Dodoma. In Tanzania, women in politics are aiming higher. The fact that the country has a woman Vice President, Samia Suluhu, gives hope to women ahead of next year’s national assembly elections.
Some gender activists this week said although a woman made it to the presidium in 2015, more work still needs to be done to build on the successes so far achieved.
While the number of women in Parliament has improved over the years, only 145 made it in 2015, most of them through the Temporary Special Measures, with 248 seats taken by men.
But hope is not lost as the current national leadership has demonstrated positive signals of commitment towards sustaining a governance system that is inclusive of women and men.
The gender activists further noted that, while there are these positive indications, more community awareness raising activities still needed to be done to ensure the electorate has confidence in the capabilities of women in political leadership.
They claimed at political party level, the scales were still tilted in support of male leadership with only one of the 19 registered parties, Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT), Wazalendo led by a woman.
Retired Politician, Wilson Mkama, says the strategies of getting women in the male dominated political spaces may not be simple but solutions can be found. “We need to make tough decisions to increase the presence of women in key political and governance spaces,” Mr Mkama said.
However, efforts to strike a gender balance in key political areas are at the heart of a project being implemented by Tanzania Centre for Democracy called “Promoting Women’s Political Empowerment and Leadership through Political Parties”. The Non-Governmental Organisation is supported by UN Women through funding from Finland and Sweden.
The one-year project identified a number of strategies, including engaging retired female and male political actors to mentor women in politics through sharing their experiences in order to promote gender equality in the political and governance structures.
This week some political retirees gathered in Dar es Salaam to discuss ways to address barriers that hinder women to be elected into key political decision-making positions. One of the participants in the dialogue, Naomi Kaihula indicated she worked in the political trenches for many years, mobilising women at the grassroots level and masterminding the inclusion of women through the political parties’ Women Wing structures.
She explained women in politics have for years worked with civil society organisations to develop their capacity, and by now one would have expected that women in Tanzania would be occupying 50 per cent of the parliamentary seats.
“There is some progress but the status of women in politics is not exactly what we had envisioned two and a half decades ago. The temporary special measures are welcome, but they should also continue to work as an enabler for women to graduate from being selected to being elected.”
She emphasised the need to sanitise party politics for the environment to be accommodative of women, particularly in leadership positions. “Our hope is now in young women. We need to give them proper orientation and show them the way using our own experiences and lessons learnt.”
Wilson Mkama said evidence that women make good leaders is supported by many studies done globally. “The challenge is on having our society to believe in these findings and be able to shift their social and cultural perceptions for us to see a change in the voting patterns. If you look at some developed countries such as the UK and USA, it took many years of advocacy and pushing before women were allowed to vote. In the case of Tanzania, we need to articulate the challenges women face and and facilitate the full participation of women,.”
Women parliamentarians such as Hawa Ghasia have indeed proved this point. The Member of Parliament for Lindi says women should know their strengths and understand the needs of the people they represent to devise strategies that can convince the people and win their hearts.
“I think leadership is about the ability to work with people, motivating them and bringing them all to work together towards the same vision. People want to do things differently and they are welcoming of someone who can give them ideas on how they can, for example, improve their farm produce, run their businesses effectively and create jobs for themselves,” she said.
The Deputy Speaker of Parliament (Mainland) Dr Tulia Ackson emphasised the need for women to approach politics differently and demonstrate its not just about winning an election but also passion and commitment to contribute to the development of Tanzania.
“I think through the work we have been doing in Parliament, advocating for development in many areas is evidence enough that women can make a positive difference. I am in parliament to have a say on issues that affect women, children and the under-privileged and for the betterment of my country. I hope that in the next election more women will be elected to have a chance to serve our country and increase our voice.”