Women leadership, political participation agenda under Samia

Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan during a past event. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Starting with the basics, President Samia was constitutionally elevated from Vice President to President on 19th March 2021 following the untimely demise of President John Magufuli.

By Dr Victoria Lihiru

As the female President, I know the burden to deliver on gender equality is huge. I also know being passionate about gender equality alone is not enough, my government is reviewing policies and laws to come up with plans for women’s economic advancement and attaining other aspects of gender equality and parity.”

This is one of my favorite quotes from President Samia Suluhu Hassan, extracted from her maiden speech made at the UNGA 76 in September 2021. The quote resonates well with the recommendations I provide at the end of this article, as I attempt to make an assessment of the women and leadership agenda under one year of President Samia’s administration.

Starting with the basics, President Samia was constitutionally elevated from Vice President to President on 19th March 2021 following the untimely demise of President John Magufuli. Great strides have been made on the women’s leadership agenda over the past year. For example, the number of female ministers has increased from four to nine in a cabinet of 25.

Women occupy key dockets, remarkably including the appointment of the first female Defense Minister and the second female Minister for Foreign Affairs. Women also lead the Ministries of health, employment, industries, public service and good governance, land and Tourism and Natural Resources.

However, there are no changes in the number of female deputy ministers which remains at 5 out of 25. The number of women permanent secretaries and deputy permanent secretaries has remained disturbingly low and, in some instances, dropped.

There are only four women among the 26 permanent secretaries, and there are six women among the 30-deputy permanent secretaries, a drop of five women from 11 female deputy permanent secretaries during Magufuli’s era.

Astonishingly, six ministries out of 22 are fully headed by men - the Ministries of Home Affairs, Energy, Minerals, Communication, Agriculture and Livestock. In these ministries, the minister, deputy minister, permanent secretaries and deputy permanent secretaries are all men.

The appointments of Regional Administrative Secretaries (RAS) saw four more women being appointed, bringing the total to 12 female RAS out of 26, making the percentage of RAS 46%. The appointment of Judges, Ambassadors, Regional Commissioners, District Executive Directors and District Commissioners also ensured that at least 30 percent of those appointed are female.

The number of female commissioners in the National Election Commission has increased to three in a seven-people commission. The appointments of the first female Director of Presidential Communications and first female Clerk of the National Assembly are also historic.

The first year of President Samia in power has also witnessed the National Assembly, being headed by a female Speaker following the controversial resignation of Job Ndugai over his remarks on the state of the national debt.

President Samia’s role as the Chairperson of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in facilitating Dr Tulia Ackson’s ascendancy from a Deputy Speaker to a full Speaker cannot be overlooked, given the central role of political parties in getting candidates for the position. For the first time in Tanzania’s history, two of the three arms of the State are headed by women.

Another progress is seen in the designation of a specific Ministry for Community Development, Gender, Women and Special Groups and in the formulation of a specific committee to follow up on the Generational Equality Campaign commitments.

President Samia has not however attempted to change the fact that 13 men in a row have consistently held the position of Prime Minister, and 11 men in a row have occupied the position of Chief Secretary since independence. Regrettably, fewer women make it to the appointments of members and leaders of the boards and heads of government parastatals.

The state of affairs points to the fact that the President has massive appointing powers albeit unguided by gender thresholds.

The progress and reversals witnessed by an increase, stagnation, and/or decrease of women in national and local government positions, starts and ends with the discretion of the President.

Simply put, the President is not legally mandated to pay attention to gender equality principles when making her appointments. This is despite the commitment to do so under the international, regional and sub-national instruments to which Tanzania is party to.

Starting her second year as President, exemplary leadership is needed for President Samia’s wish to attain and sustain gender parity in leadership positions beyond her tenure to be realized. This includes the need for reducing the presidential appointing powers through a constitutional amendment, and for the remaining appointing powers, place strong measures to ensure future Presidents are legally bound to appoint with gender inclusiveness principle in mind.

The measures should as well include a clear gender and social inclusion threshold in the laws to ensure diverse men and women are provided with the legally ring-fenced equal opportunity to be appointed in various positions.

Inclusive and transformative leadership trainings should be made part of the pre-service and in-service orientation and training to support a mindset transformation of those in charge of making and executing the policies, laws, budgets and government plans. Government engagement with the citizens should include addressing gender stereotypes hiding under the heavy blanket of culture, traditions and being reinforced in the education system, religious institutions as well as in the places of work and day to day societal expectations.

On the other hand, fewer women have been winning the elections despite myriad efforts of state and non-state actors to change the status quo. After the 2020 general elections, only 9.8 and less than 7 percent of the elected members of parliament and councilors are females, respectively.

The legal, policy and institutional review that President Samia has committed to undertake should as well include the review of the main electoral system applied in Tanzania namely First-Past-the-Post, how it facilitates or hinder navigating politics and the elections. Deliberate efforts should be taken to explore the Proportional Representations electoral system which has been proved friendlier for women to stand for and win elections.

Women special seats system as a form of temporary special measures applicable in the country should as well be evaluated, in terms of how it can further be repositioned to facilitate the realization of gender equality and parity in the decision-making structures. Independent candidates should be allowed and Political parties should as well be provided with clear gender thresholds to embrace and exercise gender and social inclusion principles in electing party leaders, nominating candidates, utilization of party resources, developing of party guiding documents and curbing gender-based violence in politics and in elections.

The elections monitoring body should be guided with strong gender and social inclusion policy, strategies and resources to execute them, and the overall independence of the commission should be strengthened.

At a personal level, the President should have clarity and be consistent in her pursuit of gender parity in decision-making processes and structures.

In her meeting with the women in Dodoma, the President said she is ready to make efforts to attain the 50:50 agenda, but in the same speech, she said, she is not sure if she will ever surpass the 46% female nomination she made in appointing the Regional Administrative Secretaries.

In addition, while it is important that men and women who are appointed to work in different sectors are qualified, the President has insisted on this point on women and it incorrectly suggests a lack of qualified women to hold such positions. It also suggests that the government is blind to the unique challenges facing women and that it is not taking deliberate efforts to look for qualified women.

Women should not be assessed through a different criterion with the presumption that they are not qualified, may not deliver and or they will entertain petty fights while on the job.

In conclusion, President Samia’s passion for attaining gender parity in positions of power has been ascertained on many occasions over the past year.

Going forward, I concur with the President that being passionate alone is not enough, policy and legal guarantees and transformation of the mindsets and that of the institutions should be on the list of her priorities as she sojourns to leave a remarkable legacy for Tanzanian women.

Dr Victoria Lihiru is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the Open University of Tanzania. [email protected].