As Canada marks its first Gender Equality Week, we wanted to share the perspectives of women and girls in the communities we partner with in sub-Saharan Africa. After all, gender equality is central to the Government of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. That extends to the global development projects funded through Global Affairs Canada, including Amref Health Africa’s Uzazi Uzima (“Safe Deliveries”) project in the Simiyu Region of Tanzania.
Like all Amref Health Africa projects, Uzazi Uzima works together with the local leaders, communities and government officials to make sure that the health change we help to create will last long after the project is finished. That’s how we met Hon. Tano Mwera, the District Commissioner of Busega, Tanzania. Hon. Tano Mwera is one of the few women to hold the position, and is a champion for gender equality and the health rights of women and girls.
Our Communication, Advocacy and Documentation Officer for the project in Tanzania, Nuru Ngailo, spoke to Hon. Tano Mwera to hear about her experiences and her views on gender equality. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity)
1. NURU: What made you decide to pursue a career in politics?
Hon. Tano Mwera: Since I was in school I was in a special way touched by the problems/issues of the community. Being one of the few candidates who did well in school at that time I was inspired to be the voice of those who did not have the opportunity to speak for themselves. I felt like I was different from the rest and I was carrying something “huge” inside me so I decided to represent my fellow women and be their voice for other development issues. I was also inspired by the history of the late Bibi Titi Mohammed who was the first woman politician elected to be a Minister and Member of Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania after Independence. That’s when I realized that women can do anything if they put their mind to it. I then knew I can also be a politician and represent my community.
2. NURU: What are some of the challenges you have faced being the only female District Commissioner in Simiyu region?
Hon. Tano Mwera: Honestly, I do get a lot of challenges. For example, in most key meetings I am usually the only woman representative so in agendas related to women’s empowerment I am usually the only one defending them, and, at times I am unsuccessful. There was a point in time, for instance, when we were doing interviews for people to go for military training and it was proposed that the number of men should be increased. I refused and questioned why it should only be men and not women also. We debated a lot until the number of women was also increased.
Another challenge is sexual harassment. When you are a woman they don’t take you seriously. Adding to this, some of our cultural practises treat men as superior, which undermines women.
3. NURU: Can you tell us about some of the campaigns you have started and why you started them?
Hon. Tano Mwera: I have started a campaign for girls known as “Msichana Paza Sauti, Jitambue, Elimu Ndio Mpango Mzima” meaning “Girls Speak Out, Recognize Yourself, Education is the Whole Deal”. The campaign was started on International Women’s Day. The campaign has elements of reaching out to girls who are in school and representatives from schools so that they can speak to students about issues such as unprotected sex, teenage pregnancies, avoiding early marriages etc. The campaign is still being developed.
Another campaign I have started is related to women’s empowerment and economic development especially in industrialization. In this, we want all women to recognize themselves and to know their rights. We have started to work on this with our District Advocate to disseminate the information in every ward on marriage rights, the rights that women have after their spouse dies, particularly around property, and rights of women after divorce. This year on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are planning to launch and march so that we reach out to more people.
The major issues I get at my office are issues of land grabbing, property and other rights that women have after their spouse dies, women being neglected by their partners and much more. All these happen because women don’t know their rights. For example, you might find a widow being harassed about family properties after the husband has passed away and being told to leave because the properties now belong to the clan while the law is clear on property rights for widows.
I started these campaigns because I am personally touched by the problems that are faced by my fellow women. In one way or another in my life I have also been affected by these issues. Our nation has put laws in place but those laws are not always being followed. Since I have this position as District Commissioner, I intend to use it to address these issues. I also want all people, including women, to take part in economic development; if we have women who are just at home idle then we will have a waste of the labour force.
4. NURU: What does gender equality mean to you?
Hon. Tano Mwera: I know there is Gender Equity and Gender Equality, and many people confuse the two concepts. If you, for instance, talk about the notion of 50/50 now this is gender equity meaning as women we want equal opportunities. For example, if a Board has 10 people out of which nine are men and one is a woman this is not gender equity.
On the other hand, gender equality is not as many people think – that men and women should be the same in the sense that a woman should dress like a man or be like a man; this is not correct in my view. Most of the people think issues of gender equity are the same as gender equality. What I mostly advocate for is gender equity, meaning that men and woman should get equal opportunities. For example, if it’s salaries/positions at work, it should not be given on the basis that you are a man or woman.
5. NURU: As you know, gender equality is a key principle of the Uzazi Uzima project. Can you speak about the alignment between the Uzazi Uzima project and your work?
Hon. Tano Mwera: I’m interested in Uzazi Uzima because it also has a component of gender equality by empowering women and supporting them. For instance, the Uzazi Uzima project is planning to help us renovate our health facilities for better health services for women, such as improved maternity wards and labour rooms. So I see that this project is aligning with my campaigns; my campaigns also advocate for women to stand on their own and Uzazi Uzima also is advocating for women’s reproductive health, and is against teenage pregnancies; all these efforts are geared towards helping women and bringing about gender equality.
The Uzazi Uzima (Kiswahili for ‘Safe Deliveries’) project is a partnership among Amref Health Africa and Marie Stopes, with Deloitte as a service partner, which is focused on reducing maternal mortality and morbidity rates in Tanzania. With support of $10.2 million from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada (93% of the total project budget), this four-year project aims to directly reach 348,567 women and adolescent girls and 334,515 men and adolescent boys in six district councils in the region of Simiyu.
The partners are working together with communities in Simiyu region to: improve the knowledge and skills of health workers to provide sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternal care and family planning for women and adolescent girls and boys; refurbish health facilities and dispensaries, including infrastructure for clean water and sanitation; strengthen gender responsive health management systems; increase the use of health services through community outreach and advocacy; and, strengthen community and government engagement.