For International Women’s Day 2019, I’m writing two blogs. Part 1 addresses the challenges that women and girls face in Tanzania, whilst Part 2 looks at what we can do to support and empower women and girls in Tanzania. This is Part 1.
Over the past decade, Tanzania has made reasonable progress towards gender equality, with the achievement of gender parity in primary education being one of the biggest successes so far. However, problems persist in many other areas of Tanzanian society: gender-based violence is ongoing, access to and ownership of land and resources remain inequitable and women are marginalised in the economic and political landscapes. In fact, Tanzania was ranked 125th out of 155 countries in the 2014 Gender Inequality Index and 148th out of 169 countries in the Human Development Index. This means that, compared to other countries, Tanzania has a high degree of gender inequality and also ranks poorly in terms of life expectancy, GDP per capita and education. In this blog, we will explore the challenges that women and girls face whilst living in Tanzania.
The role of women in society
In many societies around the world, social stigma is strongly against women. Many families prioritise the health and education of boys over girls due to a belief that boys will bring a greater return on investment. As a result, girls tend to enter the workforce at a very young age instead of gaining a quality education. To compound matters, the social stigma continues once women enter the workforce: many people still believe that women are incapable of taking on certain jobs. As a result, some women are pressured to think this is true and limit the number and type of jobs they apply for.
In Tanzania, women and girls often take up multiple economic and social roles. As well as having jobs to earn money for their families, they also take on greater responsibility within the household. Indeed, since 2006, males have decreased their average time spent doing household chores, but the same cannot be said for females. Women and girls are also responsible for taking care of other family members, both young and old.
As a result of fulfilling greater household responsibilities, girls are deprived of time that could be spent studying, earning money in a job, contributing to society or socialising with friends. Women with large families have more cooking, cleaning and caring to do, leaving less time to earn money or continue education to widen their skill-set. This leads to social isolation and reduces self-confidence, increasing the difficulty of finding a job or getting involved in social activities.
“Prejudice, murder, discrimination, stigma, early marriages and forced labor should not be part of our society” – Bishop Joseph Anthony Zziwa (UN Women).
Violence and discrimination against women and girls
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a widespread problem in Tanzania, largely due to patriarchal and traditional norms. According to UN Women, 2 in 5 women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence whilst 1 in 10 women aged 15-49 have experienced forced sexual intercourse. Furthermore, anyone with lesbian, gay, transsexual and intersexual gender identities face discrimination, whilst society is also intolerant of older women, due to accusations of witchcraft, and people with albinism. Moreover, households with limited access to water experience increased rates of gender-based violence and girls dropping out of school. This results from daughters and mothers travelling long distances to retrieve water, during which they are at risk of attack or rape.
Experiencing violence as a child increases the likelihood of that child remaining a victim in adulthood or becoming violent towards others. To tackle this problem, the Tanzanian government has created a 5-year plan, from 2017 to 2022, to cut violence against women and children by half. The aim of this plan is to be proactive – stopping violence before it happens rather than reacting to it after its occurrence. The root causes of violence include poverty, gender inequality and society’s tolerance of violence in general. However, another pivotal factor is the ‘culture of silence’ in the reporting of violence, whereby victims and witnesses are afraid that speaking out could lead to social alienation due to a stigma against reporting violence. There is no doubt that it may take generations to change social attitudes towards women and children, but the ambitious plan shows that the people of Tanzania have recognised that this is a culture that cannot remain for much longer.
“Most women don’t report violent and abusive husbands due to fear to be chased from their matrimonial homes and live a life of hopelessness and economic desperation. An educated and economically empowered mind, will free a woman from an abusive spouse” – President Museveni (UN Women).
Women in economics and politics
As well as being restricted to limited societal roles, women also find themselves marginalised within the economic and political landscape in Tanzania. In 2013, 126 out of 357 Members of Parliament (MPs) were female. This is a high proportion (36%) for a country of any income level, however, many of these appointments came from ‘Temporary Special Measures’ to fulfil gender equality quotas. In reality, just 9 of the 126 female MPs won their seats through elections. Therefore, women are still struggling for both acceptance and influence at the very top level of decision-making.
Over the past decade, economic transformation in Tanzania has benefitted women’s employment – access to jobs in the manufacturing, trade, tourism and food industries has increased, whilst women are becoming more educated and capable of taking on a wider range of jobs than before. However, problems still persist in agriculture, as yields per hectare on female-owned land remains much lower than that on male-owned land. Perhaps we need to empower these female landowners so that they are capable of maximising both their farming output and their income.
“If women and girls are not economically and academically empowered, they become slaves of their husbands” – President of Uganda H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (UN Women).
Girls and education
As previously mentioned, girls’ education is compromised in many societies in favour of boys’ education due to a belief that boys will bring a greater return on investment in the future. This means that girls’ education rates are already low and this can be compounded by other factors including early pregnancy and early marriage. In 2010, 12% of females under the age of 20 reported that they had already given birth, which is perhaps unsurprising given 37% of women aged 20-24 reported they had married before the age of 18.
According to Human Rights Watch, less than one-third of girls that enter lower-secondary education end up graduating at the end. Adolescent pregnancy is a major contributor to this: in 2016, almost 3,700 girls dropped out of education due to adolescent pregnancy. Schools are extremely strict on the matter, forcing girls to take pregnancy tests and expelling them if they are found to be pregnant. Furthermore, girls face sexual harassment both within and around the school environment which is often unreported, in part due to the lack of a proper system for confidentially reporting abuse. If girls drop out of school due to pregnancy, social stigma is strongly against them and there is no readmission policy for young mothers.
Allowing girls to access quality education is paramount to social and economic progress. Indeed, a 10% increase in female literacy rates leads to a 10% increase in life expectancy at birth and aids national economic growth by 0.3%. Therefore, it is vitally important that we work to remove the obstacles that prevent girls from completing a full education because it is extremely beneficial for both society and the economy.
– Tanzania has made reasonable progress towards gender equality over the past decade, but a Gender Inequality Index ranking of 125 out of 155 countries highlights that a lot of work is still to be done.
– Social stigma is strongly against women – their roles are often confined to the household, leaving less time for education or employment.
– Violence against women and girls remains a widespread problem that requires a large-scale overhaul of social attitudes towards violence and women.
– Women remain marginalised both economically and politically, which limits female influence in decision-making on a national scale.
– Girls face several barriers to their education such as early marriage, adolescent pregnancy and sexual harassment. Their education is also often compromised for the benefit of the boys in their families.
By Ollie Chow
You can visit Ollie’s blog here.