Anna Henga advancing human rights in Tanzania

Saturday August 3 2019

Anna Henga

Anna Henga, a lawyer, an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania and the executive director of the LHRC. PHOTO | COURTESY 

ROSE MIREMBE
By ROSE MIREMBE
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Anna Henga is a lawyer, an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania and the executive director of the Legal and Human-Rights Centre.

She received the International Women of Courage 2019 Award for her efforts in fighting for human-rights in March.

She was recognised in Washington during the award ceremony hosted by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and First Lady Melania Trump.

Following her outstanding service in promotion and protection of human rights in Tanzania, last year Henga was appointed to succeed human-rights activist Helen Kijo-Bisimba.

Henga joined LHRC in February 2006 as an intern, and since then she has successfully served in various roles including as the programme co-ordinator for constitutional reforms, co-ordinator of the Southern Africa Legal Assistance Network, as a programme officer for gender and children, and as an anti-FGM co-ordinator.

Henga has been designing and leading programmes focusing on access to justice, particularly the provision of legal aid to marginalised people.

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She also designed national campaigns on the Constitutional Review Process in Tanzania (Big Bang Constitutional Campaign, 2014).

Henga contributed to the promotion of women’s participation in democratic processes through empowerment on political rights.

In 2010, she trained women political aspirants in different regions of Tanzania under the UN Women organisation.

She holds a Master’s in Development Policy and Practice for Civil Society from Mzumbe University, a post graduate diploma in Business Administration -Institute of Finance Management, Bachelor of Laws from the University of Dar es Salaam and a Diploma in Gender from Sweden’s Institute of Public Administration.

Anna Henga has dedicated her entire professional career to advancing human rights in Tanzania, with a particular focus on women and children.

She co-ordinated Tanzania’s Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Coalition, mobilised lawyers to defend the human rights of women in Maasai communities, and encouraged women candidates to run for office in the 2015 general election.

She recently won this year’s International Women of Courage Award. She spoke about winning the award and her work in human-rights advocacy.

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What does winning the award mean for you?

The award for me is an inspiration; it is a pat on my back. It encourages me to keep up with the cause of protecting and promoting human rights in Tanzania, keeping in mind that the world recognises my contribution to my country.

I am a passionate human-rights activist and my enthusiasm has always pushed me to deliver.

I have dedicated my entire career to helping people solve their legal difficulties, working to empower the community, particularly marginalised groups, on the law and human rights, as well as advocating for policies and reforms that will enable Tanzanians to enjoy their basic rights.

I think the combination of all these contributed to this recognition.

Why do you think there are few women holding top corporate executive positions in Tanzania?

This is a matter of perception; the society is trying to accept the movement towards gender equality, but at a slow pace.

With the rising tide of women empowerment, we now have educated women who can hold top positions. However, male dominance is still a challenge to overcome.

Society should change its negative perception towards women and treat men and women equally when it comes to socio-economic and political opportunities.

We are still healing from the long entrenched patriarchal system in which everyone, including women, believed that men should be treated as superior in every sphere.

I am glad that this stereotype is gradually changing; we can now see women—although still few—taking up leadership roles.

How would you describe your work?

I really like what I do and that’s the secret to my achievements. I now have more than 12 years’ experience working on human rights, my career of choice.

I thank God for the positive impact that has come from it.

Being an advocate who has a Master’s degree in business administration made it possible for me to have chosen a career that would have been more financially beneficial, but I chose to go into human rights because it is a field that I am passionate about.

Who has influenced your professional career?

My parents played an instrumental role in shaping my perceptions on gender equality.

At the family level, my parents treated me the same as my brothers.

Back then, some families would discourage girls children from going to school, but it was different for me because my parents were civil servants.

Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, the former executive director of the Legal and Human-Rights Centre comes second.

She not only inspired me, but also contributed to my growth as a human-rights activist.

How would you assess where we stand on gender equality in East Africa?

We are still engaged in the struggle for gender equality, not only in East Africa but all over the world, striving to achieve a global agenda of a 50/50 gender ratio by 2030.

We are making progress. In the past 10 years, we’ve seen more women appointed to top positions, and affirmative action has been implemented to narrow the gender gap.

In Tanzania, for example, we now have the first woman vice president since Independence.

In East Africa, Rwanda has set a good precedent having the most women in the legislature in the world.

How do you deal with male chauvinism?

Perhaps this is the most challenging part, especially for women who aspire to be leaders.

Many men feel superior and that they are always right. I try to understand them and find better ways to educate them.

I think it is working because some men have become champions of gender equality.

How would you describe your style of leadership?

I get things done in a timely and effective way.