Rising woman: Angela’s sad past a boon for many housemaids

Friday March 05 2021
Angela pic

Wote Sawa founder Angela Benedicto. Photo | Courtesy

By Lilian Ndilwa

Dar es Salaam. For Angela Benedicto, a sad past experience is what led her to establish her organisation ‘Wote Sawa’ (We are all equal), an organisation for domestic workers based in Mwanza.
The organisation helps empower them to understand, demand for, protect and advocate  their rights.
“Domestic workers have a low profile in many Tanzanian societies. They are indeed marginalised,” says Ms Benedicto.
She established Wote Sawa because she had experienced domestic work life herself, Ms Benedicto found it relatable that domestic workers should not go through the inhuman treatments and acts that were done to herself in the past.
“It is one the most difficult job a person will ever do yet the most dehumanising, people automatically have negative perceptions towards domestic workers,” she says.
Ms Benedicto says the domestic workers are the first to wake up and the last to sleep in many households and still this goes unrecognised and unappreciated many times.
“I had firsthand experience of the organization when I sat down with domestic workers who opened up on how it was difficult to communicate their problems within their societies because of being belittled, with all the information I acquired from my first meeting with them, I then decided that I wanted the community to understand domestic workers just like I do,” she details.
“I contacted Maimuna Kanyamala, who was the executive director of Kivulini Women Rights organisation seeking for support to establish domestic workers’ rights, by then it was just a project,” explains Ms Benedicto.
She successfully developed ‘Watu Sawa’ in 2012, and it was at the beginning when the organisation had unending struggles.
“It was hard to convince domestic workers to join the organisation so as to fill in the gap of awareness about their own rights because they were afraid of speaking up and treating the organisation as a safe healing space for themselves,” says Ms Benedicto.
According to her, even with a better employer, the domestic workers will still be considered second level people because the devaluation of a person worsens when the society views them negatively even when their closest person values their hard work.
“I was once sexually harassed by my employer, I stood my ground and restricted him from going any further, I refused to develop any relationship with him other than him being my employer,” says Ms Benedicto.
She narrated that the refusal  of the act was not received well by her employer and she was  immediately fired.
“He questioned my refusal because he thought I would have been an easy catch  due to the nature of my job. After that incident, I got  enlightened and I started an initiative that would help prevent domestic workers from going through such harassment,” Ms Benedicto says.
During the processes of developing this organisation, many people did not believe her because she was then uneducated and because they knew that she had no resources like finance and technical support.
She currently has a bachelor’s degree in Law from the Tanzanian Open University, which has helped her gain qualifications of becoming an advocate for the domestic workers.
As she spoke of feminist leadership, Ms Benedicto says it is through her career that she has learned to become a women confidant and guide in different issues.
“My principle is ‘leave no one behind’ whereas I was privileged to be heard and I aim to provide the same space for the helpless class of domestic class, from that principle shaped my style of inclusion whereas I involve everyone in everything to do with the organisation whereas I involve the domestic workers as well as other helpful people,” she explains.
She says that without mentorship she would have not been where she is right now, because it has played a huge role in pushing her to reach the top position. Her first mentor was Ms Kanyamala, CEO of Kivulini Women Rights Organisation, which is also based in Mwanza.  In 2015, Ms Benedicto was awarded the Queen Young leader title by Queen Elizabeth of England, this granted her second mentor who guided her through the difficulties of leading an organisation head on.
“Through them I am able to grasp different opportunities, mobilise the organisation, goals realignment and management of organisation resources,” she explains.
She says the lead cause of women lagging behind in leadership is because of existing harmful cultural norms, stereotypes and traditional practices. Most of the communities in Tanzania limit women and girls opportunities and abilities to reach their full potential.
“Women should learn to grasp the current opportunities, it is through fighting that women can fully attest to their abilities that have been hidden for a long time,” Ms Benedicto details.
She talks of how women empowerment initiatives and how they can be sustained for posterity
“Disrupting inequality requires a multifaceted approach due to its complexity. The primary methods include transformative and need -based training, confronting harmful cultural norms, reversing stereotypes and harmful traditional practices especially in rural areas,” says Ms Benedicto.
She concludes: “If I had to advice my younger self, I would tell her to always stay ready to break the silence cycle and that it is very okay to be open about your wants and don’ts.
“I would tell her to have commitment and passion in doing different things as well as passion as well as to have fear in trying new things and embrace failures as lessons.”