Covid-19 thwarts women’s dreams of becoming leaders in Zanzibar

16Sep 2020
By Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Covid-19 thwarts women’s dreams of becoming leaders in Zanzibar

​​​​​​​AS the 2020 general election nears, hundreds of women in Zanzibar who were interested to vie for different political posts failed to do so due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

In separate interviews, some women says Covid-19 outbreak took a toll in the Isles’ political landscape as it affected various social and economic activities, putting women in the Indian Ocean archipelago in a tight corner.

 “As women, we started preparing ourselves psychologically and intellectually on how we could get into this year’s elections, but suddenly, the disease broke out and completely destroyed our dreams,” says Halima Ibrahim, one of the women in Zanzibar.

Halima, a parliamentary candidate for Malindi through ACT-Wazalendo ticket says before the outbreak of COVID-19, the 2020 general election was an election for women. To her, COVID-19 pandemic has robbed women of the opportunity to realize their dreams.

“Women were in preparation to vie for different political posts, but all of a sudden the pandemic hit the world and Zanzibaris had nowhere to hide, rather than being forced to stay home and nothing was going on,” she recounts.

 “It wasn’t easy for me to get this chance. I work hard and fought for this, I thank God that I managed to overcome the competition but majority of women here failed to due to various challenges which were brought by Covid-19 pandemic, this include economic hardship and lack of enough time to market their policies to the public. During this time women spent much time taking care of children who were also on holiday.”

According to her, COVID-19 pandemic forced all people including women to stay home denying them an opportunity to meet with people so as to exchange ideas as well as market their goals and priorities.

Vuai Ali Vuai, a veteran politician and former CCM deputy secretary general in the Isles also says that the outbreak of COVID-19 has left many women unable to achieve their goals considering many of them were not financially capable to bring members together.

“I believe that if it wasn’t Covid-19 outbreak, Zanzibar could have witnessed wonders this year especially with the number of women in politics,” he says.

However he says Zanzibar political atmosphere has changed, as of now there are more women who are coming out and vie for various political positions.

“This year, the number of women has increased even more, we have seen six women from CCM vying for presidential post, this is not normal in Zanzibar, it was very rare to see a woman in politics,” he attests.

According to him, many women are now aware and eager to be leaders in their communities and nation at large because they have recognized that they have great potential.

Mgeni Hassan Juma, the former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives says that various efforts made by activists to educate and encourage women to vie for leadership positions bore fruit as there are many women, who have developed interests to get into political leadership as compared to the past.

Mgeni cited the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) in Zanzibar as one of the organizations which spent much of their efforts to educate and capacitate women on the issues of leadership in Unguja and Pemba.

“But, COVID-19 outbreak shuttered women’s dream to get into political leadership in Zanzibar. I believe that majority of women suffered psychological torture and failed to fulfill their goals,” Juma says

Kheri Abdalla Ally from Magombeni area in Unguja town admits that the outbreak of coronavirus reduced the room for more people to get civic education including the need for women to effectively take part in the democratic process.

“The disease came in at the critical time when people were supposed to be trained on all issues related to election. And that’s why we see there are few women who are taking part in this year’s election,” Ally says.

He believes that if women were well informed on election issues, things would have been improved.

Dr Mzuri Issa, Director of Tamwa- Zanzibar says that the association has invested much on civic education particularly encouraging women to take part in different political leaderships in Unguja and Pemba islands.

 This was made possible through a number of initiatives including a campaign known as ‘Male Change Agent Team (MCAT)’, aimed at changing mindset of the community towards women full participation in political decision making bodies in the country.

According to Dr Mzuri, more than 1,000 women were empowered with skills on how get into politics and vie for different posts across Zanzibar, “but unfortunately, many of them failed to realize their dreams due to a number of reasons including the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Women shouldn’t be discouraged with what happened, they should continue to work on their dreams and one day their dreams will come true because I believe women have that ability to lead,” she suggests

Apart from Covid-19 outbreak, there is a need to change mindset of the community towards women full participation in political decision making bodies in Isles as of now there is a negative perception on women leadership.

 Secretary of ACT Wazalendo committee leadership, Salim Abdalla Bimani says that the party has provided equal opportunities for all members including women, attesting:

“For the first time large number of women came out and are contesting for different political posts—parliamentarian and House of Representatives. This is because; we know the potentials of women in political leadership.”

He encourages women to continue fighting for their rights of being elected in different political posts within ACT Wazalendo and other parties.

Alliance for Democratic Change (ADC) presidential candidate in Zanzibar Hamad Rashid Mohamed also points out that equality in leadership remain a priority in his party, saying: “That’s why in the union presidential race, we’ve given the chance to a women.”