Women have always been marginaliSed because of cultural and traditional norms which sideline them, as a result the majority of them have remained outside the scope of politics, education and economic advancements.
In order to help women to improve their quality of life particularly in Pemba and Zanzibar Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) in conjunction with CARE International is running the WEZA project to enhance the quality of life of women through empowerment schemes which provide knowledge and skills building in areas of basic education, human rights, leadership, self and economic empowerment.
Raya Majid (47) a mother of eight children is among the outstanding beneficiaries of Women Empowerment Support Program (WEZA,) lately her life has been transformed in the areas of education-adult education, leadership and business.
Raya who was abandoned by the husband she is now duly elected to the village committee called the Shehia in a race which she beat 10 men to win and sit on this highest local government structure at village level which is generally dominated by men, she notes smiling proudly.
Four years ago her husband abandoned her and she was left alone to fend for her eight children with absolutely no economic backing. She then came across WEZA which empowered her in human rights matters and gave her a legal counsel so that she was able to seek legal redress for her situation. She took the case to Kadhi Court which deals with family, marriages and matrimonial properties issues. But she was not satisfied and she is pursing it further as she wants her husband to support and care for their children.
“I am now very informed and educated enough; I know that it is my responsibility and my right to demand for maintenance from the father of my children” says Raya as she lauded WEZA for narrowing the gender parity between men and women in Pemba.
She is proud that some women in Pemba have been reformed to manage their own lives, fight discrimination of women in most sectors of socio- economy, using family property to change their livelihoods and going to court to demand for their rights, empowerment through business skills and capital from village support loans(VSL).
In the areas of business Raya is now a successful business woman who is now into chicken rearing a skill learnt through WEZA Project and has been able to send her children to school and has built herself a beautiful house. She says I was suffering, humiliated, poor and illiterate but now am able to read and write and send my children to school.
More than 1,300 women have benefited from the empowering WEZA Project. The project has empowered abandoned women with the abilities to fight for their rights with powers to challenge their spouses before the Kadhi and Civil Courts during and after marriage breaks.
Mzuri Issa the Programme Coordinator spoke passionately about women literacy classes saying this project has helped a lot of illiterate rural women who have been completely illiterate to become literate.
“WEZA Project has made community leaders and business entrepreneurs form these women empowerment programmes. Capacity has been given in human rights so that there is someone to lean on and help them fight for their rights and the rights of their children, which was previously not the case.” Adds Mzuri.
Fatma Saidi Abdallah 24, a mother of four is slowly but surely moving towards a better livelihood as a result of WEZA affirmative action.
She told me that the husband abandoned her with her children and she has suffered similar fate of being deserted as Raya, which according to her is a common practice in these islands.
“My husband chased me from my marital home in 2009 and WEZA has helped me change my life around. I was completely illiterate but now I can read, write and have business skills which I have been taught.
I have learnt about human rights and legal rights which have enlightened me to seek redress. All I want is my husband to support me and his children.”
Speaking to Rose Matovu of CARE International Program, currently WEZA Program Coordinator hints that the program enables women to tackle social issues those that are barriers to development particularly the cultural norms that reinforces gender inequality. Such norms demand women to stay at home, discouraging them to go to schools and to participate in politics/leadership matters.
“We are proud to note that because of WEZA we have 60 percent illiteracy with 1,300 women taking adult literacy classes and now they read and write,”
Salim Hamad, a 45-year-old man of Kiungoni shehia who is not a member of WEZA, commends WEZA for empowering women in his area. He says women previously were supported by their husbands completely but now they are self supporting and supplementing their husbands’ efforts.
He cited an example of his 45year old sister who was illiterate and a dependant as now having been empowered. His sister is now rearing chicken of her own and is able to support the family, alongside this she is a vegetable farmer and has learnt that even onions can be grown in this area, a belief that nobody would challenge.
The number of girls being married at young age in our shehia is almost unheard of now as women are educated on the importance of education observes Salim adding that 90 percent of children go to school except for a few who on their own choose to shun school and not because of parents influence as was the case in the past.
* Christine Ngwisha is a Zambia journalist attached to the Tanzania Media Women’s Association TAMWA under the auspices of FK NORWAY Exchange programme.