A leading feminist’s juggling act as she advocates literacy

Demere Kitunga is Executive Director of E&D Readership and Development Agency.

What you need to know:

  • Demere Kitunga is a feminist and advocate of literacy who engages with the literature and knowledge generation in various forms - and, through it, she mentors young people to become free thinkers and creative communicators

Dar es Salaam. Demere Kitunga is Executive Director of E&D Readership and Development Agency. Popularly known simply as Soma, this is an organisation that promotes a reading culture in Tanzania.

She is a feminist and advocate of literacy who engages with literature and knowledge generation in various forms and through it mentor young people to become free thinkers and creative communicators.

She founded Soma in 2007 with her friend after first founding a company limited as a professed publishing house. Based on the experience they both gained, they decided to expand so as to increase societal participation in their movement - since Soma itself is their ‘give back to society’ effort

“I have always been particular about where I want to be. I started off as an editor. When my recruiting manager left the job nine months later I was promoted to the position of acting managing editor,” says Ms Kitunga.

In the editorial room, there were seven editors including herself and one assistant who was the second female in the newsroom.

“Three years later, I moved to Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) where I worked as a documentation officer. I had applied for that post partly because it was the only job I had observed since I graduated that fitted a person with my qualifications,” Ms Kitunga recalls.

She adds that “it had its own dynamics - most of which, I think, were gendered... But, I would rather not talk about them.”

Ms Kitunga explains started working at Soma part-time, because she felt not ready to start a self-employment journey since she felt that she had to sort her material conflict sufficient for her to do it comfortably.

“My part-time job that I took was program officer, but it was changed and became program officer and gender specialist. I protested because I felt like my actual post was being trivialised. I had no experience as a gender specialist,” she says.

She later accepted the post, and started taking studies privately. She also sought support from coordinates who were more experienced in the gender area, so that she could fit in.

“It was during that time I became a gender activist and feminist, the two terms eventually became my life, they define me because can only be one or both of the two terms when they read and understand internalised politics of feminism and activism and the resonance linked between your life and them,” says Ms Kitunga.

“This is who I am practically. Both feminism and activism have shaped the way I see things, it is a journey of self-understanding, negotiating and actualisation,” she adds.

She talks of the lack of diversity between men and women in leadership positions, Ms Kitunga says women are one of the marginalised groups in society because the power dynamics in the patriarchy system have barely supported them in enhancing a balance within the society.

“Women are the most challenged in the acquiring of leadership positions. We have the statistics that reveal girls being restricted in getting their education. The lack of diversity in leadership positions has been nurtured from when they were little,” says Ms Kitunga.

As she addressed leadership, Ms Kitunga said she leads by example while valuing the equality between herself and the people she works with.

“I have always perceived leadership as the title that can be two-faced, because a leader’s intentions and actions can be interpreted differently by the people cooperating with the leader,” she notes.

She talks of how she value daily teachings which are have made her a continuous learner, who never shy away from picking up new knowledge from different people she encounters, who are mostly involved in women empowerment and activism.

“I have always charted new grounds, and always acted in a collective whereas learning new things is a back and forth activity for me. I mentor people; but, at times, I am also a mentee of people who offer to share their experiences with me,” Ms Kitunga explains.

She further reveals that she has also mentored other women sharing her knowledge from life experiences and feminist mentorship programmes.

According to her, for a person to be formally trained for leadership, it depends on the skills one needs to fit in well.

“For example, to be a feminist leader, you need to be immersed in feminist theories and praxis. But, mostly, you must strive to be clear on the feminist ethos and feminist understanding of power - and how it is shared,” Ms Kitunga says.

She adds: “you can acquire this through informal channels - such as from other feminists and activists. But, you can train in a formal setting... However, no matter how schooled you are, if ideologically you are averse to feminism, your learning will not make you a feminist leader.”

Despite being self-employed, self-care has not been an easy section to accomplish throughout her career journey.

“I am now challenged to walk the talk. Currently, I am being more intentional about it by curating storytelling spaces for self-care - and nurture them. It is work in progress,” she says.