Uneven development progress leaves rural women behind
MWANZA, TANZANIA – For years, the patriarchal nature of Tanzania has marginalised and disempowered women. In Mwanza, the second biggest city in Tanzania after Dar es Salaam, the rural nature of island communities in the lake zone area is a major social, cultural and economic setback for most women. Not many can go to school, own property or have a career. Today, more women are stepping up as the breadwinner of their families.
When Deborah’s husband died in 2014, she was left with almost nothing. Sending her son to school was a big challenge and her work as a journalist could not sustain them. Several months of salaries were yet to be paid. After struggling to make ends meet, she summoned the courage to quit her job. In 2016, she started a vegetable farm.
“My situation has improved for the better. It has helped me to pay the school fees of my son, buy my own car and build a house,” she said.
However, while women like Deborah –who are urban, educated and connected –have been able to move ahead of their counterpart, a lot of women in the rural areas are still grappling with the discriminatory traditional practice that relegates the role of women strictly to procreative and household work.
Hassan Abdul Kilaka, the acting executive Mwanza Women Development Association [MWDA], an indigenous NGO that caters for the needs of disadvantaged women in rural and urban Mwanza, says while an increasing number of women are becoming more socially and economically liberated, the same cannot be said for women in the rural areas.
“Women in rural areas are left behind in terms of development. If you go to Ukerewe [an island community in Mwanza], the retention of girls in primary and secondary school is still a big problem. The same goes for other small islands. Development is hard to reach there [rural areas] because it is on an island –far from the city.”
According to him, gender violence and discrimination are still prevalent in rural Mwanza. “In some community, women have no right to anything,” he said. “There are still a significant number of young girls who are out of school …this will create a social problem in the future when they become a woman because they will not only be uneducated, they will be un-empowered.”
In spite of this, many rural women serve as the breadwinner to extended families. For instance, every market day, Tabu Machele travel from Ukara to Ukerewe to sell dried Dagaa [silver cyprinid].
Tabu’s job isn’t as simple as that. Apart from maintaining a small farm at home, her Dagaa selling business feeds nine mouths –Tabu, her seven kids and her husband, who she says have been out of a job for a while.
Khadija Liganga, a women rights activist in Mwanza says there are many women like Tamu in Tanzania –who are not educated but are taking on the breadwinner role.
“There are many women who have men in the house and yet the man still does not contribute to the welfare of the family. That is a common story”.
“Now, men are neglecting agriculture. But it is the small farms maintained by women that are providing for the family and used to send their children to school, regardless of the problem they might have encountered,” she said.
But like most rural women, Tabu is not getting much support to assist her in her economic role as a primary provider in the rural economy.
A bag of dried Dagaa costs TSH60, 000. While she sells a small paint plastic for TSH3500 shilling. She makes just TSH500 on each plastic sale. Every market day, traders like Tabu pay TSH4000 daily to bring their products from Ukara to neighbouring Island, Ukerewe.
“When you bring this product into the market, you are supposed to pay TSH500. Also, when you get here, you are supposed to pay another TSH500. That makes TSH1000 in taxes every day. I have to pay another TSH1000 before I leave the market”.
“The taxes are affecting us. We pay money at the ferry, and we also have to pay money at the market before we sell. At the end of the day, we barely make TSH5000 as profit,” she said.
Tabu said, apart from this she has been unable to improve her business because she couldn’t get loan. However, Tabu and some of the market women stated that they are planning to form an association so that they can have access to a loan.
But getting access to finance or loan is very difficult for women, especially those who are living in rural Tanzania. To obtain a loan in Tanzania, one needs to use a valuable asset as collateral. This mostly consists of land, which is quite difficult for most women who live in rural areas because of cultural norms that hinder women from owning properties or lands.
A 2003 International Labour Organization (ILO) study says women in Tanzania face difficulties in accessing bank finance due to lack of property rights (collateral), underestimation by bank officials of women’s capacity to borrow and repay as well as pressure by corrupt officials to give sexual favours.
Besides, some rural women are mostly uneducated about how to obtain official deeds for land or access loan.
In Tanzania, as elsewhere in Africa, when divorced or widowed, most African culture strip the woman of the right to use their husband’s land, which they may have tended for years, thus losing their main source of income, and compromising their economic future. While there are different legal and constitutional provisions that ensure equality for women to rights to land, discriminatory customary laws still prevent women from land ownership and other rights they are supposed to enjoy.
For those in the city like Deborah, the biggest challenge is the sexual proposition they get in a guise of help from men.
Deborah said when she was looking for funds to start her business; she got propositioned by men who wanted her to engage in sexual affairs.
“If the person I am seeking help from is a man, he wants me to have sex with him. That is a big challenge in Tanzania. If you don’t want him, you will lose everything. If you say yes, you will be okay, but you will be his slave forever,” she said; adding that “It doesn’t matter if you are married or single or you are a grandmother. When they want you, they will do everything to get you”.
In spite of this, women persevere. They are willing to face whatever challenges to secure the future of their children.
However, Khadija says while it is good news that women are increasingly becoming empowered and taking financial responsibility within their families, it is equally a challenge.
“There are women who work in the office but do not have control on how their salary is spent. They have to give their salary to their husbands at the end of the month.”
“The same goes for those in the rural areas, during the farming period, the women and men do together. They farm, cultivate and harvest the crop together. But when it is the time of sales, they leave the selling to the women and wait at home to collect and lord over the money –stating what and how the money will be shared,” she said.
To empower women in Mwanza, every first day of the year, Khadija organises ‘women roundtable’, a forum that “brings women of different profession around Mwanza together to learn from each other”.
“The network is important for women because it helps them to connect with each other and share ideas on solutions to the problem. We use one woman to be an ambassador to another,” she said. “At the women roundtable, we gather women from different profession so that they can learn from each other.”
In its first year , the programme attracted only 12 participants. In the following year, 150 women participated in the women round table. Khadija says the group is looking forward to organising a forum for men in the future “to know their responsibility because women are taking over men’s responsibility as the provider.”
But the problem is rural women rarely get to enjoy such economic empowerment programmes.
Abdul Kilaka says “Most of the women empowerment campaigns and programmes are done in the urban areas. Organisations advocating about women empowerment should also go to the rural areas.”
He also urged the government to raise more awareness about women rights and empowerment in rural areas. “The Community Development Officers should be mostly employed in the rural areas where they can address issues concerning women empowerment and not in urban centres,” he said.
In spite of these challenges, Abdul Kilaka says there is a bright future for women in Mwanza, especially those in urban areas. “In the city, you will find that the number of girl enrolment in schools has increased and there are now more women-focused and led NGOSs and CBOs”.
But for women in the rural areas, he said, “more work needs to be done.”
This story was reported with the support of an African Great Lakes Fellowship from the International Women’s Media Foundation.