“Katika Tanzania wanaume kwanza” that’s what I was told by the headmistress of a nursery school in Moshi as she gave me a bottle of Coca Cola before then serving my female colleague. The translation is along the lines of “men first in Tanzania”. Many would suggest that gender equality is a prerequisite if Tanzania is to develop as rapidly as possible but when we asked the headmistress if she thought the men-first bias should change we were told that, in her opinion, that simply wasn’t going to happen.
Coming from a lady with 52 years teaching experience you might be able to dismiss this as a point of view belonging to an older generation. Nevertheless, a much younger married woman had told us something similar just the day before.
Furthermore, in the course of my work in Tanzania I have visited a number of Vocational Training Centres, or VTCs. These facilities provide skills training, typically in tailoring and carpentry, to children who will not have the chance to go to secondary school, normally due to school fees being unaffordable. On these courses the gender division is, in my experience at least, starkly drawn. Carpenters are exclusively male and tailors female. Not too much evidence of change in the younger generation either then.
However, ask the leader of a local women’s support group, where single mums help each other find ways to support their families, and you will get a very different, and emphatic, point of view! Add the fact that, only hours after being served my bottle of Coke, I found myself watching five minutes of live TV coverage from the Tanzanian Parliament and, in that brief snippet, saw both a female MP addressing the chamber and a female speaker overseeing it and maybe we can start to see that, far from being impossible, change has already started.
John Davis, Overseas Projects Coordinator