IN 2015, a new chapter in the history of Tanzania was written. The country’s first ever female vice-president was elected. Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan, a Zanzibari woman, became the second top leader in the country’s political hierarchy.
Presiding as President John Pombe Magufuli’s right-hand woman, Ms Hassan has proven herself as a solid, reliable and able leader in her position, which is unarguably more demanding under the current regime.
She started as an activist before turning into politics, a profession she fit in swiftly, rapidly placing herself among respected politicians.
Hailing from Zanzibar, a predominantly male-dominated society, says a lot about her. She is a woman of courage, ego-drive, assertiveness, empathy, flexibility and sociability.
She’s a living example of what the Isles women can achieve in politics and other leadership positions. For decades, the Indian Ocean semi-autonomous archipelago has produced reputed female leaders, both domestically and internationally.
Apart from Samia, there are a number of prominent names, such as Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, African Union’s first female ambassador to the United States.
A long-serving Member of Parliament, she has also held various ministerial positions in the Tanzanian government, currently as minister for Trade and Industries in Zanzibar.
There is Saada Mkuya Salum, who served as Minister of Finance for Tanzania during the fourth phase government under President Jakaya Kikwete.
Upon her appointment in January 2014, Ms Salum became the second woman since the country’s independence to lead the Finance Ministry.
Encouragingly, women are participating more frequently in the political process, and are taking up leadership positions, thus defying every tired stereotype about a woman’s ability to lead. As evidenced during the 2015 general elections, more women claimed their space beyond special seats. In a number of constituencies, women candidates flexed their muscles and defeated their male opponents.
But even though there has been notable progress, the numbers of women in various political spaces are still low. For instance, the composition of the Zanzibar House of Representatives is 32 female Reps and 56 male Reps.
The Zanzibar cabinet, meanwhile, has five female ministers, making up nearly 28 percent of the cabinet which has 18 ministers, and three female deputy ministers out of seven.
The Parliament of Tanzania has 145 women legislators of 393 MPs. And it should be noted that the country’s laws provide for “special seats,” with 30 per cent reserved for women appointed by political parties, based on proportional representation.
The inclusion of women in politics is far from overwhelming, and this underlines the need for political parties to exert concerted efforts to increase women representation.
There is need to strike a balance, given that the female population in Tanzania exceeds that of men, women are 28,534,558 while male are 27,356,189.
Sensitization and empowerment are significant tools towards achieving gender balance in leadership. In one of her interviews before the 2015 polls, the vice-president Ms Hassan attributed her rise in politics from a social activist to candidness and unwavering determination.
She had an uplifting message to fellow women, arguing that a lot of them out there could make it in politics and other managerial positions. They only needed determination, she said.
Seeking to enhance women’s participation in political party structures and electoral processes, civil society organizations in Zanzibar, notably Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) Zanzibar branch, have running campaigns, trying to impact women's political participation.
Asha Abdi Makame, Acting Director, TAMWA Zanzibar says the society still has negative attitude when it comes to women’s participation in politics and political leadership at all levels; shehia, ward and constituency.
TAMWA has been organising community meetings in 31 shehias, in collaboration with male advocates dubbed ‘Change Agents’, with a view to sensitize and mentor women on electoral politics.
Ms Makame says such sensitisation meetings will play a critical role in shepherding women's candidacies ahead of the next general elections in Tanzania.
“Women have been emerging in large numbers and speak out about the obstacles they face in attaining leadership positions, be it in politics or other fields,” she says.
While the political playing field in each country has its own particular characteristics, one feature remains common to all: it is uneven and not conducive to women's participation.
Women who want to enter politics find that the political, public, cultural and social environment is often unfriendly or even hostile to them.
Socio-economic status of women to a greater extent plays a significant role in enhancing their participation and representation in political decision making bodies. Financial constraint often acts as a barrier to women's political participation.
A majority of women are financially handicapped. Thus they have no money of their own; the money belongs to their fathers, their husbands or their in-laws. That makes it difficult for them to afford the cost of running an effective campaign.
In many Zanzibar families, there is still an ideology of a woman's place, according to which, women should only play the role of working mother, which is generally apolitical.
These traditional and patriarchal norms favor these sexually segregated roles, and traditional cultural values militate against the advancement and participation of women in any political process. Other barriers include the conventions of marriage, poverty and low education levels of women which limit women's participation in leadership.