I’m writing about silly little women’s issues from now on (and you’re going to like it)

Thursday March 16 2017

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE 

By Elsie Eyakuze

My society is unapologetically chauvinistic and admittedly when I get complacent my sense of feminist outrage can get blunted.

A reader recently teased me about getting too mellow in my commentary. Whereas I was apparently fiery and thus entertaining under the Fourth Administration, these days not so much. Which was all fine and good until the said reader followed up with a joking suggestion that I write about soft topics, you know, like “women’s” issues. Oh dear.

Of course I understand: This is an ancient distinction. Even sports can be more “important” a topic than dedicating time to “women’s issues.”

Aside from being infuriating, the advice gave me pause. Perhaps instead of talking about women’s issues on designated occasions, we should make everything a women’s issue. Instead of playing a defensive game, play an offensive one.

So in the spirit of “giving customers what they want,” here’s a little high politics and gender.

I am worried for Tanzania under the Fifth Administration for any number of reasons: Economic slowdown, governance by edict where the policy-making is opaque and undemocratic, a concentration of power in the hands of the executive and specifically the Office of the President, a clampdown on opposition and freedom of speech, social conservatism... This does not bode well for us, but those who will suffer most directly are women and youth.

Years ago I characterised my government’s nature along gendered lines, mostly for fun.

Tanzania has tended towards qualities that are usually ascribed to women. Sure, shame on me for reinforcing stereotypes, but it was done as a form of resistance against the untoward pride that many nationalists take in their “masculinity” via strange and archaic preoccupations with the size of their armies (must everything be turned into a penis size competition?) to the virility of their heads of state.

In stark contrast, our language and our political culture has generally been infused with conciliatory speech, the idea of consensus being preferable to confrontation, kindness as a quality to aspire to, etcetera. I think I even called my president the country’s Mother-in-Chief once. High praise.

Under the current regime, chauvinistic brutality is on the rise, and I don’t like it.

The military, once content to do its job with subtlety and professionalism, is now turning up far too frequently to quell legitimate citizen protest.

We may have a woman as vice president but make no mistake, women have been relegated to helpmate status as social conservatism creeps up on us. Reproductive health services are being interfered with by a Ministry of Health with unprecedented levels of obsession with people’s sexuality.

In a country whose government until recently refused to admit it was facing hunger, the result of households running out of food in several localities has seen grown-arse men fleeing their families and leaving women and children to their local government executives to feed.

We’ve been “jokingly” told that women should just pop out children because the state will provide schooling, a statement that was seriously telling about what the speaker really thinks of women. The writing on the wall is clear: We are being “disciplined” back to a Golden Past of clarity and social functionality and unchallenged patriarchy that never existed.

In it children are obedient, and women are essentially treated as children and are subsequently obedient too, and everyone colours within their designated gender lines and the patriarch has the power to effect pain or reward as he sees fit. Oh, and we are all safely religious, preferably from an Abrahamic tradition.

Considering we are a republic and I take that aspect of our political arrangement very seriously, it behoves me to resist such dangerous regression not only as a citizen but as a woman. The two are indivisible for the purposes of political action, so yes, I will be writing about “women’s issues”— because they are always, always political.

To wit: When I complain that my Ministry of Health needs to chill with the sexuality obsession, it is not only because I am a liberal who wants them to back off the LGBTI community. It is because we do need to curb the rate of HIV/Aids and provide sex education in schools and excellent reproductive and maternal health services to the public.

I would much rather they roll out a programme in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and other agencies to make sure there are appropriate latrines and period wear available at secondary schools so that girls don’t lose school days due to menstruation. That’s a women’s issue, it is also a men’s issue, a family issue and a health issue and an education issue and ultimately a skilled labour market issue. And it doesn’t have to have anything to do with LGBTI unless we want to make that the fight – a waste of public resources in my opinion.

The veteran US actor Morgan Freeman famously refuses to celebrate February as Black History Month in his country because according to him, every months is Black History Month. In that vein, happy belated International Women’s Day. Happy women’s week, month, year and lifetime too, and don’t you forget it.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, http://mikochenireport.blogspot.com. E-mail: [email protected]