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Rising woman: Breaking barriers to women success

Saturday March 06 2021
Anna pic

Legal and Human Rights Centre Executive Director, Anna Henga. photo | ERICKY BONIPHACE

By Lilian Ndilwa

Many people might know Anna Henga as a lawyer and the executive director of Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) who has held that position for the past three years. But, behind her professional prowess and revered public personality, Ms Henga is a devout mother and a church pastor.

She is also a Judge by profession,. She acquired extensive academic credentials in business administration, developing policy and policy analysis, as well as the holder of Diplomas in Gender and Theology.

Henga dreamed of being a leader from a relatively young age.

“I was impressed with the speeches of leaders I’d hear and read, as well as the way their pictures and stories were published. I did not know how I could reach that position,” Henga recalls.

However, the success she now enjoys as a leader didn’t come overnight. In fact, as she attests, her career journey has been rough and tough.

“My 13 years at LHRC have guided me to become the leader that I am today, and the journey I’ve been through is a testament of my resilience,” she says.

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Ms Henga joined LHRC in 2006 as an intern - and, later, as legal officer volunteer at the LHRC’s Legal Aid Clinic in Arusha.

She became fully employed and served in different roles, including Programme Coordinator for Constitutional Reforms, Coordinator of the Southern Africa Legal Assistance Network (SALAN), and Programme Officer for Gender, Children and anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Coordinator.

She talks of the moments she has experienced that made her strong and focused - although they also made her let down.

During her journey to becoming a lawyer, Henga went through many challenges - some at the hands of the clients she served.

“I once served a client who was being physically abused by her husband to the point of dislocating her waist. She was forthright during the first days when she talked to the lawyers at LHRC. But she started becoming somewhat withdrawn - and it was just as soon that we found out that the couple had reconciled their differences, and were back together. This made it difficult to proceed with the case,” says Henga.

Unfortunately, the Legal Centre recently received the news that the abused woman had died allegedly from continued physical abusive acts by her husband!

“It is in situations like these where we rethink of our abilities, because it makes you think that - had you done things differently - maybe the situation could have had a better ending,” she virtually rued.

According to Henga, there are times when she was belittled as a woman; times when she questioned our societal system.

“There were times in directorial meetings where I was placed last in terms of decision-makings and giving opinions on different matters.

“The list would start out by listing all the male leaders - and I was placed last,” she bitterly recalls.

“I seldom take things to heart; but, I often challenge situations with the aim of creating parity,” she avers.

Henga currently leads a team of 88 people at the Human Rights Centre, which has branches in four administrative regions.

“I was taught that leadership is not static; it changes with time - and this has been my philosophy as the executive director. I do not have a specific style of leadership. There are times I let my team make decisions without involving me - and there also are times when we do collective decision-making,” Henga explains.

She reveals that she never had a mentor prior to being the LHRC executive director - other than having seniors who guided her through her career.

“The first time I had about mentors was when I acquired the directorial position. That was when two mentors were assigned by the board and the Centre’s sponsors to guide me through work-related matters,” Henga recalls.

She adds: “I highly recommend mentorship for women in different fields, because there are difficult situations we go through in our careers that require having an experienced mentor to help you get through the tough times.”

As a result, Henga currently conducts online mentorship courses for female university students across the country, where there are about seven universities with her mentees in different Faculties.

She also has in-house mentees, with whom she has ‘a safe space’ online mentorship with, and guides them through, life generally.

The accomplished leader also talks of the patriarchy system - and how it has fuelled inequality between men and women, as it differently affects societies at different levels.

“The patriarchy system will always be the lead cause of lack of diversity in top leadership positions. It has negatively affected family and societies at their thinking levels. We’ve normalized the idea that a woman does not deserve a place at the ‘Big Table’,” she virtually laments.

She adds: “It is the reason why we still have not achieved the equality that has been sought for ages, because it has affected women’s self-esteem.

“There are some women who still believe that, for success to be achieved, there must be a man involved; this is basically untrue,” says Henga.

She suggests that if society cooperates to dismantle the male dominant system, there would be diversity that aligns with unending opportunities for women in any leadership positions.

“I advise people in leadership positions in different fields to develop the habit of assisting aspiring young Tanzanians who are the future leadership. We can be a bridge to their desired goals; it is up to us to change the narrative of putting women second,” Henga insists.

She counsels that, for women empowerment initiatives to be sustainable for future generations’ benefit, there must be a policy that would indirectly enforce and otherwise enhance women to acquire top leadership positions.

“Had there been a policy to support this motive, we would not be talking of women empowerment to this date. All people in top leadership positions could be directly supporting women - whether they want it or not,” she reasons out.

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