THE late former President Benjamin Mkapa was a strong advocate for gender equality and initiated numerous development initiatives through a gender lens between 1995 and 2005, the women’s rights movement in Tanzania, has said.
Paying their respects, many gender equality advocates described the late former President Mkapa as a gender-sensitive, candid and a listening leader, who took bold decisions to promote women’s rights in support of inclusive socio-economic development in Tanzania.
Mzee Mkapa, as he was passionately known, died on Friday, July 24, following a short illness. He was laid to rest in his home village Lupaso in Mtwara region on Wednesday 29 July.
In an interview this week, Dr Getrude Mongella, a steering committee member of the African Women Leaders Network, (AWLN) Tanzania Chapter, says she worked closely with Mzee Mkapa before and during his presidency. “He will be remembered for pioneering the domestication of the Beijing Platform for Action, and as a network of women leaders, it is important for us to revisit his contributions, and to continue building on his legacy for the advancement of women and girls,” says Dr Mongella.
The late former president was a guest of honour in the first meeting organized in Tanzania after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 25 years ago. As part of the domestication process, key priority areas adopted during the meeting were: women’s leadership and participation in decision making; health; education; and women’s economic empowerment.
She says Tanzania was fortunate to be among the countries in Africa building a tradition of former presidents, who following a peaceful retirement, become elders who advise the sitting president.
“This helps to foster continuity and promote improvements in the implementation of policies, laws, and programmes,” says Dr Mongella.
Looking at gender equality, she explains that great strides were taken to empower women and girls during Mzee Mkapa’s leadership.
She emphasizes the need to identify areas where progress can be made quickly and to go beyond increasing the numbers of women in parliament.
Dr Mongella further explains the importance of providing training and mentorship programmes that can support effective leadership while strengthening the removal of barriers that hinder women’s participation in politics and in decision-making positions across all sectors.
On the other hand, increasing efforts that can ensure women’s economic empowerment is imperative, she says.
“This area remains key because when women are economically empowered, we are able to deal with many socio-economic challenges at the household level, in our communities, and at country level.
The issue is to start the empowerment process early, supporting girls’ education up to the tertiary level, and preventing practices that negatively push back the advancement of women across all sectors. ”
Improved interventions, she says, should ensure women are part of the solution through programmes that continuously channel capacity and help to release women’s potential in business while scaling-up innovation in digital and financial inclusion.
Dr Mongella also expresses the need for continued efforts in access to safe water; expanding land ownership by women; and to continue creating opportunities for women in the male-dominated science and technology sectors.
“We are on the right path, and what we need is to continue building on what Mzee Mkapa started through the acceleration of current investments and increasing funding for gender equality to expand our target areas. Importantly, we need to better monitor and evaluate ongoing programmes for Tanzania to continue improving its interventions aimed at advancing the rights of women,” says Dr Mongella.
In an interview this week, Mr Walter Bgoya, a longtime friend, explains the late former President’s great support for women’s leadership.
“One critical area where his contribution was greatly felt was in the promotion of women’s leadership and political participation. Tanzania saw a tremendous increase in special seats for women in parliament from 15 per cent in 1995 to 30 per cent in 2005.
This set the country on a positive development trajectory as far as gender equality in the political sphere is concerned. I would say that development contributed to the appointment of the first woman Vice President in 2015, and also to a further increase in the number of women in parliament,” says Mr Bgoya.
In his autobiography, My Life, My Purpose; Mzee Mkapa spoke of his dream to see more women in politics and decision-making positions.
“His argument was that in Tanzania women represented 51 per cent of the population and that should be reflected in their participation in politics and decision-making,” says Mr Bgoya.
Former President Mkapa’s support for the empowerment of women also saw him pushing for land reforms, which resulted in the formulation of the Land Policy; and the Land and Village Land Acts of 1999, which continue to ensure the equal rights to land for both women and men to this day.
The Chairperson of the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), Ms Asseny Muro says she will remember Mzee Mkapa for his participative leadership style. “His actions, including the formulation of policies, were informed by contributions by many actors including the civil society organizations and the private sector. He supported the national budgeting system that took issues of women and girls into account through a gender-responsive budget initiative that was led by TGNP.”
She adds the national budget guidelines supported sector ministries to incorporate gender into their budgets. “His approach to gender helped the government to appreciate that gender budgeting was about accountability and transparency, which the former president was very keen on,” says Ms Muro.
At the 25th Anniversary of TGNP in September last year, the organization presented an award to Mzee Mkapa in recognition of his role in opening doors for dialogue with the civil society and women’s rights organizations, and for his facilitation of gender-mainstreaming processes across all sectors in government.
The Chairperson of the Women Fund Tanzania Trust, Professor Ruth Meena describes Mzee Mkapa as a stalwart who stood for the rights of women and girls and led many initiatives that supported the empowerment of women and girls and efforts to end gender-based violence.
“We do not take for granted his unique commitment to gender equality because when we returned from Beijing, not all countries in Africa were as fortunate as Tanzania,” says Professor Meena.
Prof Meena notes that Mzee Mkapa’s position on gender equality enabled gender activists to partner with the government on efforts to promote gender-responsive interventions.
She explains how he prioritized the production of gender data, supporting the women’s rights movement’s advocacy efforts for the introduction of the Time Use Survey Module in the Household Budget Survey.
At the time, the country was undergoing massive economic recovery programmes, robust macroeconomic policies, and structural reforms, including the privatization policy which was initiated by Former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi.
Therefore, there was a need to pay close attention to how these changes impacted women and girls. “In the area of unpaid care and domestic work, there was an issue of promoting home-based care for terminally ill patients. We wanted to demonstrate how that would add more burden for women and girls, and stifle their participation in other economic activities. Gender-responsive interventions were crucial,” says Professor Meena.
A study conducted was able to present evidence that supported the argument by the women’s rights movement, showing time spent in caring for one patient.
“The introduction of the Time Use Module, which remains in place today, originated from an environment that enabled us to work closely with the government in coming up with problem-solving initiatives and strategies through a gender lens,” added Prof Meena.
She further says development processes in other key initiatives such as the Vision 2025, launched in 1999; the Property and Business Formalization Programme (MKURABITA) in 2004; and the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty (MKUKUTA) in 2005 were also inclusive of gender perspectives.
“We conducted a gender review of MKUKUTA I, which resulted in incorporating gender indicators in MKUKUTA II. Additionally, MKUKUTA II made gender-based violence a governance issue that required investment of public resources.
This later culminated into a number of initiatives including the formulation of the National Plan of Action to end violence against women and children; and the introduction of the Police Gender and Children’s Desks.”
One successful programme that Mzee Mkapa has shared as a best practice to help reduce feminized poverty is the catalytic Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF).
This intervention targeted women to work in groups in identifying development priority areas in their communities. It also supported them to pool their financial and labour resources together to promote a sense of ownership and enable access to funds through TASAF.
The late former president also played a key role in the establishment of the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS), to help advise the government on policy matters as well as to facilitate collaborative efforts with development partners such as UN Women and UNAIDS.
His concern over the severe impact of HIV and AIDS on young women and girls led to numerous initiatives both in government and in collaboration with development partners, to promote gender-responsive HIV prevention, care, and treatment.
At the continental level, he was supportive of efforts to create an enabling environment for the advancement of women, promoting their leadership and inclusion in decision-making positions across Africa. In 1997 he signed the Southern African Development Community’s Gender Equality Protocol before endorsing the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) in 2003.
He also vigorously pursued peace initiatives in neighbouring Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, and supported the inclusion of women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding programmes.
During his leadership, Tanzania continued to host hundreds of thousands of refugees, the majority of whom were women and children.