As a result, women have, since Tanzania attained independence 60 years ago, mainly played observer role when it comes to leadership in this part of the country. This is despite sustained countrywide efforts to bring women on board since the reintroduction of multiparty system in the early 1990s.
According to local leaders, as of 2000s, one of the hardest tasks in Nyihaland was to convince women to attend a public rally and take front seats. Asking them to speak at such gatherings was akin to telling them not to attend at all.
It is against this backdrop that MIICO, an organization based in Mbeya, in collaboration with ActionAid Tanzania in Mbozi District came up with a five-year project (2019-2023) dubbed Strengthening Social Accountability and Oversight Capacity for Rights-based Public Resources Management in Health and Agriculture in Southern Africa (PSA).
Apart from striving to turn around economic prospects of residents through improved agricultural practices, the initiative also sought to give women a voice by making them understand that they can speak for themselves and take up leadership positions as a matter of rights.
The project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is being implemented in five villages in Mbozi District namely Iyula, Itaka, Zelezeta, Idiwili and Hasamba.
Speaking to ‘The Guardian’ during a recent field visit, Catherine Mulaga, MIICO Executive Director said before the intervention in 2019, there was not a single elected woman leader in the entire project area.
“We embarked on a sensitization drive in the areas women’s rights, leadership, children’s rights, gender equality and budget monitoring and analysis,” she said.
Mulaga said the sensitization paid off by seeing confident women starting not only to attend public meetings but ask a question or two before some picking nomination forms to vie for leadership positions.
“Before this project the number of women attending public meetings in villages and hamlets was hardly beyond five but they now make about 70 per cent of such gatherings,” she said.
In the 2019 local government elections, several beneficiaries of the trainings contested village council members and 25 were elected, 10 of them women.
And in 2020 general election, several beneficiaries eyed councillorship posts and two sailed through—one elected ward representative and another scooped as special seats slot. This was a milestone, said Mulaga.
“We are very proud of this achievement; these days village and ward leaders don’t do prepare budget without involving women,” she said.
She said women are more involved in decision-making compared to before when they were simply informed about the decisions already made by leaders (read men).
Women in all villages taking part in the project monitor allocation and expenditure of public funds both from central government and local sources to see if the resources are directed into projects that touch their lives.
Costina Kibona, a mother of three from Hasamba ward, is among villagers who benefited from PSA project. After attending a series of trainings, she says she changed from a “mum” woman into a force to reckon with in local politics.
In 2020 general election, she contested a tough nomination process within her CCM party, won it and latter squared it out with candidates from other parties and was finally declared dully elected Councillor for Hasamba ward.
Since her election victory, she pinpointed maternal health and education as areas of priority. Through her efforts, maternity services have been introduced at Hasamba Dispensary, bringing to an end long journeys heavily pregnant women used to make all the way to Mbozi District Hospital to deliver babies.
“I also worked with villages leaders and mobilized resources which enabled us to construct 17 classrooms at Ndugu secondary school as well as Namile, Muungano and Ilyika primary schools” she said.
Six of the classrooms were constructed at Ndugu secondary school, three classrooms at Namile Primary School, five classrooms at Muungano primary school and three classrooms at Ilyika primary school.
Esther Ngao, a mother of three from Itaka village is another proud beneficiary of the project who was elected member of her Itaka village council in 2019 local government polls.
“Before the trainings I could not stand and speak in public but now I am one of the dependable speakers and respected campaigners,” she said.
“In the 2019 local government elections, a total of 86 candidates contested various leadership positions in Itaka ward and 25 were elected members of the village councils including 10 women,” she said.
“I am proud to one of those women who made history as the highest number of elected female leaders.”
Ajenikisa Kayange who is a member of Mbozi District Council Women Platform said it was thanks to PSA that she was entrusted with the representation role.
She said she uses her presence at the council to solve land disputes at both village and ward levels besides working on initiatives aimed at tackling rampant malnutrition among under-fives as well as high rates of HIV/Aids among adults.
Although Hasamba ward has endowed with arable land suitable for a number of food crops that can help residents stamp out malnutrition, bad eating habits is the biggest challenge since many people sale their produce instead of eating balanced diet, she said.
“Before this intervention, malnutrition and stunting rates were very high here and that led to more children being referred to Mbozi District Hospital for issues that did not need medication but proper nutrition,” she said.
“I am glad to see that this sad trend is being gradually reversed, thanks to sensitization and education on nutrition to the general public nut especially to expectant mothers.
Kayange said that now there are less hospitalizations and referrals to district hospitals due to nutrition issues, meaning that people and parents in particular have changed their eating habits as well as how they feed their children, for the better.