International Women’s Day received a high profile in Tanzania this year. President Magufuli acknowledged women’s contribution in improving society.
There were also discussions in the media (mainly among men) about why we don’t see women CEOs when they have equal access to education. None of it was particularly insightful in my opinion, so I liked this article calling for skilling men up on the challenges women face. (Incidentally, it’s hilarious the way Tanzanians describe themselves sometimes. This author is a ‘social change maker’. It’s like the students we meet whose ambition is to become an entrepreneur or a social influencer.)
However, my interest is at the grassroots level more than the political. For example, one of our (male) TAFES colleagues put out the call for others to honour women with stories of how they had influenced and formed them. Most of the responses were honouring mothers. One was about a mother who gave her son access to books, including the Bible. Another was about a mother who defended her son against his harsh father’s punishments.
Others sent International Women’s Day messages such as:
Happy women day!
Women; you are so powerful and leaders by nature.
It’s my prayer for God’s will to be with you in all knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
Luphurise (pictured below):
Happy Women’s Day
You are a Champion
You are Making the World Strong
You are Making Tanzania Strong
You are Woman of Calibre
Woman – The Power to Create, Nurture and Transform.
These messages are suffused with the language of power and strength. Many of the Australian messages I saw did likewise, but talk of power and strength plays out differently in Tanzania.
In Australia, talking about women’s power comes as a challenge to our cultural ideas about women. After all, we associate femininity with weakness and masculinity with strength. But in Tanzania, a good woman is a strong woman. When Tanzanians pick up the IWD talk of women’s strength and progress, they are affirming a cultural belief rather than challenging one.
It is uncontroversial in Tanzania that women are strong and without their strength society crumbles. At church on Sunday, there was a big party atmosphere and a day of celebration of women, to tie in with IWD. There was a massive choir of mamas who sang this song (my translation):
I am a mama.
The church depends on me.
The nation depends on me.
Children depend on me.
Men depend on me.
They all depend on me.
Hallelujah, I am a mama.
What I love about this is the acknowledgement of how vital women are to every aspect of the wellbeing of society. While in the west we are still getting our heads around division of labour, including the mental load, in Tanzania, they’re just like, ‘Yep, we know the women are shouldering it.’
Few in Tanzania are talking about changing this, but at least they acknowledge it, and honour women. I feel like there’s something for us to learn in Australia, where it often feels like the contribution of women is invisible, and those of us who point it out are perceived to be making a fuss.
Finally, here’s a video from a women’s march in Rorya district for International Women’s Day. With actual marching!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.