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SPRING 2007  · DECEMBER 2006 · JULY-AUG 2006 · APRIL--MAY 2006 · FEBRUARY 2006
Lost City · Black History Month  · Corruption in Kenya · Women Leaders · Harry Belafonte  · St. Patrick's 4 · Out of Sight, Out of · Karen Kwiatkowski  · Samir Khader · The Quest for Peace · The Magic Man · President Pinocchio · Exxpose Exxon · Rocky Flats · Impeachment · Words of Inspiration · Night

Click above, for articles in this issue.

The following essay was originally published by Pambazuka News.  Pambazuka News is the weekly electronic forum for social justice in Africa,   (Pambazuka means arise or awaken in Kiswahili) it is a tool for progressive social change in Africa. Pambazuka News is produced by Fahamu, an organization that uses information and communication technologies to serve the needs of organizations and social movements that aspire to progressive social change.


Women leaders: Rights for all women or only ruling women?

by Salma Maoulidi


The recently concluded general elections and the appointment of the new cabinet have attracted mixed reviews. In particular, gender activists and progressive voices laud the unprecedented appointment of women holding key posts in the cabinet as a positive development. Hongera to all appointees! Skeptics, on their part, are crossing their fingers waiting for one faux pas to criticize the President for his audacious move.

And what do I say to all this? For those who have watched Boyz in the Hood, there is a line that I will make reference to in putting this historic feat in its proper perspective. The line is uttered by Angela Basset to Laurence Fishburn, the father of her son Trey, who unlike many black men in the projects has chosen to be involved in the upbringing of his son and wanted some recognition from his ex. She informed him that he is far from special since what he is doing is what women have done for centuries without accolade. Indeed, women have led families and communities - clothed them, fed them, educated them and cared for them with little appreciation from society or the government.

But I will be more generous and credit President Kikwete for being bold in actually being the President who had enough courage and confidence to do what his predecessors thought was unthinkable or perhaps unpalatable for the masses. And he scores highly. But more can be done. For instance, since it is not only women in public office that matter, what about the home front: Is our first lady apt to represent us? What about the wives of the other big shots in government, since this empowerment has to start at home lest the appointments are not seen as genuine but token gestures, albeit with weight.

Also, Tanzania is yet to ratify the African Union's Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa when countries without a history of progressive legislation with regards to women, like Mauritania, have. The Protocol offers great opportunity for women to push for the realization of gender equality in national laws. How can we continue thus when our very own Getrude Mongella is the president of the Pan African Parliament?

Indeed, the general elections 2005 have recorded important milestones for women in Tanzania. More women stood as candidates, not just in their traditional roles as supporters. In some respects they provided a good challenge to male figures. (Hon. Mary Nagu successfully contested against the outgoing Prime Minister, Fredrick Sumaye, in Hanang constituency, such that the latter decided to gracefully withdraw his name. Hon. Daniel Yona was not so lucky and was given a run by Hon. Anne Kilango.)

It is however notable that during the race, most political parties did not give a lot of visibility to women. Only two parties had female running mates, NCCR Mageuzi and CHADEMA, the latter only after the death of his first running mate. Only one party stood as a female candidate. It was perhaps at the constituencies that women were expected to rise up, and to a certain extent their performance is not bad. In fact it could have been better if bribes and education were not the determining factor in approving candidacy. Thus in a Parliament of 319, at present there are 97 women. Of these 75 are special seats, 3 are presidential appointments and 2 are from the Zanzibar House of Representative.

It is disconcerting that of the six female ministers, only two successfully got elected into parliament by contesting in their constituencies. The rest, including long-term political figures, have not been able to secure the vote of the electorate and are elected into the government by virtue of nomination or presidential appointment. This indicates that whereas these women are renowned at national and international levels, they are yet to gain the confidence of local populations. There is thus more work to be done in raising the profile of women candidates at the local levels. Conversely it indicates how key affirmative action measures are in guaranteeing that women will get access to positions of influence otherwise closed to them on account of sexist attitudes or political naivete.

This did, however, not spell doom as elected officials of the new parliament began the first coup by electing the first female deputy speaker in the person of Anna Makinda, a long term politician and former minister and regional commissioner. She was unopposed. Perhaps this gave the new president the confidence to outdo parliament by electing 6 women in key cabinet positions like foreign affairs, finance, constitutional affairs, education, president's office and community development. He appointed even more deputy ministers who are women, also in key ministries. It therefore remains to be seen how the public will judge these women compared to the male personalities that have occupied the seats of power since independence.

Activists can take comfort knowing that the president went out of his way to attract a cabinet with women who have been civically engaged. Dr. Asha Rose Migiro for example is a lawyer, who has a history in the women's movement as well as in efforts to build a strong civic culture. Ms. Sitta on the other hand is an educationalist with a long history in the Teachers Union as well as in teaching. The president thus scores highly in electing women who are seasoned leaders and champions of rights, which should dispel any thought that these women were purely rewarded for some favour, without taking into consideration their competence.

What is worrisome, however, is whether they can maintain their feisty spirit once in office where bureaucracy and 'politics' dictate performance. We know, for example, from the Kibaki government in Kenya, that upon assuming legislative or administrative positions many activists who came from Kenyan civil society and were invited to join the government became subdued and could no longer take on the government the way they did when operating from the outside. Effectively, their appointment is an effective way to appease or neutralize them since they now are sworn to the office and 'collective responsibility', not the voters. Of course the situation in Tanzania has an added dimension of unwavering loyalty to the party and its manifesto, which is more paramount than any nationalistic fervour.

Already there are worrying signs as to how much revolution these women will muster once in office. The party manifesto is clear, as is the existing policy framework, which intends to continue the same trend of neo-liberal expansion and accumulation adopted with the economic liberalization agenda in the early nineties. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Asha Rose Migiro, has already indicated that her priority will be economic diplomacy. We can make our own conclusions as to what this means. Nonetheless, what implication will this have on socio-economic and socio-cultural rights which she has been working on and which without doubt were key issues at the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children where she last served? Also, will this compromise the rights of local producers, a key concern for women and social justice groups in the recently concluded Hong Kong Ministerial?

Hon. Zakia Meghji has been appointed to head finance. She comes from a successful spin at the Ministry of Tourism where she recorded key gains in publicizing Tanzania as an important tourist destination, encouraged ecotourism and local tourism. She is one of the senior ministers as this will be the third government she serves under. Nevertheless, there is great concern about the vices of the tourism industry and its impact on women - low wages with little labour protections, prostitution and loss of livelihood in some areas where tourist hotels have been established.. More importantly, how does this history influence budgetary allocations in the future? Certainly, gender activists would like to see more allocation to social services, especially to reproductive health, education and water.

What is my role and others like me after the jubilation in closing in on the seat of power? Often times, as activists we have not been as critical of our own when they come to positions of power. Also we have not been as helpful to them, thinking that they are better placed to help our cause and us. We do not recognize that while the positions mean these women are well connected, they may need us more than ever to provide them with vital information in key policy areas: to be their extra pair of eyes, ears and heart, so to speak. It is therefore a defining moment for all of us.

Our biggest challenge is whether we will be courageous enough to demand the same level of performance and accountability from our sisters and colleagues as we do from those who seem opposed to our doctrines. We should be brave to criticize where needed and praise where warranted. We can no longer afford to be content thinking that since she is 'one of us' our business is in good hands. We also cannot afford to be silenced by a sense of loyalty to a sister, a friend, a relative, or a comrade when there are bigger issues at stake. In fact these friends depend on us to give them the reality check they need to remain sane and committed, a luxury public office does not always afford. Certainly, the experiences in South America with the left, as well as the experience in Kenya, underscore that as activists we can't afford to drop our guard.

Importantly, we have an obligation to the citizens of our country. This is the only truth we can't afford to loose sight of. Similarly, we have for decades, if not centuries, called for an even playing field, for similar treatment and opportunity. Slowly, our voices are being heard and the doors of leadership are creaking open. We must therefore ensure that women can indeed make a difference once in office, a difference that is seen and felt in action, in culture and in impact. Certainly, if we want more women to be considered for leadership positions in the future we have to create a positive impression all round lest we fall victims to the ‘See, women can’t lead’ rejoinder.

Salma Maoulidi has an LLM in Law from Georgetown Law. Affiliated to the women's national and transnational movement with a strong interest in social justice issues and development, she is currently heading a women's development network, Sahiba Sisters Foundation, that aims at building the leadership and organizational capacities of women and youth in Tanzania.  This essay is reprinted herein with the author's consent.

Posted  February 19, 2006

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