Tag: gender politics

Tanzania’s female politicians being trained to campaign in a male-dominated political world

(L to R) Burundi Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe, South African President Jacob Zuma, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete attend the summit to discuss the crisis in Burundi. (Pic: Reuters)
(L to R) Burundi Foreign Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe, South African President Jacob Zuma, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete attend a summit to discuss the crisis in Burundi. (Pic: Reuters)

Aspiring politician Asha Salum is busy trying to convince people in her area of Dar Es Salaam to support her candidacy for a council position at elections later this year, one of a growing number of women seeking political office in Tanzania.

The softly-spoken politician, who at the age of 31 is the youngest candidate for this post in Tegeta in Kawe constituency in 20 years, is one of a new generation of women being groomed to muscle into the male-dominated political world.

The East African nation of about 50 million people has had few women in top leadership positions since adopting a multi-party system in 1992 but female campaigners are hoping to change this at the nation’s fifth general election on Oct. 25.

Salum is one of 2 600 aspiring female politicians to receive training which started this week from a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Tanzania on how to improve their campaigning skills and avoid the sexual pitfalls often faced by Tanzanian women in any bid to advance a career.

“Some women are easily tempted to offer sexual corruption to officials so their names are considered for nomination,” Salum told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adorned in the traditional green and yellow of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.

“How many men you will need to sleep with to win a parliamentary or councillorship seat? I think now is the time to say enough is enough to ‘sextortion'”.

The training, organised by the Tanzania Women Cross Party (TWCP), aims to equip female candidates vying in October for presidential, parliamentary and council positions with political skills and techniques.

According to training organisers, the candidates will receive training about topical political issues surrounding the elections, the role of parliament and local councils, and relevant election law rules and regulations.

Presidential hopes
Four female candidates have expressed interest in running for president on the CCM ticket, including the former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Asha-Rose Migiro.

This is the first time in Tanzania that women have come forward seeking nomination for the presidential job.

“By implementing the party’s manifesto I will build an independent and modern economy to benefit all Tanzanians,” said Migiro on collecting her nomination form this week.

Migiro, a lawyer by profession, worked at the United Nations under Ban Ki-moon from 2007 to 2012 and has become the 12th Tanzania cabinet minister to express interest in succeeding President Jakaya Kikwete who is due to retire later this year.

Tanzania has tried to ensure substantial political representation of women with a quota system defining 30 percent of the 357 seats in Parliament as “special seats” reserved for women. Political parties that gain at least 5 percent of the vote in the general election nominate these women.

But women’s rights campaigners are concerned most of the women in Parliament are in quota seats and not elected directly from constituencies which limits their support for the top jobs.

Campaigners are concerned that women lack the skills, education and experience to carve out a successful career in politics and many lack the financial security to be able to focus on politics rather than the basic needs of their families.

A recent Afrobarometer survey also found that violence in African politics may discourage female participation.

“There’s no democracy in the political parties. Female candidates are often ignored in the nomination process and that’s why we need to train them to reverse that unfair trend,” Ave Maria Semakafu, the chairwoman of TWCP told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Although the number of female legislators rose to 35 percent at the 2010 election from 21.5 percent in 2000, rights groups says it not enough as only 17 were elected from constituencies.

Willibrod Slaa from the opposition Chadema party and vice-chair of Tanzania Centre for Democracy, said action was needed.

“No serious party can any longer ignore that women constitute 51 percent of this country and we simply need to be much better at including them in politics,” he told the centre’s annual conference earlier this year.

Despite the challenges, women’s participation in politics has improved in most African countries in the past two decades.

Malawi recently swore in its first female president, Joyce Banda, and Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has occupied her country’s highest office since 2006.

Rwanda leads the world in the share of female legislators at 63.8 per cent of the seats, according to United Nations data.

Senegal, the Seychelles and South Africa have more than 40 percent, and Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda are not far behind with women in about 35 percent of parliamentary seats.

Salum said she was confident the training would boost her chances to win a seat in October on her own merits.

“I have what it takes to serve my people and solve their problems as existing leaders have failed to do so,” she said.

Legalise polygamy for both men and women

(Graphic: Flickr / charlesfettinger)
(Graphic: Flickr / charlesfettinger)

By now you will have heard,  in the most recent instance of testicular politics,  that Kenya’s Parliament recently passed a Bill that will recognise what they call ‘polygamous unions’. Apparently there haven’t been any real legal provisions for this form of marriage to date, except for citizens of the Muslim faith through the Kadhi court system.

What makes this Bill notable is the fact that the male legislators – the majority – managed to get rid of a clause in the Bill that would require consent on the part of current spouses before a man could bring another contracted partner into his domestic situation. If the Bill is signed into law, wives who have enjoyed a legal monopoly on matrimonial benefits are going to lose their security of tenure just like that. Take note: Kenyan women can’t legally marry multiple men.

If I had a suspicious nature I would imply that judicious pillow-lobbying on the part of shrewd girlfriends and concubines probably explains the enthusiasm with which the Bill was passed. But did they have to turn the contract of marriage into a form of Russian roulette for all other women while they were at it? Of course this Bill deserved a protest. So I stand in solidarity with women of Kenya in terms of opposing this law.

I am disappointed to have to do so because I am very much in support of legalising polygamous marriage and have been for much of my life. Freedom and fair play, say I, and if people have to sign a legal contract for reproductive purposes then let’s at least offer every citizen the same range of flavours.

How did I get so corrupted? Simple, really. Catholic Mathematics.

When I was growing up in one of those delightfully cosmopolitan yet shockingly conservative “middle-class” families, I learned about the birds and the bees and the morality thereof. One man plus one woman plus some love equals legitimate offspring, full stop. Real life, though, didn’t make this lesson convincing. I highly recommend that all children supplement their social education by eavesdropping on their mothers’ conversations with her friends.

Sifting through rants about husbands’ secretaries who wear miniskirts and suchlike, I realised that things were not adding up. All unmarried women were chaste, married women were faithful and men couldn’t keep their zippers closed. Catholic Mathematics? I might not have been in secondary school but I could do addition and percentages. Someone wasn’t being forthright about these birds and bees.

The one who truly sank me, though, was the Zanzibari gentleman who moved next door when I was about eight or so. He had two lovely spouses: a plump older light-skinned one and a slim, shy, dark-skinned younger wife. Not only did they smell deliciously of incense and pilau spices, they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and any opportunity to lavish food and attention on anyone who walked through the door. They seemed happier and healthier than all the desiccated diplomatic wives who darkened our doors with gin and bitterness.

So I thought: yes. People grow up aspiring to their fantasies of fulfillment, be it financial security, fame, power, whatever. Me? Two husbands, maybe three. One to go out and make some serious bacon and wear bespoke suits with great ties to feed my craving for some alpha male. One to stick around at home and make sure the kids get to bed on time and we’re all eating enough greens and bully me into getting a pedicure. One to be the Saturday night special: excitingly undependable, prone to adventures that might land us in jail, entirely too charming and handsome for his own good.

What will I be doing? Well either recovering from a night out with Number Three or chairing a board or simply co-ordinating and popping out and loving the United Colors of Benetton offspring of our unconventional family. I said it was a fantasy. But when these things take root in your formative years, there’s no getting past it.

To lay the Catholic Mathematics to rest, I had to figure out a moral basis for it that works for me and it has to do with polyamorous principles. Turns out it’s entirely possible, and also sane. As usual the laws and legal system are not keeping pace with the progressive nature of our contemporary society. I am only angry with Kenya because this crusade is personal and they have made it difficult for everybody for chauvinist reasons.

Polygamy, mostly polyandry, has always been around and in principle I have no beef with it. But the point is, and always is, to be fair when it comes to legislation. You can’t refuse people rights because of their race, their religion or their just about anything unless you’re unspeakably heinous. So why is it still okay to get gender politics wrong?

By all means, let us condemn this silly Kenyan polygamy Bill and all that it represents. In the meanwhile, though, if anyone is writing up a real progressive alternative please swing it my way. There are guys out there to marry simultaneously and this woman is trying not to run out of time and available options, not to mention patience.

Elsie Eyakuze is a freelance consultant in print and online media from Tanzania, working mainly in the development sector. She blogs at mikochenireport.blogspot.com. Connect with her on Twitter.