Tanzania should jump on the feminism activism bandwagon

Wednesday February 1 2017



Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE 

By Elsie Eyakuze

That was unexpected. Feminism and gender rights activism not as a marginal issue but as the avenue through which to resist the rise of fascist-flavoured autocracy around the world? I would not have anticipated that, even while enjoying the global preparations by women to march against Trump.

Believe it or not, there were some attempts to join this movement in Dar es Salaam, though it does not look like they got very far.

My government has recently developed an acute allergy to public gatherings, so even non-partisan issues are not likely to get a chance to see the light of mass action unless they fancy a beating at the hands of the police.

In the event, I am relieved that we did not join the US-led Women’s March protest at the local level because it would have distracted from the important issues that we are facing.

The only way we should be jumping on this bandwagon is by privileging our own problems as people – not just women – living under the boot of an unapologetically conservative patriarchal system. Also, ain’t nobody trying to wear a knitted pussy hat in the summertime and give themselves a heatstroke. Timing, people. Reproductive-headgear is best sported in June or July or something.

Over the course of the past few months I have had the same conversation with a wide range of people: What happened to the women’s movement in Tanzania? I think I know what killed it: Jay Kay’s presidency.

There was too much opportunity for complacency and being Tanzanian we took it. We got used to seeing women in positions of power, we got used to hearing about gender quotas and increasing them – by law if necessary. And frankly all that chillness, the laissez-faire of Administration the Fourth lent itself to a dangerous amount of liberal relaxation.

Groups traditionally marginalised by patriarchy – youth, women, even victims of natural disasters – were made to feel valued. Whether this translated into an improvement in the quality of life is debatable, but we felt heard. And politics is about feelings. In stark contrast, the dirigisme of this administration has been a disagreeable shock.

Whereas we have been content to leave embarrassing political obsession with sexual orientations to Uganda, that rhetoric is starting to show up here.

What kind of administration has time to specifically target organisations that offer lubricants as part of HIV prevention outreach? One that should probably spend its time figuring out how to admit that Tanzania is experiencing the same drought as the rest of the region so that it can make plans for the nation’s food security.

Speaking of bad decisions, another debate that we carefully never have on political platforms is that about abortion. Of course it is illegal in Tanzania, but it took this administration to threaten medical doctors with legal consequences if they were ever found to have provided the service to women outside of the “permissions” of the law.

One of my incumbent’s most memorable exhortations to women was to “pop out babies” because the government could afford to put all Tanzanian children through its remarkably broken school system. Sigh. The many levels of wrongness bundled up in that statement need their own column to unpack.

Thus is the state of our reproductive health focus in a country where we haven’t solved maternal and infant mortality nor truly embraced the best health policy for improved reproductive health: Sex education in schools.

And then there is that most difficult of all issues to address, domestic violence. It is one of the greater ills of our society and virtually impossible to raise in public forums because we have some very dangerous and unexamined notions about gender and humanity that we need to confront.

Since feminism is coming back to its rightful place at the forefront of politics around the world, I am hopeful that Tanzania will jump on the bandwagon, at the right time in the right forums for its own benefit.

We’ve got our own very specific battles to fight and we know whom we have to fight them with right here at home. Malignant patriarchy, like herpes, never goes away but it can and should be managed until a cure is found lest it get cancerous on us.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. Email: [email protected]