Engaging Men: A key to equality and rights for women in rural Tanzania

Moving the needle on equality and the rights of women in rural Tanzania requires a multi-faceted approach. Girls grow up watching (and helping) their mother conduct all household tasks, care for the children, and still find time to engage in farming or minor trade to support the family. Boys watch their fathers leave for the farm in the morning and return in the afternoon, often to sit and sip coffee or tea with their friends or sometimes head to the local bar.

When a family member needs money for a particular reason, the father is the one to ask. That’s because his wife’s income is expected to support the family’s day to day cost of living, which means he is more likely to have cash to spare. This, together with his status as household head, secures the level of control that he requires to define what he believes it means to be a good husband and father. He learned this as a little boy, watching his father, grandfather, and other men within his community.

His wife’s income, which is often significantly less than his, is primarily what keeps the family fed, the children going to school, and the clinic fees paid for. She is the one who is involved in a local savings group, saving small sums week by week and watching them grow into a pool the family can count on for an emergency. She rarely complains, for fear of being beaten and for the quiet subordination that defines, for her, what it means to be a wife and mother. After all, her mother, grandmother, and aunties shared the same fate. She had observed one woman in her community rise up and complain to local authorities, who are mandated by law to address the matter. She saw how, following that, the man’s family and many members of the community shunned the woman and treated her poorly. Perhaps it was best to stay quiet.

Moving these households towards gender equality requires a multi-faceted, creative approach. Goodluck Gamaliel, Business Development Officer at Anza, a business accelerator partnering with MEDA in the Arusha and Moshi area, says that women’s economic empowerment (WEE) is one of the keys.

“With money comes authority,” he observes, speaking from Anza’s experience working with women and men entrepreneurs and building the capacity of women-led farmer business groups. A husband is more likely to allow his wife some decision-making space once her business endeavours begin to prosper. MEDA has observed farmer business groups that start out as women-only gradually begin to attract more men as the women prove the success of the business model. And we have met countless women entrepreneurs who have done so well in their economic activities, that their husbands end up putting aside their own economic activities to support their wife’s successful business.

However, WEE rarely solves the problem on its own. “In our area, many women are the primary breadwinners, but their husbands still make all of the decisions and are known to beat their wives,” says Rehema Chuwa, Director of Shirimgungani Cooperative Union near Moshi. The cooperative has received MEDA support for training farmers on gender equality and entrepreneurship.

“The men will tell you during a training that they believe in equality, but they go home and act as they always have,” she says. The union believes that engaging local government to take the lead on modeling women’s rights and encouraging their community to adopt what they learn in gender equality trainings could go a long way in changing persistent mindsets. Identifying gender equality champions among willing local authorities who are men, training them on what gender equality means and promoting practical ways for them to model this to their communities may be the ideal activity to pair with MEDA’s ongoing gender equality and WEE approaches with the cooperative union’s members.

“To move the needle on gender equality and women’s rights, though, it takes a truly multi-faceted approach,” says Heaven Mosha, MEDA’s Regional Operations Manager working in the Arusha and Moshi area. He describes a 360-degree approach whereby messaging and modeling reaches men and women through multiple channels, including training and government promotion, but also programs on radio and tv, and even school programs challenging boys and girls to be progressive and think outside the box. This is a big task and relies on the efforts of so many organizations, governments, businesses and schools—a local and global village—to continually be creative, bold, and collaborative in helping this generation, and the ones to come, model equality.

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  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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