Putting Samia’s appointments under the gender microscope

Monday June 28 2021
Samia pic

By Victoria Lihiru

The swearing-in and subsequent release of the official portrait of our first female president wrote a great story both in our hearts and “herstory” books. Fate had it in store for Tanzanians that the country’s very first female vice president would also become its first female president.

When images of the first Cabinet meeting circulated on social media, many women’s rights advocates, myself included, felt that a female president wouldn’t be happy with a male-dominated cabinet. Expectations were high that changes were in store, especially after some women’s rights were trampled on in the past six years.

The nomination of the Vice President kicked off the Sixth Phase Government’s appointments. To all intents and purposes, the appointment of a man to that position was deemed okay. The endorsement of a male prime minister meant that 13 men in a row have consistently held the powerful position since independence. Similarly, we have now had 11 men in a row holding the chief secretary’s position since 1962.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s reassuring statements about her capability to lead, her insistence on men and women having the same leadership mind, and her call for female leaders to be respected were seen as an essential trigger for Tanzanians to shun gender stereotypes on women in leadership. The appointment of the first female economic advisor, the first female clerk of the National Assembly and the second female Foreign Affairs minister signalled an inclination to disrupt the narrative and promote women’s leadership role in male-dominated sectors.

Other appointments, however, depicted little change, if any.

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Four female ministers and 19 male ministers served in the late President John Magufuli’s last Cabinet. This has changed slightly, with the number of female ministers increasing to five, and male ministers falling to 18. Magufuli left behind five and 21 female and male deputy ministers, respectively. This has also changed slightly, with President Hassan appointing six and 20 female and male deputy ministers, respectively. The appointment of a deputy minister for gender affairs is welcome, although gender issues need their own ministry instead of being squeezed into the Health ministry, which already had too much on its plate. The number of female permanent secretaries has remained at four, while the number of male permanent secretaries has dropped from 21 to 20.

There is a serious rollback with regard to women deputy permanent secretaries, with only five and 19 female and male office-bearers, respectively, appointed. Magufuli left behind 11 and 18 male and female deputy permanent secretaries, respectively. This means that the number of female deputy PS’s has been slashed by six. There are no changes with regard to regional commissioners, who remain at five and 21 females and males, respectively.

There are ministries with no women visible. In such ministries, the positions of minister, deputy minister, permanent secretary and deputy permanent secretary are all held by men. Ministries monopolised by men include Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Fisheries, Energy, Works, and Home Affairs.

However, the news has not all been grim. The appointments of regional administrative secretaries (RAS’s) saw four more women being appointed, bringing the total to 12 female RAS’s out of 26. The appointment of judges and ambassadors also ensured that at least 30 per cent of those appointed were females. Unfortunately, a problem still persists with regard to the appointment of females to the boards and top leadership positions of state entities. These posts are still male-dominated.

While it is important that male and female appointees are qualified, there is usually greater emphasis on qualification when it comes to women, and this suggests a lack of qualified women to hold such positions. It also suggests that the government is blind to the unique challenges women face, and that deliberate efforts are not being made to look for qualified women.

The President’s meeting with women in Dodoma meeting sent out conflicting messages. President Hassan said she was ready to attain the 50:50 agenda, but said in the same speech that she was not sure if she would ever surpass the 46 percent female nomination she made in appointing RAS’s.

While it is concerning for the President to have massive appointment powers, it is equally concerning when such appointments are not guided by gender and social inclusion norms. Until the President’s appointing powers are reviewed, preferably through a new constitution, a clear threshold should be set and adhered to in practice to ensure that men and women, including those with disabilities, are appointed. In order for us to continuously challenge ourselves and the government’s progress towards inclusive governance, we also need government communication to include information on the gender, age, disability, location, etc, of appointees. Without that, everyone is left to make assumptions, as was the case with the recently released list of district commissioners. A section of the media reported that the number of female district commissioners appointed was 45, the Minister for Regional Administration and Local Government posted on social media that the number was 44, while my own counting put it at 40.

Therefore, 100 days down the line, it is clear that expectations that the decades-long situation of women being shut out of key leadership positions would be reversed were misplaced. It is apparent that while the presidency is a powerful institution, legal loopholes, patriarchy and party politics seem even more powerful. Going forward, President Hassan should raise the bar higher, and institutionalise the need to avail both men and women equal opportunity to lead, make mistakes and improve. Women should not be assessed through a different criterion with the presumption that they are not qualified, may not deliver, and or would be engaged in endless squabbles. Deliberate efforts should be made to promote the role of women in leadership with a view to attaining inclusive governance.