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Has the Time Come for Women in Tanzanian Politics?

Political participation has traditionally been a possibility mostly for men in Tanzania and it has not been easy for women to get their voices heard. Still, in Tanzania, as in many other African countries, women have made their way to leading positions in politics, or at least close enough.

At the moment it is too early to speak of any radical political emancipation of women. The examples from Liberia and Malawi electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Joyce Banda as their countries’ first women presidents show that it is possible to break ‘the glass ceiling’. The African Union also elected its first woman leader, South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in July.

Women in leading positions

In the Rwandan Parliament, approximately half of the members are women, and also in Tanzania female participation is stronger than ever before. At the moment, slightly over a third of the members of Parliament are women in Tanzania, mostly thanks to quotas. But there are also women ministers, and the Speaker of the Parliament is Anne Makinda.

In the beginning of the week there was stir in the press, when Mary Nagu defeated Frederick Sumaye in the ruling party CCM’s National Executive Committee election, and now his whole political career is hanging in the balance.

The opportunities to participate for common Tanzanian women are poor

Women’s position in politics should not be characterized only by the success of elite figures, although they set a powerful example. How common Tanzanian women can affect their daily lives in their families and communities is of greater importance.

Even though there has been positive development, women still get only 63 per cent of the pay that men get for the same job. A third of Tanzanian women are victims of domestic violence and the participation of girls in the upper secondary level is clearly lower to that of boys. These kinds of structural factors clearly harm women’s participation possibilities. In local politics women hold only about 10 per cent of all the seats.

Men’s views on the rise of women politicians

I asked local taxi drivers what they thought of women’s participation in politics; did they think that Tanzanian women are ready to be political leaders? “I don’t think they are” answered a man in his fifties, “because here behind every successful woman politician there is a rich and corrupted man politician”. Other drivers nodded in unison next to him.

The view of the taxi driver is relevant in a sense that the road to leading positions for women is so rocky that they admit themselves that they have to do a lot of compromises and rely on more influential supporters. But very few men politicians have gained their positions without any support from their parties. So why aren’t men diminished in the same way?

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Empowerment with the help of strong role models

Empowerment of an individual requires reinforcing awareness, strong confidence and believing in a common cause. These are essential challenges in the everyday lives of Tanzanian women, because in the midst of constant belittling, a low level of education and with the duties of household work only the strongest of women have had their voices heard.

Demo Finland supports women’s political participation in Tanzania, so that with positive examples also the common women would be encouraged to speak for themselves. In district level democracy education sessions women reinforce their capacities, and with the confidence achieved from education they have challenged their men opponents also in elections. Change won’t probably be fast, but it has started and in different parts of Africa women are taking the leading positions.

Pictures are from the opening of Women’s Cross-Party Platform (T-WCP) which Demo Finland supports.

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