Good laws alone won’t bridge gender gaps, we need more awareness

21Jan 2023
Carlos Banda
The Guardian
Good laws alone won’t bridge gender gaps, we need more awareness

REFORMS such as the famous women’s rights movement of 1848 to 1917 which envisaged today’s right to vote plus other entitlements that followed reminds us that women are not supposed to be viewed as a fragile group in the society that should wait for a rescue by a knight in shining armor.

Changes in lifestyle in today’s world propelled by changes brought forth by technology and massive interaction amongst societies across the globe demand that women have a stake in making history as leaders, pioneers, philanthropists, innovators, policy and decision-makers, business owners, land owners and so much more alongside men in the running of societies and nations.

“Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table. We need a global understanding that we cannot implement change effectively without women's political participation,” said Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.

The words of Markle clearly point to the relevance of having women being enabled, empowered and given a voice to bring light and progress alongside men as both parties need each other’s contribution in ensuring global economic stability.

It is so much so in the developing countries like Tanzania which need radical reforms to allow women on the same table with men as part of the decision-making to bring change and progress that impacts the lives of men, women and children.

According to the 17th Economic Update by the World Bank entitled ‘Empowering Women: Expanding Access To Assets and Economic Opportunities’, shows that Tanzania’s female labour force participation rate rose from 67 per cent in 2000 to 80 per cent in 2019, which is a record above 63 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa and among the highest on the continent.

Despite the significance of such progress for women attributed to reforms aimed at empowering women, it is argued in some circles that the female population still faces setbacks in accessing and controlling resources such as land, houses and financial services.

The bottlenecks are largely caused by a number of factors, one being cultural hegemony whereby the male is dominant over the female and secondly, the presence of unfriendly economic structures and bureaucracies in terms of procedures needed for women to have access and control of economic facilities.

Najma Hussein Abdallah Haji, the Executive Director of Zanzibar Women Chamber of Commerce and Member of the Generation Equality Forum Advisory Committee, argues that women contribute significantly to the national economy considering the fact that the 2022 Housing and Population Census showed that Tanzania has a total of 31,687,990 women which is 51.3 per cent of the total population compared to men who stand at 30,053,130 or 48.7 per cent.

She says that women and youth who make up a large portion of the micro-economic sector achieve little or no progress in entrepreneurial activities due to the fact that the present structure financial services and institutions do not provide a friendly environment for women to excel.

This includes access to loans and fiscal aid with restrictions which demand women to have collateral in terms of immovable assets like land, hence resulting in women’s failure to access funds and services in order to expand their capital and businesses.

Haji also notes that in the cultural aspect, movements that are channeled in helping women economically have been viewed as a threat to male dominance. This, she argues, has led to misrepresentation and misinterpretation of what women’s empowerment is all about, adding that even the use of the word ‘gender’ is associated with women alone while it’ is a reference to both sexes, male and female.

Thus, as a result, women in communities have been forced to remain home with no means to generate income but rather depend solely on their husbands as breadwinners. In this formula, when a husband dies, the woman and her children become vulnerable and often lose inheritance to husbands’ relatives and become financially crippled and in some cases homeless.

Hassan Hamisi Juma, Executive Director of the Association of Non-Government Organizations in Zanzibar (ANGOZA) says there are already initiatives including legal frameworks that are geared at helping women gain access to land ownership but notes that the problem is that most individual males and communities fail to accept this economic right for women.

“The fact that such laws and regulations that protect women’s rights are not observed is a major hindrance to realizing gender equality and the reforms that intend to help more women have access to and control of resources,” he said.

The 17th Economic Update by the World Bank shows that Tanzanian women continue to face serious constraints with regard to access to land, labour and productive assets. It indicates that 25 per cent of men are sole owners of land versus just 8 per cent of women while 7 per cent of women are sole homeowners compared to 26 per cent of men. Tanzania’s rates of both landownership and homeownership are below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa due, largely, to low rates among women.

According to Juma, the most convenient solution apart from leaders acknowledging and implementing initiatives to address such challenges, educational reforms are also necessary to increase awareness on women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality.

“Narrowing provision of such awareness on equality should begin in schools where a special topic on gender issues is taught and continued in terms of advancing understanding of the agenda along the educational ladder from primary to university,” he said.

“Having such awareness is paramount in having a future where disregard for gender rights is not a norm and a future where generational equality is a real life practice rather than an agenda spoken and understood by the minority.”

In light of the ongoing debates and discussions on gender equality, it is important for us as a nation to understand that alleviating poverty is possible when all groups are involved in production, access and ownership of resources.

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