Quarter a century ago, the world gathered in Beijing, China, for the 4th World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace that was held from 4-5 September, 1995. It was a conference like no other. Convened by the United Nations, it brought together 189 Member States. This was a conference of great historic significance. It was a conference on women, about 50 percent of the world population. If it was about half of the world’s population, then it was about the world. After two weeks of intense deliberation Member States adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
As a country, Tanzania is proud to have had one of its own as the Secretary-General of the 4th World Conference on Women, a legendary Tanzanian woman, the Honourable Gertrude Ibengwe Mongella. That, in a significant way, gives the Beijing Conference and its outcome a special place in the history of our country.
Tanzania’s recognition of the role of women and the importance of equity and equality goes way back before the landmark Beijing Conference and indeed before many other world conferences on women. Women in Tanzania were part and parcel of the independent struggles both on Tanzania Mainland (then Tanganyika) and Zanzibar. To mention just a few Bibi Titi Mohammed, Sophia Kawawa both of Tanzania mainland, and Bibi Maftah of Zanzibar
Twenty-five years after Beijing, the twelve critical areas identified in the Platform for Action continue to shape plans and programs for women’s advancement and equality in many countries including Tanzania.
As we look to the future it is opportune to take stock of the progress made in the context of the cross-cutting nature of the Beijing Platform for Action. One of the key steps in moving the women’s agenda forward was creating relevant structures at the government level to facilitate implementation of the agreed areas of action.
Structurally Tanzania’s commitment started in the 1980s when women’s affairs were placed in the Office of the President responsible for regional administration and local government in the department for local government, community development, cooperatives and markets. Increasingly the government of the day saw the need to focus on women’s development as an important aspect of government planning and resource allocation. In 1990 the department responsible for women’s affairs was elevated to a full Ministry now known as the Ministry of Community Development, Women and Children. This Ministry spearheaded significant steps in advancing the women’s agenda. Notable policies were established that put a firm foundation for women’s advancement and equality. In 2002 this ministry was renamed the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children to take its vital place in mainstreaming gender issues given their cross-cutting nature. In 2015 this Ministry was merged with the then Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to become the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.
Looking at the evolution of government structures, it is evident that Tanzania combined its own internal policies and significant global milestones to strengthen its agenda on women following the major women’s conferences in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985).
Since the Beijing Conference, the advancement and equality of women and girls in Tanzania has been a key narrative at the political level and more so in the implementation of social and economic policies and other development programmes. One of the first crucial steps after Beijing was to move from the hitherto incremental steps of women’s empowerment to the establishment of a strong government ministry responsible for gender equality and women’s advancement. This Ministry was charged, among other responsibilities, with the task of preparing a national plan of action to implement the critical areas of the Platform for Action. The National Plan of Action saw the Ministry work with sectoral ministries, government departments, non-governmental organisations and other key stakeholders to work for gender equality, women’s advancement and promotion of women’s rights.
Like in many other countries, the government of Tanzania took the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as visionary tools in the advancement of women, equality and protection of women’s rights. In 1998, just a few years after Beijing, Tanzania enacted a comprehensive piece of legislation to curb sexual abuse and exploitation especially of women and girls. The Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act (SOSPA), 1998, was enacted as a critical step to safeguard women and girls’ rights to dignity and self-esteem. Again in 1999, our country took another historic step to promulgate land policies that led to the enactment of crucial laws to guarantee women’s rights over land. This was done through the Land Acts of 1999 (Acts numbers 4&5 of 1999). Since then Tanzania has been making notable strides in consolidating equality and the advancement of women.
In the critical area of women’s participation in decision-making, the last 25 years of the Beijing Platform have seen rising numbers of women leaders in Tanzania, from grassroots to national level. In the executive, Tanzania today has a female Vice-President, the Hon. Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first ever in the history of our country.
For Parliament, the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977, requires that women should constitute at least 30% of the total. In addition, the President has powers to nominate ten people to Parliament. In this case the Constitution requires that among the ten five of them must be women, giving a boost to the 30%. These two requirements, enshrined in Article 66 (1) of the Constitution, aim at ensuring that at all times there is an acceptable minimum number of women in Parliament. Currently there is a total of 377 members of Parliament of whom 113 are women through the constitutionally provided affirmative action. Directly elected female members from geographical constituencies are 26. With these numbers Tanzania becomes one of the countries in the world that have a significant presence of women in Parliament at 37% of the total.
Apart from Parliament considerable progress has been made in the Judiciary. At the Magistrates’ Courts level there are 431 women magistrates out of 888. This is a good 49%. For court registries, out of 47 registrars 17 are women, this is about 36%. A similar upward trend has been seen in the High Court where out of 69 judges 24 are women, making it 36%. In the Court of Appeal there are 21 judges, 7 seven of whom are women, equivalent to 33%. Although not rising to the foregoing percentages, in Cabinet there are women ministers holding crucial portfolios such as education, science and technology, health, investment and parliamentary affairs. In district and town councils there are 30 executive directors out of 185, which is about 16%.
This noteworthy progress at different levels has created a different development trajectory for our country than at any time before. What it has meant is that not only are women visible in those positions but their voice can effectively be heard and presence acknowledged – their being where decisions are made has clearly impacted laws, policies and development programs – as stated earlier there have been positive effects on property rights; land ownership; political representation and leadership.
In addition to the foregoing, major strides have been made in other development sectors thereby creating a firm enabling environment for the advancement of women and girls socially and economically. One of the key areas highlighted in the Beijing Platform is education and skills development. The fifth-phase government led by the President, H.E. Dr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, has reaffirmed the well-known fact that education opens many opportunities that would enable women and girls improve their lives and make them active participants in the development of their country. In this regard the government has progressively worked to increase access to education under the current plan of free education for all from primary to secondary level. In the first three years of President Magufuli’s leadership, the number of pupils enrolling in primary schools has risen tremendously. Between 2016 and 2018 enrolment went up from about 8.2 million to approximately 10.1 million pupils, a rise of 22%. In the first year of secondary education enrolment rose from 448,826 in 2015 to 652,030 by 2018. This is an increase of 45%. Girls in particular have enrolled in noticeably large numbers, preparing the ground for higher secondary where the rise has been between 21 and 25%. The government has also put in place various programs to ensure skills development including through vocational training centres as a means of empowering women and girls both on the social and economic front.
The huge step by the government to increase access to education stands to benefit girls in a special way because of the historic disadvantage that has affected them at various stages of their upbringing. On the other hand, it has set the stage for women and girls to advance from secondary to tertiary institutions within and outside Tanzania. In this regard a framework of cooperation in the educational sector between the Peoples’ Republic of China and Tanzania will be of immense value.
In the health sector there has been a notable improvement in service delivery especially in maternal and child health. Many health centres and dispensaries have been built. Delivery wards have been renovated or made anew equipped with modern facilities. Similarly, availability of essential medicines has improved significantly. Women’s health is one of the important areas of the Beijing Platform to which the fifth-phase government gives top priority.
The provision for social services has gone hand in hand with infrastructure development which is the flagship of the fifth-phase government. Roads have been built, bridges constructed and rail and air transportation improved at an unprecedent speed. As it is well known, reliable infrastructure is key to unlocking the economic potential of the people especially of women and youth who form majority of small and medium business enterprises. Infrastructure development has given an impetus to women’s participation in economic activities. They are now moving from small to medium enterprises in agri-business, textile, fruit and vegetable processing. Another flagship policy of the fifth-phase government is industrialisation. Many industries have been established thereby creating employment, facilitating skills development and opening opportunities for women.
Tanzania’s progress so far serves to show how instrumental the Beijing Platform has been in creating the necessary framework for women’s advancement. As we look to the coming years, Tanzania will continue to stay the course of empowering women and girls as a crucial aspect of its social, economic and political development agenda. When the Platform for Action turned 10 years, the former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said: “there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”. As we mark 25 years since the 4th World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace, that statement still rings true. A lot has been done, a lot more can be done. The Beijing Torch shines on. Tanzania marches forward.
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