At the recent World Economic Forum on Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, made a bold statement:
“Africa must close its gender gap in order to succeed.”
Let’s consider that for a moment. Assuming “success” means that economies are growing, people are not going hungry, and families have access to basic healthcare, that’s a shocking statement. According to the Under-Secretary-General, we can’t achieve those things while a gender gap persists.
More and more, the international development community is taking the stance that programs targeting economic growth, or gains in health and education standards, are hampered in their impact by ignoring gender equality. A recent article by Melinda Gates argues that “inequality between the sexes limits development for everyone,” and that our programs promoting maternal health or agricultural development must go hand-in-hand with efforts to close gender gaps. This focus on gender disparity has been echoed recently at the 25th African Union Summit (theme: Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063), the World Economic Forum on Africa 2015, ONE’s Poverty is Sexist Campaign, and the ongoing HeForShe movement. Therefore, we thought we’d share some of our experience with gender roles in Tanzania and the ways in which we’re promoting gender parity throughout our network.
Tanzanian communities are typically patriarchal, meaning the male is the dominant member of the household and society. We see this every day at community gatherings in our project sites; at funerals, weddings, holidays, or other celebrations bringing men and women together, we observe female community members preparing food in a smoke-filled kitchen while men socialize together in a separate room. Male community members are fed first, followed by children, and, lastly, women.
Additionally, boys have greater access to education than girls. If a mother in one of our partner communities is ill, her daughter stays home from school to wash clothes, do dishes, and cook for the family while her son attends school. This status quo makes it difficult for young females to receive the same amount of education as their male counterparts. Our experience is mirrored in data: the latest UNDP gender-related development index reports the mean years of schooling for males at 5.8 years, compared to 4.5 for females.
Tanzania has multiple laws in place to support women’s rights, although they aren’t always upheld at the village or household level.
At 2Seeds, we’re doing what we can to promote gender equality. We have a women’s group comprised of two women or girls from each project site that meets regularly. The group fosters entrepreneurship as the women pitch business ideas to each other and receive feedback; soon, we’ll launch a fund to provide seed financing for female-led businesses. We’re putting this extra emphasis on women because research shows that increasing the amount of household income controlled by women changes household spending in ways that benefit children. We’re also rolling out an education fund specifically reserved for daughters of group members, providing the resources for them to attend school. Furthermore, group meetings include discussions related to female health and family planning, empowering our female Partners with the knowledge to make informed decisions about growing their families. It’s a safe, comfortable environment where women feel empowered to pursue business endeavors and conduct their own finances and lives, subsequently encouraging their daughters, nieces, and female friends to do the same.
“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.” –African Proverb
In the Tabora Project, we have eight female Partners who are driven, full of life, and overcoming traditional gender barriers to grow their 2Seeds business, cooking and selling potato chips, popcorn, and peanuts. They’re managing finances, maintaining group and individual savings accounts, and generating consistent monthly profit. In Tanzania, women don’t always have the opportunity to put their entrepreneurial ideas into action. 2Seeds gives Tabora women an avenue to develop the confidence and capacity to be savvy, productive businesswomen.
In our project site of Lutindi, Partners throw a party each Christmas for 2Seeds group members and friends. For the past few years, the women have spent hours laboring in the kitchen over rice and beans, perfecting a meal to serve to all the guests. This past year, however, after much encouragement and good-natured teasing from 2Seeds members, the male group members accepted the challenge to cook the meal. This small change in gender roles gives us hope that the gap–at least within our network–is closing. And we’re confident that that change will have exponential effects on the core of 2Seeds’ work—building capacity to generate income and improve lives.
We often say “Wanawake Wanaweza!”—Women Can Do It!—during meetings of our women’s group, while joining our Tabora Partners for a cooking day, or while completing a business curriculum training with female Partners. Yes women can manage their finances. Yes women can be successful business people. Yes women can do more than just cook, clean, and tend to children. We believe it, do you?
What are you doing to combat gender disparity in your community? We’d love to hear your story.