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Demo Finland’s work in Tanzania examined in a Master’s thesis

“The study established that the role of Demo Finland is visible and a lot of changes have happened since the organization started supporting women empowerment in Tanzania.”

Emma Palonen, student of international business at the University of Vaasa, has examined the role of Finnish international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) in empowering Tanzanian women in her Master’s thesis. The thesis, entitled “Exploring the Role of Finnish International NGO’s in Women Empowerment in Tanzania” focuses on Demo Finland’s programme in Tanzania as a case study. The programme enhances gender equality in Tanzanian politics by supporting the cross-party cooperation of women politicians.

Palonen worked in Tanzania as Demo’s intern in the summer of 2012. She had the opportunity to see the programme in action herself. The research data consists mainly of interviews with different stakeholders as well as of observation in the field. The objective of the study is to find out how women experience the effects of the programme’s actions. Furthermore, it identifies accomplishments made in women empowerment and analyses challenges met on the way.

Demo’s programme in Tanzania aims at strengthening gender equality and women’s participation in politics. Results can be attained only by empowering women. In practice, the programme supports education, capacity building and cross-party cooperation of female politicians in Tanzania. The Tanzania Women Cross-Party Platform (T-WCP) was officially launched in Dar es Salaam in 2010, but Demo has been working with the women wings of Tanzanian parliamentary parties since 2006.

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In Tanzania, there are many factors that hinder the active political participation of women, such as lack of funds for campaigning or patriarchal traditions. Due to traditional customs and beliefs, many women lack self-confidence or consider themselves inferior in matters of decision-making and politics. Women remain underrepresented in the country’s politics, and often the women in the Parliament or in political parties do not have genuine power or the possibility to get their voices heard in decision-making processes.

Palonen’s empirical findings show that Demo has, to a great extent, succeeded in its objective to strengthen the role of women, and that many women experience that the programme has had a positive impact on their lives in a concrete way. The programme has helped women to get organised and become more active in politics, as well as increased their self-confidence and courage to take part in decision-making on different levels. According to the research, increased self-confidence and courage to participate and campaign are the main impacts the programme has had on the lives of Tanzanian women.

“Through these educational seminars, we have been able to reduce the strong impact of traditions and customs that do not fit in this age and that only serve to oppress women.”

The research shows that empowering women has also had impact on a concrete level by increasing family income, land ownership, freedom of speech and freedom of movement. The impact is not limited to the women directly involved since these women have also continued the work by empowering other women in different ways. The impact is extended also by the fact that women’s strengthened role in decision-making has a positive influence on women’s role in general. Some of the women interviewed by Palonen had been elected or had found the courage to stand in elections due to their involvement in the programme.

“My party got a woman as a chairperson through the Demo program. The program also turned a lot of other women into city councillors and village chairpersons.”

Strengthening women’s cross-party cooperation is one of the goals of Demo’s programme in Tanzania. The founding and the work of T-WCP indicates that results have been accomplished, but the empirical findings of Palonen’s thesis also prove the significance of the programme in attaining this goal. The interviewed women find their cooperation in T-WCP important because by working together, the women’s wings of political parties can more effectively get their voices heard than by working only inside their parties. Women have also had an opportunity to build networks. The creation of this kind of collaboration in spite of different party backgrounds or political views was new for many participants.

“The Demo Tanzania local coordinator was here to conduct a seminar where we were taught to put our political differences aside and come together as women, we were all mixed together and trained on different matters. We did all the group discussions and exchange ideas together.”

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In her thesis, Palonen has also identified challenges and difficulties that have hindered and continue to hinder women empowerment. In general, the challenges are related to traditions and customs. Although Demo, along with many other NGOs, has been working to strengthen the role of women in Tanzania, women still face many obstacles when struggling for a more equal society. Cultural factors are the major underlying issue contributing to these obstacles. On the other hand, the activities of one organisation are always limited which means they cannot answer to all the needs on the field. Also, even if the government and political institutions appear to be incorporating women into politics, this incorporation is often minimal, which further hinders the work of NGOs.

According to the interviews, concrete problems resulting from patriarchal culture are lack of education and low self-confidence among women, and threats by men towards politically active women. The programme has also faced challenges like poor implementation of women’s plans due to tight budgets or lack of skills. Often the women also expect to see changes faster than is possible, which brings disappointment. Difficulties of transport and lack of facilities like computers also pose practical challenges for the programme. Especially for the women living in rural areas, these difficulties may be impossible to overcome.

Palonen also mentions several needs and hopes that came up in the interviews. For example, Tanzanian women feel they need more training on entrepreneurship and support for activating young women. They also wished to learn how to get people more committed to political parties, because moving from one party to another is a common phenomenon.

“Since Finnish women politicians are succeeding well in involving young girls into politics, Tanzanian women politicians need to be trained on how to approach young people in general and young women from universities/colleges in particular so they can participate in politics.”

One of the findings in Palonen’s thesis is that even though Demo Finland is widely trusted in the biggest political parties and its work is well-known among them, there are some doubts on the grass roots level that the programme would only support the parties in power or, on the contrary, the opposition. All in all, Demo’s activities in Tanzania are seen as positive and important, and the programme is believed to have influenced on the activity and success of women in the 2010 elections. Thus, according to the research, women empowerment in different ways has been advanced.


The quotes are from Emma Palonen’s Master’s thesis “Exploring the Role of Finnish International NGO’s in Women Empowerment in Tanzania”.

Photos: Demo Finland and Tomi Lounio

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