations in New York, the President of the UN General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, announced the 2018 winners of the prestigious United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, Ms Rebeca Gyumi won the 2018 United Nations Human Rights Prize- activist for the rights of women and girls (Tanzania)
Winning the 2018 Human Rights Prize puts Gyumi on the international stage. “It’s not just a personal honor but my country’s honor as well, putting our country on the map. It’s a proud moment for me and for the girls I stood up for and for the ongoing global progress that is happening around girls’ and women’s rights,” she told CNN.
Fatma Karume – President, Tanganyika Law Society (TLS)
Another woman we are celebrating this year is Fatma Karume, daughter of former Zanzibar President, Amani Abeid Karume. In 2018 Karume emerged victorious in the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) presidential election held in Arusha. She defeated three other contestants and managed to succeed Tundu Lissu as the President of TLS after Mr Lissu sustained gunshot wounds in 2017 and is still in recovery.
Apart from her role at TLS, Karume is in charge of a very successful litigation practice at IMMMA Advocates, where she is a partner and handles a variety of cases.
With over 20 years of experience in civil and commercial litigation, specialising in civil litigation, arbitration, constitutional law and administrative law, Fatma heads the litigation practice at the firm. She is also associated with various landmark reported judgments of the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Tanzania.
The advocate has a track record of successfully representing top tier banks in commercial litigation and arbitration including judicial review, tax disputes, insolvency and receiverships, intellectual property law, and media law.
She is a well-spoken leader in legal matters and has on occasion challenged what she believes to be unjust laws, statements under the current government.
Joyce Msuya – Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Environment Program
Joyce Msuya is a Tanzanian microbiologist and environmental scientist, who serves as the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. She was appointed to this position by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on 21 May 2018, for a 5-year term.
Following the resignation of Erik Solheim in November 2018, Msuya was appointed acting Executive Director of UNEP.
Msuya holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and Immunology from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland and a Master of Science degree in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Grace Msemwa – Nurse, midwife
In 2018 Grace Msemwa won Clouds FM’s Malkia wa Nguvu award for her effort as a nurse and midwife who helps hundreds of women on safe delivery.
The Hubert Kairuki Memorial University nursing student hails from a humble background, born in a remote village in Morogoro region.
Together with her friend, Saidi Mtengule, the two launched a campaign; Mkunga Nyumbani Kwako, where they visited pregnant women and provided maternal health education to their family members. It is this campaign, along with her impressive résumé that she was able to win the Malkia wa Nguvu award. Msemwa initiated another project called Amka which targets to motivate young secondary school students, especially girls, to study science subjects in order to raise the number of female scientists in the country.
Her call to serve the community started while she was still in secondary school. Her endeavours have seen her hold different positions, including Chairperson of Youth Initiative Club (FEMA), Chairperson of Scouts in Mvomero District, a member of Tanzania Youth of Catholic Society (TYCS), and Chairperson of Debate Club. Her aspiration is to become an engineer or a medical doctor.
In October 2016 Msemwa joined the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University, in the Nursing Programme. She is currently a student and also does society activities through different platforms.
Vanessa Mdee – Musician, entrepreneur
Vanessa Mdee started the year on a high by releasing her first ever studio album titled ‘Money Mondays’. The album has done relatively well and is known for hit songs such as Kisela (featuring Mr P), Wet (featuring G. Nako), and Bounce (featuring Maua Sama).
Vanessa a.k.a Cash Madame also has her own record label known as Mdee Music. The label has signed artists such as Brian Simba and Mimi Mars.
Her music success aside, this year Vanessa also embarked on an entrepreneur journey which saw her launch a brand of shoes for school girls. The brand is known as ‘Bora Star’ and is an extension of the Vanessa Mdee brand. Speaking at the launch in Dar es Salaam, the singer said she wanted to give school girls a reason to go to school even if that reason is just about looking fresh in some cool shoes. “The plight of young women and their endeavours is my main drive towards designing the shoes,” she said.